Nuclear Energy: From Dark Past to Green Future?

This event is part of the RECET History and Social Sciences Festival "Green Transformations"

Venue: Campus of the University of Vienna („Altes AKH“), festival tent in Hof 1

Position of the tent:

Roundtable discussion with Elisabeth Röhrlich (Department of History, University of Vienna), Anna Weichselbraun (Department of European Ethnology, University of Vienna), Stephen G. Gross (New York University, online), moderated by Rosamund Johnston (RECET)

What role can nuclear energy play in green transformation, if any? Initially lauded as a path to both peace and prosperity, nowadays its proponents hail it as the key to carbon-free energy production in the overall context of the decarbonization of the energy sector. Yet fears about the atom’s potential destructiveness have left their imprint on societies of the Cold War era and after, with Chernobyl and Fukushima as memorials to nuclear energy’s risks. In this roundtable discussion, the panelists analyze the paradoxes that emerged from the roll-out of nuclear energy production on the one hand, and its governance on the other. They discuss the unequal distribution of nuclear power’s promises and risks, reflecting on what nuclear energy reveals of the experts, states, and international organizations that have historically regulated it. They ultimately show how the hopes and fears surrounding nuclear energy have been reworked—but have not disappeared—today, in an age marked by less high-profile political speeches like Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace,” if no less nuclear energy production.

Elisabeth Röhrlich is Associate Professor at the History Department of the University of Vienna and Vice Dean of the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies. Her expertise is in twentieth century global and international history, the history of international organizations, the history of the nuclear age and the Cold War, and Austrian contemporary history. She received her PhD in history from the University of Tübingen, Germany, and has held fellowships at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies, the German Historical Institute and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (both in Washington D.C.), and Monash University South Africa. She is the author of a prize-winning book about the former Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky (Kreiskys Außenpolitik, Vienna University Press, 2009), and her writings on the history of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been published in journals such as the Diplomacy and Statecraft, Cold War History, and the Journal of Cold War Studies. Her monograph "Inspectors for Peace" on the history of the IAEA was published with Johns Hopkins University Press in 2022.

Anna Weichselbraun is a postdoc researcher at the Department of European Ethnology at the University of Vienna. She works at the intersection of historical anthropology of knowledge, semiotics and science and technology studies with an empirical focus on the global governance of technology in the long 20th century. She is currently revising her book manuscript on nuclear knowledge practices at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Stephen G. Gross is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center of European and Mediterranean Studies at New York University. After working at the Bureau of Economic Analysis (Department of Commerce) in Washington DC, he received his PhD in history from UC Berkeley. He is the author of Export Empire: German Soft Power in Southeastern Europe, 1890-1945, which explores the political economy of the Nazi Empire. His research has been supported by the Fulbright Fellowship, the German Academic Exchange Program, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, and the Andrew Mellon New Directions Fellowship, through which he earned a certificate of sustainable finance at Columbia University.

Rosamund Johnston is the Principal Investigator of Linking Arms: Central Europe´s Weapons Industries, 1954-1994 at RECET. She is the author of Red Tape: Radio and Politics in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1969 which appeared with Stanford University Press in March 2024. Her research has been published in Central European History and a number of edited volumes. She has also written for the Journal of Cold War Studies, East Central Europe, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Scottish newspaper The National, and public broadcaster Czech Radio. Johnston is the author of one book of public history, Havel in America: Interviews with American Intellectuals, Politicians, and Artists, released by Czech publisher Host in 2019.