Louise Elstow

PhD student

Research Interests

My doctoral research explores issues around evacuation and resettlement following nuclear incidents, using an STS approach.

Evacuation, whether forced or voluntary, features a number of interesting sociological issues, which could be better understood. These include: the making of decisions; the processing of scientific evidence by different actors during evacuation; politics and controversy surrounding the incident; dynamics of potential return; differing guidelines for people and livestock; feelings of ‘otherness’; perceived or actual stigma attached to a status of contamination; feelings of isolation; complexity of evidencing harm and providing compensation and public engagement with scientific tools.

This research will explore these social, sociological and sociotechnical (Shrivastava 1988) issues in two main sites, Fukushima and Chernobyl. The ‘hypothesis’ is that, because nuclear incidents involve radiological contamination (of individuals, non-humans and the environment) in ways often invisible to the naked eye, the phases of emergency management and the associated evaluation of risks and threats tend to be highly dependent on expert science and communication (Kuchinskaya, 2014). Thus the ‘social’ dynamics (rather than practicalities) of the response to nuclear incidents tend to be under-explored. It is suggested that these very issues may be vital to consider because they have a real impact on evacuees, not only during the immediate evacuation, but for decades afterwards.

The research seeks to answer the question ‘How do evacuations following nuclear incidents play out in communities over the medium and long-term and how might an understanding of these processes contribute to future emergency management activities?’