Programme

(T093)
Infrastructures of nuclearity: Exploring entangled histories, spaces and futures
Location 132
Date and Start Time 01 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 4

Convenors

  • Márton Fabók (Energiaklub Climate Policy Institute) email
  • Sergiu Novac (Central European University, Budapest) email
  • Sonja Schmid (Virginia Tech) email

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Discussant Session 1: Brian Wynne (Lancaster University), Session 2: Joe Masco (University of Chicago), Session 3: Karena Kalmbach (FU Berlin), Session 4: Gabrielle Hecht (University of Michigan)

Short Abstract

This track focuses on the histories and futures embedded through nuclear infrastructures, the complex social and material assemblages of 'nuclearity'. We particularly welcome grounded case studies engaging with the 'entangled geographies' (Hecht et al, 2011) of nuclearity.

Long Abstract

Nuclearity is made up from complex social, cultural and material assemblages, in other words nuclear infrastructures. While these assemblages of nuclearity reach from nuclear sites to national infrastructures and global networks, strong boundaries are made not only geographically (e.g. nuclear states), but also between technologies (e.g. risky/safe, national/foreign), material flows (e.g. front-end/back-end), or collectives of people (e.g. expert/lay). The histories encompassed and futures imagined are crucial to understand the nuances of how similarity and difference, or absence and presence are drawn. Thus we are interested in grounded case studies, both historical and contemporary, engaging with three broad interest areas of nuclearity.

Governing nuclearity - We are interested in contributions about the technopolitics of nuclear things that deal broadly with the type of translating efforts deployed between various groups, at various scales, which mobilize around certain technical nuclear issues in order to attain specific political goals.

Working and living with the atom - We also welcome contributions directly engaging with various types of nuclear work, from mining and processing of uranium, to constructing, running and maintaining nuclear reactors, and ultimately to decommissioning and dealing with nuclear waste through thick descriptions of day to day working processes or lives in 'nuclear communities'.

Studying the atom - We encourage contributions, not necessarily as standard presentations, that enhance the dialogue between researchers studying nuclear things across disciplinary boundaries, and reflect on the challenges, controversies and in-depth experiences of researching infrastructures of nuclearity.

Papers

Making things personal: Consulting a UK nuclear new build project

Author: Márton Fabók (Energiaklub Climate Policy Institute)  email

Short Abstract

The paper addresses a shift in public engagement practices in the current UK new nuclear programme by using the ethnography of Wylfa Newydd in Wales. A customised democracy is emerging via fragmentation and personalisation of public consultations.

Long Abstract

What kind of democratic practices are configured along with large-scale infrastructural projects (Barry, 2013; Mitchell, 2013)? In challenging that nuclear power is anchored to certain political practices (Winner, 1988), I contrast the current public consultations with the historical grand nuclear public inquiries, a subject of classic STS works on democracy and technological decisions (O'Riordan et al., 1988; Wynne, 1982). The paper builds on a multi-sited ethnographic study of the public engagement practices around the Wylfa Newydd project in northwest fringes of Wales, one of the proposed constructions in the current 16 GW nuclear new build programme in the UK.

The current differentiated public consultations create fragmented publics, in sharp contrast with a national monolith public inscribed in the historical nuclear inquiries. The nuclear megainvestment is broken up into disjointed issues by drawing geographic boundaries, and by segregating nuclear and non-nuclear elements, as well as technical and generic concerns. The public consultation discussions are personalised through one-to-one drop-in sessions and targeted stakeholder meetings, in contrast to general public meetings and hearings. This results in the absence of an explicit political controversy, where differences are articulated through legal wrangles on the boundaries of geographies of affect and negotiations of nuclearities. The paper concludes by raising the question of a broader shift from mass democracy to a customised democracy in the consultation practices of infrastructural projects in the UK.

From phenix to ASTRID: the renewal of sodium technology

Authors: Maxime Delannoy (Ecole des Mines de Nantes)  email
Guy Minguet (Ecole des Mines de Nantes)  email
Stéphanie Tillement (Ecole des Mines de Nantes)  email
Frédéric Garcias  email

Short Abstract

Our paper examines the concepts of "nuclearity" and nuclear infrastructure in relation to long-term dynamics, through the analysis of a "Gen IV" reactor design process in France. We study how the interweaving of an uncertain heritage and a projected future affects design and sociotechnical networks.

