The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

Nuclear legacies: Negotiating radioactivity in France, Russia and Sweden

Field: Industrihistoria
Project leader: Anna Storm
Starting year: 2015

Of about 540 commercial nuclear reactors in the world, 100 have already been taken out of use. In the near future, many more will be closed down as the first generation of reactors is becoming obsolete. Regardless of shifting political views on nuclear power and ongoing new construction, we have entered an era of post-nuclear sites in large numbers. What legacies do the post-nuclear sites convey? Which crucial questions face us in the efforts to manage these highly contaminated places in a responsible way? The current control of radioactive material and sites, and experiences of a privileged, high status but vulnerable “nuclear way of living” are marked by a striking asymmetry of power between different groups of actors. This tension forms an underlying rationale for the project.

We will address nuclear legacies along three axes: a material–immaterial axis, a heritage–future axis, and a power axis, and by empirical studies in France, Russia and Sweden. The following questions will guide the project: 1) How is the “nuclear way of living” re-negotiated when the plant that formed its basis is closing down? 2) How have the official stories of nuclear power changed in relation to alterations in political systems? 3) How is the issue of radioactive waste played out between scientific experts, state actors and anti-nuclear activists when previously hidden information becomes public? 4) What are the future visions for post-nuclear sites, in terms of ecology and social life, when the decommissioning process is finalized?

The material–immaterial axis explores, e.g., public displays and exhibited objects, urban organization and experiences of being chosen or betrayed. The heritage–future axis deploys shared memories, official storytelling and articulation of future prospects. The power axis, finally, highlights actors’ ability to influence or steer decisions and developments, e.g., in managing hazardous spent nuclear fuel or shaping stories of past abuses.

The aim of the project is, first, to generate new knowledge about the impact of nuclear legacies in the current situation of an expanding post-nuclear landscape, and second, to develop a cohesive research terminology for comprehending and analyzing nuclear legacies. Through a deepened understanding of what nuclear power production signifies in different societal contexts and temporalities, the ambition is to contribute to a better designed management of the nuclear legacies that we all – by necessity – share.

Final report - Anna Storm - Nuclear legacies: Negotiating radioactivity in France, Russia and Sweden