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Nuclear Decision-making in the Soviet Union. Investigating Water in Expert Cultures Concerned with the Siting of Nuclear Power Plants

You are warmly welcome to Achim Klüppelberg's mid-term seminar, where his thesis work so far, and the plans for continued research up to a PhD, will be presented and discussed.

Time: Mon 2021-05-17 13.15 - 14.45

Location: Zoom (register for link)

Lecturer: Achim Klüppelberg, Div. History of Science, Technology and Environment


Soviet nuclear energetics were based on the hydrologic technological system created between 1930 and 1960. Stemming from the bomb project, civil and dual-use applications of fission were seen as a way through which protagonists of Soviet modernity could embrace a new future, which Josephson called atomic-powered communism. While scholars have readily engaged nuclear power as a topic, the hydrologic roots and necessary entanglements, especially for cooling purposes, have been neglected in regard to their relevance. Nevertheless, these entanglements are crucial for an holistic understanding of the nuclear industry and thus to ensure its safety.
Therefore, this doctoral thesis aims to fill a twofold gap in the existing literature. First, water will be put at the centre of an analysis of the Soviet nuclear programme. Pipes, valves, tanks, pumps, pressure mechanics and gravity approaches in passive systems all use much older inventions, which are generally not considered in the existing historiography concerned with nuclear energy. Aquatic systems, riverbeds, industrial improvements, watersheds and fluid pathways of potential contamination have not been sufficiently linked to the rapid development of the nuclear industry.

Second, the cultural elements of the nuclear inner circle, composed of bureaucrats, politicians and scientific-technical personnel, will be investigated to analyse how expert culture(s) influenced the decision-making process and the different forms of science communication of nuclear endeavours. Therefore, siting-discourses of Soviet nuclear power plants in the period between 1954 and 1991 will be analysed under a water and technocratic culture perspective to tap more accurately into the entanglements between the nuclear industry, hydrology, economic imperatives and state-communist ideology.

Consequently, insights from these investigations shall serve to constructively broaden our understanding of the phenomenon of the Soviet nuclear industry’s fast development. While living in a time, in which a nuclear renaissance is happening in post-Soviet Russia, the highlighting of abovementioned entanglements may contribute to a more sophisticated understanding of the environmental consequences such a renaissance might entail, stressing the necessity for nuclear safety under the long shadows of the state-communist legacy.

Belongs to: Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment
Last changed: Apr 26, 2021