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Rationalizing risk

Arguing over safety on the Firth of Forth

Achim Schlüter and Peter Phillimore

Keywords: petrochemicals; regulation; risk; safety; Scotland

Abstract

This article examines the centrality of 'safety' in Grangemouth's recent politics. Scotland's main petrochemical center is a town dominated for well over fifty years by a major BP complex. In a context of extensive redundancies at BP, new insecurities surrounding the future of the company's Grangemouth site, and a series of recent accidents, as well as controversy over planning applications from other chemical companies, the town has been pushed into unusually searching questioning about both safety and economic security. This article explores the different lines of reasoning and rationalization on risk, safety, and the future advanced by regulators, BP, and residents and their political representatives. We emphasize how important the familiarity of petrochemical technology has been in public responses to the question of safety, in contrast to many environmental risk controversies. And we argue that safety has provided a focus for social, moral, economic, and political perspectives on the town's present circumstances and future prospects to be played out.

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