Living with Radiation

How did the IAEA, a diplomatic and political international organization, come to dominate scientific institutions with a long tradition in radiation protection?

Our GoalsOur Results

The Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the History of Radiation Protection (1957-2023)

How did the International Atomic Energy Agency, a diplomatic and political international organization, come to dominate scientific institutions with a long tradition in radiation protection? Established in 1957, the IAEA has become the most influential player in implementing dosimetric methods worldwide and in establishing protocols of practice in medicine and industry. It is the only United Nations body with specific statutory responsibilities for radiation protection and safety in all sectors.

Using methods from history, philosophy, and sociology of science, HRP-IAEA bridges disciplines by bringing history of science together with the history of international organizations and diplomatic relations. It marked a diplomatic turn in the history of science as diplomacy became central in analyzing post-war nuclear science.


The main goals of the project have been to explore the:


The Key to the project has been the textual analysis of published and unpublished sources we identified primarily in the IAEA archive and website. We benefited by archival research at WHO, the National Archives in College Park, the archives of the UN in New York, the Oak Ridge archives, the archives of the International Labor Office (ILO), the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) archives, amongst others. Using methods from many disciplines including history, philosophy and sociology of science and international history. We placed these texts in a social field of forces and - at the same time - attempted to analyze them conceptually.

Employing oral-history methodology, the project produced a rare oral-history resource on themes such as science diplomacy, the design and implementation of radiation protection strategies in multiple regulatory institutions, and technical assistance projects on radiation protection by the IAEA. It took us years to establish relations of mutual trust among those of we interviewed, and these face-to-face interviews provided us with valuable information.

We also used historical images as documentary points of entry to our case studies in order to provoke historical questions, to visualize sociological concepts and to collect quantifiable data.


Radiation Protection as a Diplomatic Act

by Maria Rentetzi

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Setting Radiation Protection Standards

by Maria Rentetzi and Aske Nielsen

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The Global Experiment

by Maria Rentetzi

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From Lobbyists to Backstage Diplomats

by Alexandros-Andreas Kyrtsis and Maria Rentetzi

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Ruling the world with Françoise in a suitcase

by Maria Rentetzi

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Sharing the “Safe” Atom?

by Angela N. H. Creager and Maria Rentetzi

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A Diplomatic Gift

by Maria Rentetzi

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Science Diplomacy on Display

by Maria Rentetzi and Donatella Germanese

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Diplomacy in the Time of Cholera

by Maria Rentetzi, Flavio D’Abramo and Roberto Lalli

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Glove Boxes, Radiation Protection, and the International Atomic Energy Agency

by Maria Rentetzi

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“Atomic” Messages: Stamps, Seals, and Postal Envelopes as Archival Sources

by Loukas Freris

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How to standardize radiation?

by Aske Nielsen

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Our Team

What do you get when you combine knowledge, international backgrounds, excellent research, willingness to support your peer, and a friendly environment? The HRP-IAEA team. This project requires copious amounts of labor! Our team is highly international, interdisciplinary and strongly dedicated. We ail aim to enhance our learning environment through hosting international meetings, organizing thematic schools, inviting senior and junior scholars in our field, conducting innovative and transnational research, and…having fun.


Prof. Dr. Maria Rentetzi

Principal investigator

Trained as a physicist, historian of science and STS scholar, Rentetzi’s research focuses on nuclear diplomacy and gender in science and technology.


Ariadne Papageorgiou



Dr. Kapil Patil

Postdoctoral Fellow

Patil examines how the IAEA mediated diverse techno-political interests to institutionalize global radiation safety governance in the post-Cold War years.


Dr. Aske Nielsen

Postdoctoral Fellow

Nielsen works on the early development of radiation protection standards by the IAEA and the Agency’s cooperation with other international bodies.


Irina Fedorova

PhD Student

Fedorova investigates the early relations between the IAEA and the Soviet-led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.


Loukas Freris

PhD Student

Freris explores the political and diplomatic aspects of nuclear research and radiation protection policies in postwar Greece.


Mohamed Elsayed

PhD Student

Elsayed is a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant in the ERC-Project “Living with Radiation: The History of Radiation Protection and the International Atomic Energy Agency” (HRP-IAEA)


Ismail Barakat

Media Advisor


Emil Fischer



Nielsen, Aske Hennelund, Patil, Kapil, Freris, Loukas and Elsayed, Mohamed. „Nuclear Research in Medicine after the Second World War“. Published 28/06/2023. 

