Negotiating Radiation Protection

Global webinar-workshop: Negotiating Radiation Protection

September 2020-June 2021

Deadline: 30 July 2020

The history of radiation protection is more than just a story of scientific standard-setting and regulatory control both within and among nations. The subject calls for a broader conception of international relations, science diplomacy, and circulation of knowledge, materials, and expertise. Over time, radiation protection involved experts in fields ranging from physics to ecology, engineering to political science, and even sociology, public health, and psychology. These experts competed and cooperated to exert their authority through international organizations and regulatory bodies. This webinar explores the kind of organizational structures, material resources, knowledge systems, and diplomatic practices that allowed the social and political shaping of the scientific field of radiation protection.

Focusing mainly on the period before World War II, historians have highlighted scientists’ struggles (a) to define the appropriate unit of radiation; (b) to invent suitable measurement devices; (c) to detect and to agree on the effects of radiation on biological systems; and (d) to identify the acceptable risk of radiation exposure. The scientific controversies that emerged in these processes reveal the powerful role of those scientific institutions responsible for standards for radiation safety. Most of these studies are focused on the U.S.

After World War II, the rapid development and adoption of new medical technologies such as radioisotope teletherapy units and the development of the nuclear power industry posed numerous challenges in the field of radiation protection, pushing traditional centers of power such as the Paris and Vienna Radium Institutes aside. The mass quantities and new types of radiation and radioactive materials forced new approaches in the field and created opportunities for the international regulation of radiation risks. Undoubtedly, the international regulatory system that took shape at the end of the 1950s was a result of the geopolitical division of the Cold War. Regulation became an instrument of social management and a matter of political dispute among UN agencies, established international disciplinary organizations, state and non-state actors, groups of prominent scientists, and uneasy diplomats. As the nuclear power industry became multinational, radiation protection standards were negotiated in the context of international politics where centralized global institutions, politicians, diplomats, and corporations play significant roles.

This webinar seeks to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars working, among other fields, on the transnational history of nuclear knowledge, on diplomatic history and political sciences, on history of international law, on history of medicine and epidemiology, and the role of international organizations in shaping policies concerning radiation protection throughout the 20th century. Our main question is how the notion of radioactive contamination crossed the border between science and politics. We are interested in the work of those who employ historical, philosophical, sociological methods and methodological tools from political sciences and international relations in order to investigate (to mentions just a few research directions)

  • the nuclear diplomacy in and around international organizations such as IAEA and ICRP or important bilateral institutions such as RERF;
  • bilateral negotiations in relation to exchange of material and human resources in the field of radiation protection;
  • science diplomacy concerning radiation protection, nuclear safeguards, and technical assistance programs;
  • the historical role of diplomats and science/technical experts in negotiating nuclear agreements;
  • the international law concerning nuclear issues.



The webinar takes place once a month during the academic year 2020-2021 from September 2020 to June 2021 (10 meetings). Participants are invited to present their pre-circulated papers and a commentator leads the online discussion. Key scholars from diverse fields will be invited as commentators to encourage strong interdisciplinary discussion.

At the end of the academic year—if the covid-19 pandemic allows us—the entire group will meet in Berlin for a workshop and for planning the publication of a collective volume. Some travel funding will be available for participants whose institutions cannot cover their trip to Berlin.

The webinar is part of the HRP-IAEA project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Consolidator Grant agreement No770548) led by Prof. Maria Rentetzi at the Technical University Berlin.


  • Prof. Angela Creager, Princeton University
  • Prof. Kenji Ito, SOKENDAI
  • Prof. Susan Lindee, University of Pennsylvania
  • Prof. Maria Rentetzi, Technical University Berlin/Max Planck Institute for History of Science

Application procedure:

Please send us a brief description of your research project (up to 1500 words) and a short cv. Applications should be sent to Ms Nina Krampitz ( cc to Maria Rentetzi (

Emilia Robin

Chercheuse associée à l'UMR SIRICE. Violons d'Ingres : guerre froide, médiation scientifique, logiciels libres

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