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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 1 - HRP-IAEA (Living with Radiation: The Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the History of Radiation Protection)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-12-31

"Living with Radiation: The History of Radiation Protection and the International Atomic Energy Agency


This project addresses the central question of how the International Atomic Energy Agency, a diplomatic and political international organization, came to dominate scientific institutions with a long tradition in radiation protection. Despite the importance of international organizations for the development of postwar science there is no work on the history of radiation protection in relation to the development of the IAEA. The project addresses this lacuna in a groundbreaking way: it analyses what is usually treated as a strictly techno-scientific issue—how best to protect us from ionized radiation—using methods from history, philosophy, and sociology of science, and in the context of international history. The main hypothesis is that scientific knowledge about radiation protection has been shaped by diplomatic, social, economic, and political concerns. This approach casts new light on important aspects of postwar history of science, combining attention to state actors, science diplomacy, and the roles played by international organizations. Given the enormous interest in radiation protection the time is ripe for providing a comprehensive social, historical, and political study of the role of the IAEA in the field.

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; and
• to analyze the standardization of instruments, objects, procedures, and technical vocabulary as the main strategy used by the IAEA for guiding radiation protection worldwide.

This project turns our attention to global diplomacy as a means for understanding historical processes in science and technology, thereby dramatically affecting our understanding of the latter. It casts new light on important aspects of post-WWII history of science, combining attention to state actors, the roles played by international organizations, and by ""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, this research will inform vital policy debates. 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."
HRP-IAEA has grown over its 24 (in practice 18) months at the Technical University in Berlin (first Host Institution) by achieving all the goals it had set for itself despite the COVID-19 pandemic and personal difficulties of the PI. Several challenges were addressed in this first period of activity.

• Build a common dynamic within the research group and despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic.
• Set in motion an interdisciplinary network of researchers and promote the project’s key challenge, that is to advocate a diplomatic turn in history of science.
• Achieve the project’s primary scientific objectives and make them visible in the community.

The construction of a common dynamic among the members of the research group through bimonthly online meetings and exchanges of work in progress. These activities ensure regular flow of scientific conversation and exchange and sharing of archival material, which became vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of the project’s duration the team had strong intellectual life, lively debates and also a noticeable presence in the field. The members of the team have been present in webinars, on-line conferences and initiated other scientific events (including a podcast series and bilateral meetings with partners), achieving visibility on the international scene and recognition.

The promotion of a diplomatic turn in the community of historians of science has been achieved through the preparation of peer-reviewed publications in the most important journals of the field, the organization of a series of global webinars on the history of radiation protection and the production of a series of multilingual podcasts. In collaboration to the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, the PI promoted the diplomatic turn beyond nuclear history and addressed the current global challenge—the COVID-19 pandemic—through an educational video on health diplomacy entitled Diplomacy in the Time of Cholera

The detailed report that follows reveal an extremely high-level of activity, visibility, and recognition that has been established at scientific and institutional level. In the next phase of the project, communication efforts should make it possible to increase HRP-IAEA’s visibility, stimulate its research, and ensure its impact in the academic community.
"The project advocates a ""diplomatic turn"": diplomacy becomes analytical category in history of science. Highly interdisciplinary, it brings together expertise from several disciplines, promising a significant advancement across them.
The PI has proposed Diplomatic Studies of Science as a new field of research, which sheds light on actual diplomatic processes as an integral part of knowledge making and presents the notion of nuclear science and diplomacy as co-produced. Science and diplomacy display fundamental similarities: scientists attempt to make knowledge produced locally seem global, thereby achieving universal epistemic order, while diplomats endeavor to maintain political order on a global scale that accommodates the local concerns of their country. In particular, the co-production of nuclear knowledge and political nuclear order has characterized the post-World War II period. Hence, the making of global political orders includes the emergence of relevant diplomatic actors, which comprise not only sovereign states but also non-state actors, such as international organizations or individual experts."
HRP-IAEA: Living with Radiation