Rentetzi, Maria, Angela Creager, and Susan Lindee, eds. Negotiating Radiation Protection. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press

Patil, Kapil, and Maria Rentetzi. “Between Too Strict or Too Lax: The IAEA and the Evolution of Nuclear Safety Standards.” In Negotiating Radiation Protection, edited by Rentetzi, Maria et al. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Rentetzi, Maria, and Loukas Freris. “Attaching Diplomatic Significance to Laboratories: The IAEA’s Mobile Laboratories Become Diplomatic Bags.”

Hennelund Nielsen, Aske, and Maria Rentetzi. “The Search for Radiation Standards: Binational Science Diplomacy in the International Radiological Committee in the Interwar.”

Rentetzi, Maria, and Donatella Germanese, eds. “Science Diplomacy on Display: Mobile Atomic Exhibitions in the Cold War.” Annals of Science 80, no. 1 (2023): 1–9

Rentetzi, Maria. Seduced By Radium: How Industry Transformed Science in the American Marketplace. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022.

Rentetzi, Maria, ed. “The Politics of Radiation Protection.” NTM: Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine 30, no. 2 (2022): 125–35. 

Rentetzi, Maria. 2022. “The Japanese Art of Bowing and the Nuclear Anthropocene.” Anthropocene Curriculum, April 22, 2022.

Rentetzi, Maria. “The Male Business of Nuclear Diplomacy.” Nuclear Newswire, November 30, 2022.

Rentetzi, Maria, and Spyros Petrounakos. “Frontline Health Diplomacy Must Incorporate Diplomacy and Ethics.” Diplomatic Courier, October 15, 2022.

Rentetzi, Maria. “Why Scientific Sanctions Do Not Work.” Diplomatic Courier, May 31, 2022.

Patil, Kapil, and Maria Rentetzi. “War in Ukraine Heralds a More Personalized and Politicized Science Diplomacy.” London School of Economics Research Online, August 12, 2022.

Rentetzi, Maria and Kapil Patil. “Ukraine War and the Abiding Hope of Science Diplomacy.” Diplomat Magazine, July 31, 2022.

Ito, Kenji, and Maria Rentetzi, eds. “The Co-production of Nuclear Science and Diplomacy: Towards a Transnational Understanding of Nuclear Things.” History and Technology 37, no. 1 (2021): 4–20.

Rentetzi, Maria, and Kenji Ito. “The Material Culture and Politics of Artifacts in Nuclear Diplomacy.” Centaurus 63, no. 2 (2021): 233–43.

Rentetzi, Maria. “The Global Experiment: How the International Atomic Energy Agency Proved Dosimetry to Be a Techno-Diplomatic Issue.” NTM: Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine 37, no. 1 (2021): 167–95.

Rentetzi, Maria, Flavio D’Abramo, and Roberto Lalli. “Diplomacy in the Time of Cholera.” Sociology of Science and Technology 12, no. 1 (2021): 34–41.

Kyrtsis, Alexandros-Andreas, and Maria Rentetzi. “From Lobbyists to Backstage Diplomats: How Insurers in the Field of Third-Party Liability Shaped Nuclear Diplomacy.” History and Technology 37, no. 1 (2021): 25–43.

Rentetzi, Maria. “A Comment on Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection from a Historian of Science.” Cancer Studies and Therapeutics 6, no. 1 (2021): 1–2.

Rentetzi, Maria. “With Strings Attached: Gift-Giving to the International Atomic Energy Agency and US Foreign Policy.” Endeavor 45, no. 1–2 (2021).

Rentetzi, Maria. “From Securing the State to Safeguarding the Atom: The Relevance of History to Nuclear Diplomacy.” Science Diplomacy Review 3, no. 1 (2021): 3–12.

Creager, Angela, and Maria Rentetzi. “Sharing the ‘Safe’ Atom? The International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Regulation Through Standardization.” In Living in a Nuclear World: Order, Knowledge, and Normalization, edited by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Soraya Boudia, and Kyoko Sato, 111–31. New York: Routledge, 2021.