Accepted Paper:

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


Sonja Schmid (Virginia Tech)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

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