Empires Built On Sand: On The Fundamental Implausibility Of Reactor Safety Assessments And The Implications For Nuclear Regulation

Summary :

Empires built on sand: On the fundamental implausibility of reactor safety assessments and the implications for nuclear regulation, explores the nature of expert knowledge-claims made about catastrophic reactor accidents and the processes through which they are produced. Using the contested approval of the AP1000 reactor by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as a case study and drawing on insights from the Science and Technology Studies (STS) literature, it finds that the epistemological foundations of safety assessments are counterintuitively distinct from most engineering endeavors.

As a result, it argues, those assessments (and thus their authority) are widely misconstrued by publics and policymakers. This misconstrual has far-reaching implications for nuclear policy, and the paper outlines how scholars, policymakers, and others might build on a revised understanding of expert reactor assessments to differently frame, and address, a range of questions pertaining to the risks and governance of atomic energy.

One of the reviewers of the paper described it as “a well-written, engaging contribution that addresses regulatory expertise for nuclear safety regulation” whereas another reader found it “well argued”.


Professor M.V. Ramana, Liu Institute for Global Issues, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, UBC

Dr. John Downer, Global Insecurities Centre, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK