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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Nuclear Nordics: Radioactive Waste Spatialities, Materialities and Societies in the Nordic Region, 1960s to 1990s

Alternative title: Strålende Norden: Radioaktivt avfall og dets romligheter, materialiteter og samfunn i Norden, 1960-tallet til 1990-tallet

Awarded: NOK 1.2 mill.

As Norway and other countries are decommissioning their nuclear installations, the question of how to cost-effectively and safely store nuclear waste for hundreds of thousand years becomes an ever more pressing concern. In May 2021, the Norwegian Institute of Energy Technology announced that 3 tonnes of unused uranium fuel would be sent to the UK to be reprocessed and turned into new uranium fuel. According to the Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry Iselin Nybø, this 24 MNOK deal was a ‘small but important step in cleaning up the waste that remains after Norwegian nuclear activities.’ Recent developments such as these exemplify the transnational dimension of radioactive waste, and its entanglements with social, economic, political, technological, and environmental developments. In fact, since the first nuclear programmes, radioactive material including nuclear waste has been transported across the globe, either for reprocessing purposes and nuclear weapons production, or for dumping activities for which the depths of the sea proved particularly popular. Nuclear Nordics’ objectives were exactly to identify and analyse these implications of radioactive waste within and between environments, societies and technologies. It further aimed to explore the highly ambiguous history of cooperation, exchange and conflict on radioactive waste between and within the societies of nuclear and non-nuclear countries in the Nordic region and their wider international cooperation. Focusing on the interplay of these dimensions and of radioactive waste with its surroundings, Nuclear Nordics has shown that because of the fluidity of nuclear waste, it becomes an ungraspable object placed in border environments of natural and political character. As such, the research connected to Nuclear Nordics offers valuable insights into how societies have problematised and dealt with the long-lasting legacies of energy utopias, and provides new knowledge on challenges of ecological justice, planetary pollution and energy transition.

The project has advance research within the emerging field of the nuclear humanities, Nordic nuclear cooperation, social movements, and science and technology by challenging methodological nationalism, the geographical focus, and the analytical lens. As a highly-debated topic across countries, incl. Norway, the project further shows results in form of societal engagement on the matter in public and political discussions.

Nuclear Nordics explores the international dimension of radioactive waste and its technology-society-environment entanglements in the Nordic region from the 1960s to the 1990s. This is an innovative and ambitious historical study that centres the ambiguous and entangled history of nuclear waste. Drawing on previously unscrutinised material from multinational archival research, complemented by media sources and oral history interviews, the project will investigate nuclear waste in its entirety by using the innovative conceptual approach of spatialities. Nuclear Nordics will answer three questions: First, what role did national borders and natural environments play in the handling of radioactive waste during transport, reprocessing and depositing? Secondly, how did cooperation and conflict on radioactive waste emerge between nuclear and non-nuclear countries, as well as between countries of the same kind? Thirdly, in what way do the different procedures and processes of nuclear waste define the geographical scope and international cooperation? Using approaches from the history of technology and environmental history to analyse the dilemmas, conjunctures, and inconsistencies within and between each nuclear spatiality, the project scrutinises the complex transnational entanglements of radioactive waste, as well as contextualises it relative to social, economic, political, technological and environmental developments. Nuclear Nordics offers an insightful example of how societies have problematised and dealt with the long-lasting legacies of energy utopias, i.e. irreversible ecological consequences of past societies and once promising technologies. It thereby also sheds new light on contemporary debates of ecological justice and planetary pollution amid evolving climate change and increasing societal protest both for and against clean energies and alternative carbon-free societies.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam