Lecturers: Professor Paul N. Edwards and Professor Gabrielle Hecht, Department of History, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
Location: University of Oslo, Norway
Dates: 23 July – 27 July 2012
Main disciplines: STS, History, Environmental Policy
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants
Complete course presentation:
Introduction & Course Objectives
Just a few years ago, credible scenarios projected that climate change might lead up to 30 nations to launch new nuclear power programs between 2015 and 2030. These programs would build as many as 600 new nuclear power stations worldwide, reducing global carbon emissions by 11 percent or more and helping to shift the world energy economy away from fossil fuels. But in March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, causing core meltdowns in three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Hydrogen explosions at the reactors spewed radioactive materials into the air, rendering the region near the plant uninhabitable for generations to come. As Japan reeled, industry spokespeople insisted that the accidents were a fluke. Newer, “inherently safe” reactor designs, they argued, could not suffer such accidents. Nuclear power remained an important, highly effective means of combating climate change.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the accident, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium have officially renounced nuclear power. Other European countries seem likely to follow suit, as does Japan. Yet investments in nuclear systems create conundrums not easily addressed with a single political decision. Germany announced long-term plans to make up its electricity shortfall from renewable sources. But in the near term, ironically, it will be forced to rely more heavily on fossil fuels — or to import nuclear-generated electricity from France. The technopolitical history of nuclear power thus weighs heavily on the future of energy in a warming world.
This course offers essential historical perspective on contemporary debates. It presents accessible reviews of climate change science and risks, and of nuclear power and its risks. In addition, the course offers a sophisticated conceptual toolbox drawn from science & technology studies (STS), anthropology, economic sociology, cultural studies, and postcolonial studies. Students will emerge better equipped to understand not only debates about nuclear power and climate change, but also a variety of historical and contemporary issues surrounding energy futures and the politics of science and technology.