PROMISES. The making of sustainability transitions with (false?) expectations: Critical analysis of historical and current promises of nuclear technology

Applying approaches of science and technology research (STS), especially the sociology of expectations and the theory of epistemic communities, the project examines the structure and implications of promises of nuclear technologies for politics and society. Historical analysis of promises relating to nuclear technologies, as an incarnation of the techno-scientific optimism of the modern era, provides tools for steering socio-technical innovation towards sustainability, in a post-modern society with its complex relationship with the future.

The project analyses the interactions between professional promise-building communities and their contestants in various arenas of debate and policy. Members of these so-called epistemic communities are united by shared perceptions concerning ways of obtaining reliable knowledge, and by a common policy enterprise. The project explores the processes through which promises are materialised and institutionalised in policy decisions and strategies, science policy, research strategies, funding decisions, investment, pilot and commercial projects, and public opinion.

At the heart of the work are the promises concerning Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in Finland, Canada, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The SMR promises are considered in the historical, cultural, and political context of the promises concerning other nuclear technologies, broader energy policy scenarios, and visions of the future. To do so, the project will review, as complementary cases, the promises of fast breeder nuclear reactors, high-level nuclear waste management, and nuclear fusion, as well as scenarios and visions such as hydrogen economy and energy systems relying solely on renewable sources.

The documentary material (press articles, reports, press releases) is analysed using IT-assisted methods based on pragmatic sociology. Interviews with experts and key stakeholders, and the archives of international nuclear-sector organisations provide additional material.