Accepted Paper:

Regenerating Nuclear Energy: Neophyte Dreams & Workplace Peopling  


Vincent Ialenti (Cornell University)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

Panel T093
Infrastructures of nuclearity: Exploring entangled histories, spaces and futures