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Wasted opportunities? Nuclear STS lost in translation

  • Parotte, Céline
Publication Date
May 17, 2021
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In 2010, Solomon et al. published "Three Decades of Social Science Research on High-Level Nuclear Waste: Achievements and Future Challenges." Ten years later, Hietala and Geysmans (2020) once again assessed the added value and limitations of social science thinking on radioactive waste management (RWM). STS researchers engaged in multiple ways (critical thinker, translator, participant observer) and provided many concepts that they considered useful for conceptualizing or critiquing such sensitive sociotechnical processes. In short, they have also experimented with how their theoretical (and even pragmatic) suggestions have been understood, received, rejected, or ignored by different audiences engaged in and outside the nuclear world. In this presentation, I take a pragmatic and reflexive stance to ask: how do social scientists and STS researchers contribute to the design and evaluation of radioactive waste management processes and for what consequences? Following the key challenges that Belgian radioactive waste management actors have identified for the future of radioactive waste management and spent fuel programs (Parotte and Fallon 2020), the arguments of the presentation will develop as follows: For each challenge, I will first highlight some STS concepts that have already been suggested to RWM practitioners in Belgium and elsewhere. Then, I will critically evaluate how and why these STS concepts have received limited attention from RW practitioners. I emphasize that in some cases, STS specialists may be lost in translation, unable to reach particular audiences or to integrate contextual constraints and understand other languages. Based on concrete examples, I will highlight how STS concepts travel politely around the world or can be superficially instrumentalized to serve particular interests with limited consequences. Are these attempts missed opportunities? In any case, this is the perfect opportunity for us STS researchers to clearly identify and assume the kind of worlds we wish to live in and to ask the sensitive and provocative questions we like to ask of others: who am I willing to live with? What are the means or pathways I refuse to take?

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