Accepted Paper:

Knowledge crisis: nuclearity and safeguards inspections at the IAEA  


Anna Weichselbraun (University of Vienna)

Paper 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.

Paper 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."

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