Refashioning expert personhood collaboratively in a Finnish nuclear waste repository safety assessment project
Paper short abstract:
This talk examines a scene in which expert personhoods were refashioned in a safety analysis project in Finland’s nuclear waste disposal regime that brought many kinds of scientists and engineers into collaborative relations. Through this they forged epistemic sensibilities attuned to wider holisms.
Paper long abstract:
This presentation examines the epistemological sensibilities of a motley team of nuclear energy industry engineers, geologists, physicists, chemists, hydrologists, and mathematicians that collaboratively assembled an elaborate portfolio of models forecasting risks to potentially beset a nuclear waste repository beneath Olkiluoto, Finland over the coming millennia. Developing a 'Safety Case' submitted to Finland's nuclear regulatory authority as part of an application for a repository construction permit, some experts developed a vague sense that their portfolio, in its immense organizational complexity, had come to acquire something resembling a 'group intelligence' transcending any individual expert's awareness. This, for some, led to a feeling of being but simple 'ants' dwelling within the collective logics of a broader collaborative 'colony'. Still, as one expert explained, even while the 'forest' of Safety Case models cannot be encompassed in its totality by any single expert person, some were able to comprehend the portfolio 'from the treetops' by grasping the details of how the myriad reports wove together (understanding the 'whole') while others were able to comprehend its 'roots' by grasping the details of specific subsets of reports (understanding the 'parts'). Consequently, they were encouraged to refashion their self-concepts as expert persons by relativizing their knowledge practices' might vis-à-vis that of their fellow collaborators' knowledge practices and by reflecting on their projects' positionalities within the broader ecosystem of reports comprising the portfolio. In making these relations visible to themselves, I will demonstrate, individual collaborators were refashioned as expert persons more attuned to modalities of mystery, wonder, and holism.
Collaboratively assembling persons