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Technological Fix or Divisible Object of Collective Concern? Histories of Conflict over the Geological Disposal of Nuclear Waste in Sweden and France

Journal article
Authors Yannick Barthe
Mark Elam
Göran Sundqvist
Published in Science as Culture
ISSN 0950-5431
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Language en
Keywords Technological controversies, technological fix, non-divisible conflict, nuclear waste, geological disposal, Sweden, France
Subject categories Technology and social change, Social Sciences Interdisciplinary, Sociology, Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


Science and technology studies (STS) has cultivated a positive vision of technological controversies. By raising new issues to address, controversies are seen as generating more thorough and exhaustive processes of technology assessment. However, the ability to view controversies in this light remains dependent upon how technology is collectively imagined and understood. If it is envisioned as a classic technological fix then broader controversy is just what is intended to be overcome, not positively indulged. Albert Hirschman’s distinction between divisible and non-divisible conflicts captures such varying evaluations of controversy. In particular, it helps analyse how the long-standing fix of geological disposal of nuclear waste has been persistently defended as a non-negotiable object of technological concern – a recipe for escaping controversy by permanently isolating nuclear waste from the biosphere. Comparing the Swedish and French programmes for the geological disposal of nuclear waste shows how defending the technological integrity of a non-divisible disposal concept has remained an institutional fixation for Swedish nuclear waste management for over 30 years. In contrast, legislative demands for a reversible disposal concept introduced in France in the late 1990s have arguably served to unravel a technological fix into a divisible object of collective concern.

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