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Living with Radiation: The Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the History of Radiation Protection

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - HRP-IAEA (Living with Radiation: The Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the History of Radiation Protection)

Reporting period: 2022-07-01 to 2023-12-31

HRP-IAEA considers radiation protection as an ongoing human attempt to globally regulate radiation while at the same time exploits and promotes its use. The project pays special attention to the historical role of the International Atomic Energy Agency as the most powerful regulatory institution in the field. The main question is how radiation protection “went global” and became an issue of diplomatic concern in the hands of an international political organization instead of remaining solely the responsibility of international scientific institutions.

The project’s main hypothesis is that radiation protection is far from a strictly techno-scientific issue. How best to protect humans and the environment from ionized radiation is a social, economic, political, and, most importantly, a diplomatic concern.

The main objectives of the project are:
• to retrace the international history of radiation protection after World War II, focusing especially on the "Technical Assistance Programs" of the IAEA;
• to investigate the role of the IAEA in sponsoring knowledge production in the field of radiation protection in competition with other regulatory agencies;
• to analyze the standardization of instruments, objects, procedures, and technical vocabulary as the main strategy used by the IAEA for guiding radiation protection worldwide.

Methodologically, the project turns our attention to global diplomacy and international governance as means for understanding historical processes in science and technology. It casts new light on important aspects of post-WWII history of science by examining the roles played by state actors, international organizations, and "epistemic communities" that produce and circulate expert scientific knowledge. Given also the enormous scientific, political, and social interest in how ionized radiation affects humans and the environment and in how they should be protected from it, this research will inform vital policy debates.

We expect that the results of the project will be important to those who (a) are involved in designing and implementing radiation protection policies, (b) deal with radioactive materials both in nuclear industries and in the medical sector, (c) encounter radiation in their daily lives—as most of us do.
The project's key aim is to promote a diplomatic turn in history of science bridging science and technology studies, diplomatic history and history of science and technology. From the beginning of the project the PI has done a great effort to address this issue through research, conferences, seminars and publications. Probably the most important achievement in this respect is the establishment of a new book series by Brepols on Science Diplomacy that the PI edits. She will also edit and aims to transform a journal in history of science entitled Almagest. This will create the new transnational and interdisciplinary space needed for the new generation of early career scholars to publish innovative work that traditional and disciplinary journals cannot accommodate. By now the PI is considered an expert in the field of science diplomacy and has been invited to consult the EU, UNIDIR, and the IAEA. The project reached high visibility (500,000 people) when an interview of the PI was published in Germany's newspaper Die Zeit.

The PI has published extensively in some of the top journals in history of science. She has edited three special issues (History and Technology; Centaurus; Annals of Science). She also co-authored with Angela Creager a paper in a collective volume edited by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), Soraya Boudia (Université de Paris), and Kyoko Sato (Stanford University).

The PI’s monograph, related to the early period of the history of radiation protection (ERC topic), has been published by Pittsburgh University Press (2022). Especially during the third reporting period the PI has published extensively in major journals and with key publishers in her field. Some of the members of her research group had also the chance to co-author papers with her and submit individual papers for review. She edited a collective volume The Gender of Things: How Epistemic and Technological Objects Become Gendered (Routledge) and contributed besides the introduction, two major pieces on the history of the “standard man” in radiation dosimetry and the use of female phantoms in dosimetry studies. This second contribution brought front and centre the gender norms that were strongly in evidence in the history of radiation protection.

The PI has also been invited to organise one of the most prestigious events in history of science, the Gordon Cain Conference of the Science History Institute in Philadelphia. She has written also brief pieces relevant to science policy for Diplomatic Currier, the DAAD Letter, Nuclear Newswire, as well as the London School of Economics Research Online, and the Diplomat Magazine both co-authored with Kapil Patil. She has given keynotes in several major conferences and workshops including American Institute of Physics, Freie University Berlin, University of Granada, Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, DAAD-Stipendiatentreffen, Max Weber-Programm Bayern, the Swiss Mission to the EU, the ZEIT für [Bildung] event, the DAAD, and two side events during IAEA’s 2022 and 2023 General Conferences. Several interviews and the PI’s presence in newspapers and social media made HRP-IAEA visible in the German and international wider publics. All members of the HRP-IAEA group have been very active in participating in major conferences of our field and presenting their work.
The project advocates a "diplomatic turn" in the history of science, i.e. for diplomacy to become an analytic category in the field. Highly interdisciplinary, it brings together expertise from several disciplines, promising a significant advancement across them.

The PI has proposed Diplomatic Studies of Science, which sheds light on actual diplomatic processes as an integral part of knowledge making and advocates the notion of nuclear science and diplomacy being co-produced. With its focus on the IAEA, the project is expected to demonstrate that the history of radiation protection and the development of radiation standards is far from linear. It is more than just a story of scientific cooperation on an international level that requires interstate relations and assumes rigid national boundaries. Rather it asks for a broader conception of international relations, nuclear diplomacy, and the circulation of materials, knowledge, and expertise, all pointing to the role of international organizations and, both national and international, regulatory institutions. In short, it demands the use of international governance as an analytical framework, i.e. the sum of institutions that coordinate transnational actors not only through traditional means such as legal tools and policies but also (and this is the project’s contribution beyond the state of the art) via scientific standards and materials.

HRP-IAEA aims at the softening of borders between disciplines and between the academic and non-academic world. To reach beyond academia and even beyond what is usually considered as a en educated wider public, the PI has working on a children's book based on one of her historical cases related to radiation protection and the IAEA.