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History of Nuclear Energy and Society

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - HoNESt (History of Nuclear Energy and Society)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2019-02-28

“History of nuclear energy and society” (HoNESt) is a project funded by the Euratom Research and training programme and seeks to understand the development of nuclear energy and its relations with society in Europe from 1945 to the present and, by learning lessons from the past, help to improve communication and interaction between civil society and the nuclear industry (and vice versa).

HoNESt directly addresses the five expected impacts set out in the Horizon 2020: Euratom Work Programme 2014-2015 NFRP 12 – 2014 regarding Nuclear developments and interaction with society. In this sense, HoNESt has worked to identify the factors underlying the societal perception of nuclear developments and how they are inter-related. At the same time, it has characterised the range of mechanisms used historically by industry and policy makers to engage with society on the nuclear issue, assessing any evidence on the effectiveness and of the different approaches to provide recommendations on relative effectiveness of mechanisms and their context dependency.

HoNESt has provided the first long-term historical survey integrating social science analysis of nuclear energy’s relation with society, in order to greatly improve our understanding of the debate on nuclear power. Scholars from a wide variety of fields have studied the past, present and future of nuclear developments, including – to a larger or lesser extent – the relations with society. There is a rich but very diverse literature from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Nevertheless, the different strands of this literature hardly engage with each other and frequently focus on specific, often national case studies that often only include superficial references to other national contexts and experiences. In this sense HoNESt addressed the twin challenges of assembling the knowledge gained from historical research and overcoming the disciplinary and national fragmentation of research so far in. HoNESt integrates both historical research approaches from the history of technology, social, political and economic and environmental history with social science approaches relating to policy studies, social movements and civil society, or the public perception of risk and benefits, as developed by political scientists, sociologists and social psychologists.
HoNESt began in September 2015 and finished in February 2019. It has been a large three-year and a half project covering nuclear-society relations in 20 countries across Europe – East and West, North and South - and the USA. HoNESt's historians have analysed the historical data that define these relations in their national and transnational contexts. This data has been the basis on which to build the different national cases. The result was the narratives of 20 countries (Short country reports to download on the Website

In a second phase and on the base of the historical results, HoNESt’s social scientists have analysed the mechanisms through which nuclear energy and society perceive and interact with each other, and have proposed ‘back-cast ideal futures’ in order to propose the establishment of a new relationship to break down the polarisation between the nuclear industry and certain sections of society.
Empirical data and the historical facts must be understood in its context. HoNESt is innovative in its method and approach. It combines historical comparisons across countries, traces transnational connections and the intermediary role of international bodies, such as EURATOM and the IAEA. In this sense, HoNESt has sought the interaction with the main stakeholders and actors to establish the bases of the historical narrative. Aware of the need to integrate the different stakeholders in the review of the historical and social analysis, HoNESt has made a great effort to seek interaction with the different actors.

Considering the contribution to the understanding of factors triggering the social engagement with nuclear energy and other nuclear applications, HoNESt has addressed the blind spots of the existing research. It has also contributed to the understanding of factors triggering social engagement with nuclear energy and other nuclear applications in different ways. HoNESt has provided the first ever performance assessment of nuclear-social relations over the past 60 years in Europe and beyond. Assembling the relevant information from technology, science, economy, politics and society allows lessons to be drawn from a large number of examples of different engagement practices related to different technologies. By systematically juxtaposing these, it has been possible to uncover relevant mechanisms and key factors. At the same time, change over time, path dependencies, learning processes and the impact of changing social and political contexts, had become visible.

HoNESt provides insights to decision makers and other stakeholders regarding interaction with civil society. It has been able to single out important factors by taking seriously the preferences and motivations, worldviews, suspicions and concerns of all relevant actors in civil-nuclear engagement. Raising mutual awareness for “how scientists and engineers think” and “how policy makers think” and “how nuclear critics think” – and drawing relevant conclusions – HoNESt has contributed to a new understanding of these relations, and mediate these insights to the different stakeholders via dissemination and engagement.

In this sense HoNESt has contributed to overcoming what has been characterised as the “dialogue of the deaf” that so often debilitates social relations with nuclear technology. In this way, the results provide an innovative analytical framework for the analysis of nuclear-social relations in the past and present that is highly relevant to decision-makers.

Regarding the implementation of effective engagement with civil society in future nuclear projects, HoNESt has tested the mechanisms characterising societal engagement with nuclear energy through a backcasting exercise. Through its engagement and dissemination strategy, HoNESt had been designed to ensure that decision makers and stakeholders will actually benefit from the “tangible” insights from this innovative research for their current and future work, notably with a view to future nuclear and other high technology applications.
In its approach, considering the concerns and preferences of all relevant actors, HoNESt provides a more differentiated and nuanced view of nuclear-social relations. Thus far, many citizens and scholars have perceived “nuclear power” as a “black box”, rather than as the interplay of actors with various objectives, concerns and ideals and a complex technological system to be studied and understood.

HoNESt has triggered dialogue, mutual understanding and ideas for future fruitful cooperation among members of the nuclear research community and the Social Sciences and Humanities.
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