Long Abstract

Each generation of reactors, with its own requirements, critiques of past experiences, controversies and hopes, reshapes the nuclear infrastructure that characterizes the "French nuclear exception" (Hecht, 2004). Design work crystallizes these tensions in that decisions and socio-technical networks built through this work help define the "nuclearity" of tomorrow.

Our study focuses on the design of an industrial demonstrator of a sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) called ASTRID. It is supposedly the first French "Gen IV" concept. Its originality lies in the simultaneity between the research and the design process "in the making," as well as in the long-term dynamics of the ASTRID project. The distant future linked to "Gen IV" objectives and related imaginaries, and the closer future linked to renewal of nuclear power plants, structure sociotechnical assemblage. Moreover, ASTRID inherits practices related to the French experience with sodium fast reactors (Phénix, Superphenix) from the attachment between related knowledge, practices and references. The "sodium" community of practice competes with supporters of other "Gen IV" concepts, in both French and international arenas.

Our empirical material comprises institutional and technical documents and interviews with design teams from AREVA, EDF and the French technical support organization (IRSN). Our paper covers three main points that will enable us to qualify the nuclearity of a possible "Gen IV" infrastructure : the structuring effect on the design work of a distant and imagined future (with its uncertainties and constraints); the influence of the technical and socio-cultural "sodium" heritage; and the tensions emerging from diverging design practices.

Embracing the "atomic future" in post-war Austria

Author: Florian Bayer (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is a case study of nuclear science and technology in post-war Austria. While the institutional dimension is reflected as the formation of a technopolitical regime, different moments of relating the nuclear to specific political goals as well as suitable pasts and futures are discussed.

Long Abstract

The proposed contribution a three dimensional analysis of how the "atomic age" was appropriated in Austria in the mid-1950s: First, the institutional dimension is considered by investigating the formation of the Austrian Commission of Atomic Energy 1954/1955 as part of the formation of a technopolitical regime. The creation of the commission in the aftermath of US President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace speech and actions taken by the commission, - e.g. preparations for the Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1955 - are studied to understand how science, technology, industry and the state interacted in order to enable Austria "entering the atomic age".

Second, different forms and moments of embracing the nuclear within the Austrian context are scrutinized. This will show the multiple ways in which appropriating nuclear technology - understood as "a mode of politics" (Hecht 2011, 2) - and political goals were entangled, which ranges from the so called "reconstruction effort" after WW II over striving for national independence to the international positioning of Austria in the Cold War.

Third temporal aspects are reflected, by analyzing how various references to Austria's "tradition" in nuclear science were called upon in the processes described above. However, also different promises, scenarios and trajectories were invoked to strategically mobilize the future. These forms of dealing with past, present and future are analyzed as building blocks in the institutionalization of technopolitical projects and the co-production of respective (socio)technological imaginaries in the context of the Cold War.

Politics of visibility and invisibility on cancer around nuclear facilities

Author: Laura Barbier (Paris Descartes University)  email

Short Abstract

This talk shows how epidemiological research configurations and political orientations taken to manage controversies on health effects of radioactive discharges from nuclear installations on residents have contributed to create and maintain uncertainty, preventing the constitution of conclusive evidence.

Long Abstract

The health effects of activities of nuclear installations on resident populations have been the subject of persistent controversies since the building of the first nuclear reactors in the 1960-70's in the United States. Numerous epidemiological studies have been carried out, but very little knowledge has been obtained about the toxicity of chronic exposure to industrial radioactive discharges. Clusters of childhood leukemia have been observed around various installations, including the sites of Sellafield, UK, and La Hague, France, both nuclear reprocessing plants, but the causes remain unknown. The study of these long-term controversies questions the ways in which they have been managed and the methodological and conceptual framings that restrain what we know. I will demonstrate how the scientific research choices on cancer around nuclear installations, and the evidence framework into which epidemiological studies are caught, have contributed to the creation and upholding of uncertainty, maintaining controversies and creating invisibilities.

My work fits into the topic of the track "Studying the atom." It is based on two case studies of entangled controversies implicating two nuclear installations caught into distinct geographies, histories and social contexts and which display distinct and common ways of producing knowledge on the health impacts of radioactive emissions. It takes place within the field of the sociology of knowledge and ignorance and aims to highlight which are the mechanisms at work and how they operate. It is based on an international corpus of expert reports, epidemiological and risk assessment studies, and on interviews with French and British scientists.

