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Empires built on sand: On the fundamental implausibility of reactor safety assessments and the implications for nuclear regulation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalRegulation and Governance
Early online date31 Jan 2020
DateAccepted/In press - 11 Jan 2020
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 31 Jan 2020


This paper 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, it concludes, has far-reaching implications for nuclear policy, and it 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.

    Research areas

  • expertise, nuclear regulation, nuclear safety, risk assessment, governance



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