The fundamental implausibility of reactor safety assessments

M.V. Ramana, together with John Downer, published a paper dealing with the difficulties of reactor safety assessments.

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.

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