Living with Sellafield: situating everyday nuclearities

Author: Karen Bickerstaff (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the nuclearity of place drawing on a UK case study. It reflects on the contingency in people’s relations to an all-pervasive nuclear presence, and how nuclearity challenges extant ideas about the geographical relations between proximate communities and their nuclear neighbours.

Long Abstract

The often-cited intense public dislike of things nuclear is an issue that has vexed politicians and intrigued social scientists for decades. Whilst there is a considerable body of research that addresses the experience of living with nuclear facilities, this work predominantly sits within a risk perception paradigm, explicitly tying experience and meaning to the technically defined hazardous qualities of nuclear materials. Such research is, of course, varied and offers important insights into how nuclear hazards are interpreted, repressed or located. However, there remains a central presumption that risk - the potential for harmful consequences - is a (or the) foundational interpretive concept for those proximate to nuclear facilities. This paper argues that risk offers too narrow a reading of how 'nuclear communities' relate to such complex techno-political infrastructure as part of everyday life. Rather, drawing on Hecht's (2012) concept of nuclearity, but in ways that emphasise the socio-material processes and relations of place, this paper seeks to make explicit the contingency and multiplicity in people's relations to an all-pervasive nuclear presence. To develop this account, I draw on qualitative fieldwork in Seascale (UK), adjacent to the Sellafield works, at a time when deep geological disposal was a salient political issue. I focus my discussion of the nuclearity of place on people's talk and practices in relation to specific spaces and sites. I reflect on how nuclearlity forces a different set of questions (and, by implication, answers) about the geographical relations between proximate communities and their nuclear neighbours.

Tracing the tacit meanings of nuclear things: Nuclear work and the making of material memories

Author: Anna Veronika Wendland (Herder Institute for East Central European Historical Research)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses “nuclearity” as it is embodied in specific entanglements between men and machines, in working practices, rituals, and in individual memories and imaginaries which are connected to the materiality of nuclear things.

Long Abstract

The proposed paper is based on field study research for a research project on the comparative history of nuclear power plant communities, nuclear work, and the transformation and mutual interconnection of nuclear "safety cultures" in Eastern and Western Europe, with case studies from Rivne and Chernobyl (Ukraine), Ignalina (Lithuania), Grafenrheinfeld and Grohnde (both Germany).

One of my methodological approaches to the field is Participant Observation, which I conducted under different conditions in operating units, during maintenance outage, and in decommissioning. PO is a complementary research methodology which helps the historian to learn about things which are under-represented in engineering literature and official sources, such as working routines, individual perceptions of risks and safety matters, and individual envisioning of man-machine relationships.

The paper aims at discussing "nuclearity" as it is embodied in specific working practices, rituals, and in individual memories which are connected to nuclear things - to systems that one is operating, to machinery which did not function as expected, or to distinct objects connected to emotions. I gathered such memories when participating in specific working processes and putting questions on them - an interaction which often triggered my informants' reflection on individual experiences with objects, and the tacit meanings that objects have for them. A further, and often unknown, source representing such man-machine/object memories is amateur photography from the private archives of nuclear engineers. Such photographs of people and nuclear machinery convey workplace imaginaries as seen through the eyes of "nuclear people", and give valuable insights into the material aspects of nuclearity.

Living in Dose: Waste, Work, and the Politics of Permissible Exposure

Author: Shannon Cram (University of Washington Bothell)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the complex politics of “permissible exposure” for workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the sensory politics of nuclear work. Based on in-depth interviews with current and retired workers at Washington State's Hanford Nuclear Reservation, I consider how Hanford workers learn to protect themselves against the invisible hazard of radioactivity. This daily encounter with the insensible means cultivating what Joy Parr calls "a different mode of somatic attention"—developing an intimate relationship with both radiation detection devices and federal standards for "permissible exposure." Workers must learn to move through space according to these specific arbiters of safety, ensuring that they receive no more than the federally-approved level of nuclear dose. This means developing an aesthetic awareness of radioactive space, titrating subtle movements with invisible hazards to balance each day's acceptable exposure. It requires learning to live radiation protection—fine tuning oneself to the statistical reasoning of nuclear industrial risk. Of course, embodying radioactive safety does not mean avoiding exposure altogether, as nuclear processing is not possible without some level of bodily impact. Rather, Hanford workers absorb the amount of radiation that has been deemed "safe enough" in federal regulation, leaving them to deal with the chronic health effects of safe exposure on their own. As such, I argue that the art of atomic living necessarily extends beyond the Hanford site, where many workers must also learn to live with bodies that have been remade through nuclear encounter.

