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Nuclear Diplomacies: Their Past, Present, and Future

The workshop NUDI2019 took place in Athens, Greece, on 9-10 May and brought together scholars from an array of disciplines and countries. The event was a continuation of NUDI2018, hosted at SOKENDAI’s Hayama Campus in Japan in November 2018. Through the workshop, InsSciDE experts from WP6 - Security opened new avenues of research and exchanged knowledge on the emerging concept of nuclear diplomacy and its historical practice. The collection of papers presented will be published in a special issue edited by Maria Rentetzi, InsSciDE WP6 Leader, and Kenji Ito of SOKENDAI University in Japan, both historians of nuclear sciences and the organizers of the workshop.

Nuclear diplomacy has historically been a malleable social and political practice and nuclear diplomats have been key political actors in constant transition. What counts as nuclear diplomacy and who counts as a nuclear diplomat? In other words, what is ‘nuclear’ in nuclear diplomacy? Scholars from around the world tackled these questions in the NUDI2019 workshop, supported by the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), SOKENDAI University, and InsSciDE. Using methods from history, sociology, and philosophy of science, Professor Maria Rentetzi, leader of InsSciDE’s WP6 on Security, and Dr Kenji Ito from SOKENDAI University in Japan organized the workshop around these questions, which have largely and traditionally been addressed by political scientists and international historians.

Rentetzi’s research examines a profound transformation in nuclear diplomacy based on the notion of nuclear security. Her findings suggests a shift after WWII, and especially after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, in Europe’s long-established history of international scientific cooperation in the field of nuclear sciences with the goal to achieve peace and scientific excellence. Instead, the goal of scientific cooperation gradually became national security in a complex global context. In 1954, Europeans invested in the establishment of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in order to restore peace through scientific collaboration and compete with ’big science’ in the United States. In 2013, the EU launched the European Nuclear Security Training Centre (EUSECTRA) in order to address nuclear terrorism and the illicit traffic of radioactive materials. In reference to EU discourse and practices, nuclear diplomacy has been gradually transformed from a tool of peace and prosperity to one that accomplishes nuclear security. How and when this transformation happened is key in understanding the peculiarities of nuclear diplomacy. According to Rentetzi, this transformation implies a major professional identity shift for the practitioners of nuclear diplomacy. Besides nuclear scientists and engineers, diplomats, science administrators, third party liability nuclear insurers, and intellectuals, the category of nuclear diplomat now includes police officials, regulators, and an array of radiation protection experts.

During the NUDI 2019 workshop, Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz, both professors at the Universidad Nacional Autónomata de México, discussed the role of IAEA’s atomic ambassadors in the Agency’s early technical assistance projects. Anna Åberg of Chalmers University of Technology and a member of Rentetzi’s InsSciDE WP6 presented the history of nuclear fusion diplomacy with a focus on ITER, one of today’s most ambitious energy projects with 35 nations collaborating to build the world’s largest tokamak. Rentetzi and Alexandros Kyrtsis, professor at the National Kapodistrian University in Greece and expert in WP6, explored how insurers in the field of third party nuclear liability shaped nuclear diplomacy. Kenji Ito tackled the beginning of IAEA’s safeguards through the history of Japan’s research reactor-3 in the late 1950s. Fintan Hoey, from Franklin University talked about energy security and non-proliferation based on Japan’s plutonium reprocessing ambitions and U.S. proliferation fears in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Amy Slaton, professor at Drexel University and editor of History and Technology, a major journal in the field of history of science and technology, offered her suggestions and insightful comments on the presented papers, to be published in a special issue edited by Rentetzi and Ito.

Learn more about the InsSciDE researchers who participated in NUDI2019 and the case studies of their work package:

Maria Rentetzi: WP6 Leader and author of case study n°6.4a Addressing nuclear security through the study of IAEA’s safeguards system
Anna Åberg: Author of case study n°6.3 ITER and the changing role of security: European science diplomacy in nuclear fusion collaboration
Alexandros Kyrtsis: Author of case study n°6.1 Technological decisions and the diplomacy of sharing security critical information between EU and NATO partners

Case Study Pitches WP6 - Security


Workshop organizers Maria Rentetzi, InsSciDE WP6 Leader, and Kenji Ito of SOKENDAI University in Japan, both historians of nuclear sciences.

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Published 22 July 2019