When Deep Time Becomes Shallow: Knowing Nuclear Waste Risk Ethnographically

Discard Studies

Guest post by Vincent F. Ialenti

When I arrived in Finland about two and a half years ago to conduct ethnographic fieldwork among the motley teams of experts managing the country’s high-level nuclear wastes, my sights were set on the distant future. I had read up on scholarly and media commentaries describing how the multi-millennial timescales of nuclear waste risk have challenged governments, companies, regulators, scientists, engineers, managers, and other experts across the world to extend the reach of risk governance into previously untapped futures. I had struggled through the elaborate million-year forecasts of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (now, seemingly, ill-fated) “License Application for a High-Level Waste Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain” and I had perused longsighted reports like the IAEA’s 2009 “Considering Timescales in the Post-Closure Safety of Geological Disposal of Radioactive Waste.” I had read imaginative books like UC Irvine physicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford’s…

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