Regenerating Nuclear Energy: Neophyte Dreams & Workplace Peopling

Author: Vincent Ialenti (Cornell University)  email

Short Abstract

This talk analyzes a young nuclear expert's backstory ethnographically to explore ways nuclear energy sectors across North America and Western Europe grapple with baby boomer retirements, decreased youth enthusiasm for nuclear careers, and calls for smoother personnel succession.

Long Abstract

This talk explores how twenty-first century nuclear energy sectors across North America and Western Europe have grappled with mass baby boomer generation retirements, decreased youth enthusiasm for nuclear careers, and industry calls to cultivate "talent pools" of young STEM experts who can infuse aging nuclear energy worlds with enthusiasm. Inspired by anthropological work on succession and social reproduction, these challenges are engaged ethnographically through a motivated early-career Finnish radiological protection specialist named Timo's backstory. Timo had deep respect for his father's nationalistic techno-optimism for nuclear energy as a battery for Finland's economic viability, welfare state, and national "backbone." He had been inspired by a "next-level smart" university professor's sense of nuclear energy's beauty as a grand human achievement. Taken under the wing of a charismatic "party professional" upon entering the nuclear workforce, an outgoing Timo met other nuclear neophytes with "climate pragmatist" or "ecomodernist" pro-nuclear environmentalisms. This talk examines how Timo's interpellating these father, professor, and senior colleague figures as future-selves combined with his almost-anachronistic zeal for nuclear energy's promises to secure him leadership-track upward mobility in nuclear professional worlds. It demonstrates how such helped him work comfortably within pyramidal orderings and to have workplace conventions flow intergenerationally through him. The talk concludes by reflecting on how tuning into "nuclear energy regeneration" dynamics like these is essential to understanding how, whether, and why nuclear worlds will be peopled amidst entangled twenty-first century human resource, demographic, and public acceptance crises.

Knowledge crisis: nuclearity and safeguards inspections at the IAEA

Author: Anna Weichselbraun (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

The expansion of “nuclearity” in the application of nuclear safeguards has effected a crisis in the knowledge practices of the IAEA, revealing the local ideologies of knowledge that undergird the nuclear infrastructures built up for the global governance of nuclear technologies.

Long Abstract

This presentation will consider crises of knowledge practices in the global governance of nuclear technology through an examination of the changing nuclear safeguards system carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA began verifying agreements with states possessing nuclear facilities through quintessentially technopolitical (Hecht 1998) safeguards inspections in the early 1960s. Since the early 1990s, in response to the IAEA's failure to detect Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program, the organization's nuclear safeguards system has been revised and expanded in scope in order to address the shortcomings perceived in the existing practices. New safeguards rely on an expanded operative notion of "nuclearity" (Hecht 2006). IAEA inspectors no longer confine themselves to inspecting only certain types of nuclear material but also ascertain the outlines of a state's material infrastructure, trade activity, research and development, and embodied expertise that would be required for a nuclear weapons program. The expansion of safeguards "nuclearity" has entailed a crisis of knowledge: the organization's ability to produce "bureaucratic objectivity" has been jeopardized. This presentation will describe and analyze these changes and the strategies of stabilization employed by actors at the IAEA in order to show how local ideologies of knowledge undergird the nuclear infrastructures built up for the global governance of nuclear technologies. It uses this example as a base from which to speculate about future challenges for the IAEA's role in a world where the inviolability of national borders has become increasingly fraught, further jeopardizing the inspectors' ability to provide "credible conclusions."

Assessing nuclear safety: the use of the Rasmussen report in France

Author: Ismail Goumri (Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire)  email

Short Abstract

This talk re-examines the use of the Rasmussen Report and the probabilistic methods in France during the 1970s. The engineers received the report with enthusiasm but some reserves. I link this appreciation of the Report to underpinning scientific, and political contexts.

