This body of work draws a connection between current and historic uranium mining practices around the globe and the environmental impact those practices have had on local populations, the uneven distribution of power which has occurred due to colonial uranium mining practices, and current and future methods of disposing high level nuclear waste.
Clicking on the header image of each section will take viewers to more detailed project pages held at nuclearsystem.live. This ongoing work would not be possible without the support of Artists, Feminist STS Scholars, institutions, and generous individuals working in the various industries tangential to waste equity.
Anthropologist Gabrielle Hecht defined the concept of nuclearity as a technopolitical spectrum that shifts in time and space. It is a historical and geographical condition, as well as a scientific and technological one. And nuclearity, in turn, has significant consequences for politics, culture, and health.
Degrees of nuclearity structure global control over the flow of radioactive materials; they constitute the conceptual bedrock of anti-nuclear movements; they affect regulatory frameworks for occupational health, and compensation for work-related illnesses. It is within the ebbs and flows of nuclearity that Nuclear Landscapes resides. Asking what makes a state or political body nuclear while others remain outside that definition. How labour which contributes to the global nuclear fuel chain is often times not considered nuclear but at the same time exposes those performing the labour to the toxic risks inherent of nuclear work.
These nuclear ontologies have a history and a geography.
The United States does not have a permanent geological repository for spent high level nuclear waste yet the country has generated 80,000 metric tons of high level nuclear waste since the beginning of its nuclear power industry. For years various locations around the U.S have been debated as possible sites to solve this problem.
Yucca mountain, located in South Eastern Nevada, as a site for this permanent repository has been politically and socially contentious for decades and remains so today. New Mexico has also been a major site of corporeal action in regards to this issue. The state is the location of the only permanent repository of any level of nuclear waste in the U.S. (the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant or WIPP) and is now being propositioned to become the location of an interim high level waste storage location by Holtec International.
Holtec promotes the site as an economic benefit to the state through hundreds of temporary jobs created during the construction phase, millions of dollars paid to the state annually, and lastly a greater sense of service to the larger waste storage issue at hand.
Those who oppose the project cite environmental concerns, potential nuclear spillage, and finally the fact that one of the routes which the waste will travel on its way to the facility crosses directly through Navajo Nation Lands.
Under Navajo Nation law transporting nuclear material through that reserved land is illegal.
These types of situations are becoming increasingly more common in less populated states where the residents that are most affected and have the fewest options to protect themselves reside.
All of these factors in place, the current high level waste infrastructure consists of nuclear power facilities storing spent fuel on site using below ground wet pools for up to seven years before moving the waste to above ground dry storage casks. These casks are considered temporary but they hold guarantees of safely storing fuel far longer than temporary could imply.
Power Dynamics of Uranium Mining and Nuclear Power Generation
By using landsat image bands to examine the technopolitical entanglement of France the African countries who, historically and presently, supply France with uranium a different perspective can be formed.
The images show both the locations of uranium extraction and the locations of nuclear power distribution. Cities and towns where nuclear power is the source of electricity are shown in direct contrast with the possible locations where the ore that supplied those locations with power was mined. Asking where the French “radiance” comes from and what dynamics were at play for that power to come to be are critical in developing this assemblage.
The complex relationships, power dynamics, and colonial histories that exist between France and its African counterparts continues today within the international uranium chain.
The cask form is ubiquitous with holding spent nuclear fuel that is radioactive for a timespan of over 10,000 years. Reimagining it, instead, as an site for memorialization reframes the legacies of each actor involved in the nuclear entanglement. This reframing allows for the histories of the people, communities, ecologies and so on to be placed at the forefront of infrastructural planning around the nuclear fuel chain. It also allows for the spent nuclear fuel to have its own agency and material-semiotic positioning within the nuclear world.
Some of the innate questions brought up through these speculative scenarios center around asking what would happen if society thought of its energy supply and the outcome of that energy production as matters of care rather than as nuisances which have to be pushed under the metaphorical rug and into literal mountains.
These nuclear memorials resides within a world of nuclear acceptance; where the same form of respect, care, and maintenance is given to nuclear memorialization as with any other memorial or monument. Large plots of land are designated for the cask memorials to be gridded out and placed for onlookers to come pay their respects or wander around curiously. Each memorialized cask is engraved with the specific latitudes and longitudes of locations where the movement of uranium became entangled with other actors along its path towards its final mattering.
The research and body of work presented here fundamentally asks the question — “Good For Whom?”
It is important for us to think about the consequences and impacts that any form of extractive process has and who the infrastructures and systems designed around that extraction benefit.
Barad, Karen Michelle. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press, 2007.
Bellacasa, María Puig de la. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
Hecht, Gabrielle. Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade. MIT Press, 2014.