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PhD Research School in Linguistics and Philology

Anne-Kate Ellingsen

Rhetorical strategies in the nuclear energy debate in France

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There is a broad consensus in the international community that climate change is a significant challenge for the future, and that immediate action is necessary.  However, there are opposing views and interests on the proper course of action. For example, political parties in Norway, such as FrP and MDG, propose different measures for dealing with climate change. The purpose of this project is to analyse and isolate the rhetoric and linguistic strategies advocates and opponents of nuclear power use to sway public opinion.

Since the 1950s, nuclear energy has gradually become the predominant source of electricity in France, accounting for 77% of total production, and second only to the United States.

By building 58 nuclear reactors, France became self-sufficient in energy production.  Emission of greenhouse gases is also low since 90% of all electricity is produced by either nuclear or renewable energy sources.  With almost 419 000 jobs connected directly or indirectly to the industry, it is evident that nuclear energy is economically important.

Nuclear power is very controversial in Norway, and since Fukushima, resistance to nuclear power has increased.  Even though thorium reactors are being promoted as safer and more energy efficient than conventional uranium-enriched reactors, public opinion remains negative.  Is this the case in France?  Which rhetorical strategies do French proponents and opponents of nuclear power use? Are the arguments being raised scientific, technical, economic and/or political? Is fear of a nuclear accident used to discourage the development of nuclear energy? Are environmental arguments, such as nuclear energy can replace polluting energy sources, important?  Finally, do certain arguments carry more weight than others in this debate?

Does France’s heavy reliance on nuclear power affect the public opinion of this form of energy positively?  To what extent are there influential organisations actively working against nuclear power?  How do they present their arguments? Which rhetorical methods or linguistic techniques does the government use in response to these arguments?

My projects theme is very relevant for many countries.  However, I will focus on the current debate in France on whether or not nuclear power should be used.  The project’s objective is to survey the different rhetoric strategies and linguistic practices being used in this debate.  This study will also compare the strategies and practices used in the 1950s to those being used today.