Long Abstract

This talk aims to highlight the nexus between the representations of scientists about what is a "severe accident" and the way "nuclear safety" is assessed in the very specific French context of nuclearity [Hecht 1998]. I will focus on the discussions started in France after the publication of the Rasmussen Report in 1974 about the use of probabilistic methods of risk assessment and their articulation with the traditional deterministic "methods of barriers". At this time severe accidents were understood as accidents with unacceptable releases of radionuclides outside the power plant. These scenarios were considered highly hypothetical by the scientists and engineers even if they started to study these. The first large scale probabilistic nuclear safety assessment, the Rasmussen report (1974-1975), suggested that a nuclear core meltdown was not as « hypothetical » as expected in the early 1970. This point caught the attention of the Institut de Protection Nucléaire (IPSN) that took more in consideration these scenarios for enhancing safety. Some Rasmussen conclusions were counter-intuitive, like the fact that a core meltdown is more likely to occur after a small break in the primary circuit than after a large one. I show that the choice of using or not the probabilistic methods of risk assessment was very different for each institution and could be determined by the economic and political circumstances.

"Anti-nuclear technopolitics and the scientization of democracy in India

Author: Monamie Bhadra  email

Short Abstract

Using the case study of Indian activists leveling charges that Russian reactors contain substandard parts, I show how Indian anti-nuclear activists are opening up spaces for technopolitical activism, and opposing the Indian state’s technopolitics embedded in how it vouches for Russian technology.

Long Abstract

Using the case of anti-nuclear activism in India, I argue that technopolitics, in the sense of strategies deployed by actors in the design and governance of technologies to advance political goals, is not available to all. Rather, spaces for technopolitics must be pried open. Historically, the Indian state has performed technopolitics through its institutionalization, technological development and public acculturation of nuclear power. The Indian state's overarching goal has been, and continues to be, creating a centralized technology that will demonstrate Indian sovereignty and self-reliance, whether by developing indigenous thorium-based reactors, or by importing foreign reactors but domestically making reactor parts under the "Make in India" movement. Yet, activists have been unable to translate and embed their own politics into nuclear design and governance until now. India's rapid enrollment into the global nuclear economy, populist mobilizations against government corruption in India, and increased availability of technical documents on the Internet have created spaces for technopolitical activism. Using the case study of Indian activists leveling charges that Russian reactors contain substandard parts, I show how activists are enacting technopolitics in ways that align with wider cultural norms of public accountability. I also show how activists are opposing the state's technopolitics embedded in how it vouches for Russian technology. I conclude that these technopolitical engagements can be read as attempts by activists to "scientize" politics with the goal of democratizing nuclear power, and developing new forms of deliberative rationality other than sovereignty and self-reliance with which to have public debates over nuclear energy.

Monitoring radiation: The birth of networked publics after Chernobyl

Author: Yasuhito Abe (Doshisha University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates how Japanese publics contributed to developing an information infrastructure on nuclear radiation in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. In particular, it examines Radiation Disaster Alert Network (R-DAN] from an STS-informed historical perspective.

Long Abstract

This paper investigates how Japanese publics contributed to developing an information infrastructure on nuclear radiation in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. Whereas much scholarship has analyzed how publics were engaged in information production practices after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, little research has investigated them from a historical perspective. This paper thus fills the gap by examining them with a particular focus on the case of post-Chernobyl Japanese society.

In doing so, this paper investigates Radiation Disaster Alert Network (R-DAN, thereafter). Established on August 6, 1986, R-DAN is a Japanese grassroots network of citizens and engineers, who were concerned about unknown exposure to radiation. With its own dosimeter, R-DAN has monitored radiation leakage from nuclear power plants around Japan independently and collaboratively for approximately thirty years, becoming one of the key Japanese grassroots networks monitoring radiation before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. An investigation of R-DAN would be a precondition for better historical understanding of post-Fukushima Japanese society.

From an STS-informed historical perspective with a particular focus on citizen science literature, this paper investigates both online and print materials about R-DAN and its dosimeter, including the various kinds of documents such as Japanese mainstream newspapers (the Asahi, the Yomiuri, and the Nihon Keizai) and anti-nuclear grassroots movements' press (Han-Genpatsu Shimbun). In so doing, this paper seeks to illuminate resources and opportunities that Japanese publics draw on in the act of measuring radiation after Fukushima.

Pioneers and Problems: Implementing Geological Disposal of Nuclear Waste

Author: Marika Hietala (University of Sheffield)  email

Short Abstract

Geological disposal is recommended as the best available method for long-term nuclear waste management. Yet implementing it has proved difficult. Tracing imaginaries around nuclear things, this paper explores the dynamics at play in the implementation of geological disposal in two EU countries.

