Nah-yoon is a doctoral candidate in Environmental Policy and Planning at MIT. Her research focuses on the use of science by lay activist groups and its role in environmental policy change. In line with this interest, her dissertation work examines science-intensive disputes around relicensing aging nuclear power plants. In particular, it explains the political processes through which local environmental/ antinuclear groups were able to shut down some of these controversial plants, paying special attention to their collaboration with legislators, government officials, and experts in the design and implementation of proactive State-level legislations that regulate nuclear safety. Similarly, her previous work examined how anti-U.S. base activist groups in Puerto Rico established themselves as legitimate representatives in a collaborative environmental remediation process by both using their own environmental risk assessment results and anecdotes around health impact. Prior to joining the doctoral program as a Fulbright scholar, Nah-yoon worked as a researcher at Korea Environment Institute on the Integrated Water Management of the Selenga River Basin project in Mongolia.
In the post-Fukushima era, the extended operation of nuclear power plants has gained public attention and become increasingly contentious. Decisions about whether nuclear facilities can operate safely beyond initial design lifetime entail science-intensive public discussion about a wide range of issues including the reliability of a plant system, adequacy of evacuation plans, risks from storing high-level nuclear waste on site, and long-term environmental and economic impact in the vicinity. The involvement of local activists and antinuclear groups, however, is often under a tight control of central nuclear regulatory agencies that have seldom rejected relicensing applications. Nah-yoon’s research explores ways in which local opponents attempt to overcome these institutional constraints. Her work is built upon a cross-national comparative analysis of three cases involving enduring public opposition against the extended operation of nuclear power plants. Tracing political processes by which plants were shut down, Nah-yoon’s research illuminates the importance of proactive roles that State governments play in facilitating stakeholders’ discussion of risk, cost and benefits associated with the extended operation of nuclear facilities, and in putting this discussion in the context of state-level energy policies. Her findings also reveal challenges state legislators face in designing and implementing a novel decision making process that undertakes precautionary actions within the limited regulatory authority. Her work will expand our understanding of new oppositional tactics that are based on extensive public deliberation and the subtle effects they bring to the closure of aging nuclear plants.