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Featured Graduate Student: Vincent Ialenti

February 20, 2017

I spent thirty-two months in Finland conducting anthropological fieldwork among experts developing what might become the world's first permanent underground dump for high-level nuclear waste. There I recorded around 120 open-ended interviews with geologists, managers, chemists, physicists, lawyers, activists, politicians, banking professionals, and others who had insight into Northern Europe's nuclear energy futures. Yet my main interest was in radioactive waste management company Posiva Oy’s Safety Case experts. These unique teams forecasted geological, ecological, and climatological changes that might affect Western Finland's Okliluoto spent nuclear fuel repository site over the coming millennia. What sort of scientific ethos, I wondered, do Safety Case experts adopt in their daily dealings with seemingly unimaginable spans of time? 

This inquiry inspired my doctoral dissertation titled Iterations of Deep Time: Forming the Afterlives of Expertise Among Finland's Nuclear Waste Safety Experts. This study examines how my ethnographic informants endowed deep time, succession, death, imagination, and uncertainty with discernible form in their professional and personal lives. It builds upon my previous research on the U.S. Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project's construction licensing rituals. These projects inspired the articles I wrote for NPR, Forbes, Nautilus Magazine, Cultural Anthropology (Fieldsites), and other public outlets. They inspired my contributions to Cornell Law School's multilingual trans-Pacific think-tank Meridian 180. And they inspired me to design and teach a writing seminar called Nuclear Imagination: Technologies & Worlds.

Studying Anthropology at Cornell has kept my passion for nuclear expert cultures alive. It has challenged me to reflect on technology and society in a variety of thought-provoking ways. I am also grateful to have had research support from a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, a Mellon Graduate Fellowship from Cornell’s Society for the Humanities, and a MacArthur Nuclear Waste Solutions Fellowship from The George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. I recently moved to Washington DC and look forward to working on nuclear waste policy projects with Professor Allison Macfarlane, former Chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

Forthcoming. “Alter-Ecologies: Envisioning Papal & Ecomodernist Nuclear Energy Policy Futures.” In Laudato Si’: Reflections on the Legal, Political and Moral Authority of Catholic Social Thought in an Era of Climate Crisis (eds Frank Pasquale & Michael Perry). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
2014. “Adjudicating Deep Time: Revisiting the United States’ High-Level Nuclear Waste Repository Project at Yucca Mountain.” Science & Technology Studies (Official Journal of EASST: European Association for Studies of Science and Technology) 27(2).

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