A Collaborative National Center for Fusion & Plasma Research
April 13, 2016, 4:15pm to 5:30pm

MBG Auditorium, PPPL (284 cap.)

COLLOQUIUM: Inherently Risky Designs? The History of Soviet Nuclear Reactors and the Notion of Safety

Professor Sonja Schmid
Virginia Tech

After the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986, many asked the question why Soviet nuclear experts chose the RBMK (the “Chernobyl-type reactor”) as a standard design for implementation all over the Soviet Union. This talk will show that the choice of reactor designs rarely follows strictly technical criteria: designs are chosen not because they are the best or most functional ones available. Which design “works” and what exactly that means always depends on multiple factors, such as industrial capacity, familiarity with operating similar designs, and the clout of different institutes or companies. Based on extensive archival research in Russia and on interviews with veterans of the Soviet nuclear industry, I argue that a line of reasoning that triumphantly identifies in retrospect where things went wrong obscures the fact that what we consider safe (and, conversely, risky) is not a universal notion.

Colloquium Committee: 

The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory 2019-2020 Colloquium Committee is comprised of the following people. Please feel free to contact them by e-mail regarding any possible speakers or topics for future colloquia.

Carol Ann Austin, caustin@pppl.gov
Marc-Andre DeLooz, mdelooz@pppl.gov
Erik Gilson, egilson@pppl.gov
Jessica Ilagan, jilagan@pppl.gov
Igor Kaganovich, ikaganov@pppl.gov

  • Carol Ann Austin 609-243-2484

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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