Long Abstract

Like nuclear power, geological disposal of nuclear wastes has climbed up the European political agenda. A 2011 EU Directive flagged geological disposal as the best available method for the long-term management of nuclear wastes and urged European nuclear nations to implement disposal solutions. Implementing geological disposal has however proved difficult with only a handful of countries having made progress towards siting and constructing a geological disposal facility.

Geological disposal is entangled with wide technopolitical aspirations instead of being simply about national nuclear waste management solutions. The EU for instance sees it as an enabling technology in a transition towards a low carbon European economy and in increasing nuclear power's share in the European energy mix.

Keeping this EU frame in mind, this paper examines the national and EU level technopolitical aspirations at play in the implementation of geological disposal in the UK and Finland. These countries represent two European nuclear nations with contrasting nuclear and disposal histories, but with converging visions of their particular nuclear futures.

This paper proposes that the Finnish and UK nuclear experiences can be compared and their particularities illuminated by evoking imaginaries of mundanity and exceptionalism around nuclear things. Tying together politics, technologies and visions of desirable as well as undesirable futures, imaginaries perform important coordinating work across 'disposal cultures'. By tracing imaginaries mundanity and exceptionalism within the UK and Finnish disposal cultures, this paper seeks to examine the dynamics at play in the implementation of geological disposal of nuclear wastes in the UK and Finland.

Nuclear Undertakings: Decommissioning as Social Laboratory

Author: Sergiu Novac (Central European University, Budapest)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores how decommissioning, seen as the last road in the management of ‘nuclear things’, influences what, following Foucault, might be called the politics of managing life, based of the case of the Greifswald NPP decommissioning project in Germany.

Long Abstract

This paper engages with nuclear decommissioning as a point of tension between a complex set of technological and economic strategies for producing nuclear waste and a laboratory for enabling social re-production.

The case study is that of the Greifswald NPP decommissioning project, which has gathered the longest experience in Germany, while its relevance goes far beyond the German experience. 'We have been observing Greifswald for quite a while now. It is in many ways a kind of social laboratory' a senior engineer working in decommissioning for a Finnish energy company tells me during an interview. This state-managed project has worked as an experiment on several levels: on one hand, gathering experience with different approaches to decommissioning, while at the same time trying to facilitate a smooth transition in an economically disadvantaged region where the power plant was the largest and main employer. The scope of this paper is to analyze how these different levels are intertwined and how different - often times even conflicting - temporal horizons are put at work in this process.

The topic is approached along the lines of recent anthropological engagements with energy more broadly (Boyer 2014), rather than taking a radical constructivist approach to 'laboratories' (Latour 1986). Thus, while taking technology seriously, the paper is rather concerned with how decommissioning, seen as the last road in the management of 'nuclear things', influences what, following Foucault, might be called the politics of managing life.

Geographies of Preparedness: Governing Nuclear Safety Across Changing Emergency Response Regimes

Author: Sonja Schmid (Virginia Tech)  email

Short Abstract

By comparing international attempts to ramp up nuclear emergency preparedness in the wake of Fukushima, I argue that differences in commitment to preparedness, technical choices, and views of the role of expertise and improvisation are creating new challenges for governing nuclear safety.

Long Abstract

In the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, nuclear experts, regulators, and policy-makers for the first time created international, legally binding documents concerning accidents at commercial nuclear facilities. While focusing mostly on mandatory notification in the case of accidental releases and on mutual assistance, these documents can be interpreted as some of the first attempts at creating an international nuclear emergency response. In the decades that followed, however, such international cooperation mostly receded to diplomatic maintenance, and only following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, talk about "beyond design basis accidents" and effective options of preparedness and response to nuclear emergencies have re-emerged as relevant issues on the international stage.

By comparing post-Fukushima initiatives in the Unites States, Russia, and Europe, this paper shows that despite the ubiquitous rhetoric of "lessons learned," it seems we are neither learning the same lessons, nor are we drawing similar, or sometimes even compatible, consequences from them. Where one can discern real-world effects of such "lessons learned," they tend to emphasize technical and legal "fixes," while omitting fundamental questions of human learning, improvised action, and accountability. In addition to illustrating this overall trend, the paper will also discuss notable exceptions - both in terms of developing innovative socio-technical programs, and of abstaining from substantial changes to existing operations. I will argue that varying commitments to the level of preparedness, different technical choices, and sometimes incompatible views of the role of expertise and improvisation are creating new landscapes, and challenges, for governing nuclear safety internationally.

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