Nuclear Geographies

We have chosen geographies, nations, and climates to ensure that this study is global. We intend to focus on the 1) Anglo-American-Canadian world; 2) the European Union; 3) on former Soviet spaces, including Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and to some extent the Central East European nations that use Soviet-designed technologies and have thus shaped environmental understandings in such nuclear nations as Bulgaria, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic; 4) and the Pacific world (primarily Japan and the Koreas,) and also nuclear test sites appropriate to this focus.

This will enable us to consider: a majority of the major programs in nations with languages with which we have facility (US, Canada, Germany, France, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Japan and Korea) and where we have research experience; where there have been significant efforts to tackle environmental issues, yet also the problem of waste handling, management and storage remain paramount; where accidents are a significant issue in this history (TMI, Chernobyl, Fukushima and others). We believe we can handle, in two years of research and analysis, study of nuclear waste, the spread of nuclear technologies, military and peaceful, across the globe (if mostly in the northern hemisphere); in a variety of geographies to consider how political, social, geographic concerns have shaped environmental thinking. Please see Plan of Work, below.

The sites, geographies, and climes of nuclear activity range from the more desolate Arctic Circle to heavily populated regions of the northern hemisphere, to nations with arid climates, to mountainous areas, and to (sub-)tropical areas, each presenting its own challenges in managing nuclear technologies. Consider the polar north, a place of tundra, of Cold War bases and weaponry, of polluted military fields of leaking barrels, of ocean pollution, the result of the jettisoning of spent fuel and reactor carcasses near Novaia Zemlia, Russia, of submarine accidents, of planned under-tundra mobile nuclear weapons launchers powered in part by nuclear reactors on Greenland by the US, and, of course, of nuclear testing, together with tremendous impacts on First Nations people, Inuit, and others, and their ways of life (Iablokov; Joint Russia-Norwegian; Mikhailov, 1996; OTA, 1995). Arctic regions continue to be a region of environmental change because of rich natural, fossil fuel and mineral resources, and because of nuclear technologies, for example, icebreakers, mobile (floating) and stationary nuclear power stations, and lagging attempts at cleanup and remediation of nuclear navies, nuclear testing, and nuclear dumping.

Similarly, we shall evaluate the environmental history of the nuclear environment in the tropics through an examination of islands of the Pacific Ocean that served as weapons testing areas for the United States (Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Island) and France (Mururoa, Tahiti, after abandoning a testing area in Algeria after the independence of Algeria). France undertook nuclear weapon tests between 1966 and 1996 at Moruroa and Fangataufa, in Polynesia, leading to international protests, notably in 1974 and 1995, under the Direction des Centres d’Experimentation Nucleaires (Norris; Biedermann et al.).

By exploring environmental understandings across geography and spaces and over time, from the rise of the nuclear era to the present, we shall evaluate the meanings of the nuclear world that developed as actors confronted multiple technological, political, cultural/societal, and other issues during development, implementation, operation, and decommissioning stages. With this focus we shall consider how climate, topology, geology and geography have influenced the development, diffusion and operation of nuclear technologies in different settings. How have suppliers of nuclear ore and fuel responded to market, geopolitical, nonproliferation and other pressures, and how has this shaped their environmental mapping of nuclear safety and danger? What assumptions have the designers of nuclear reactors, now standard in units 1,000 MW and larger, made about physical settings when planning new station, after all, access to copious amounts of water and large, secure tracks of land are required for most nuclear activities? Why – considering the environmental perspective – have some nations embarked on the peaceful atom only to abandon it at some later date, even after lengthy and costly investment? Are crucial factors in nuclear history the scale of waste produced and the risk of accidents? After all, many of the countries that have rejected nuclear power have pursued extensive nuclear agricultural applications that the WHO, United Nations and IAEA endorse and promote; food irradiation is being touted at this moment by the latter as a solution to agricultural problems of climate change (WHO; IAEA, 2018).

The selected sites, geographies, climes and periods of nuclear activity enable direct interrogation of enlightenment beliefs that nature can be understood, manipulated, and conquered. Take the confidence that thinly populated areas can be, with abundant nuclear energy, powered into the future, turning “useless” land – desert, tundra, always “barren” and “empty” – into industrial or agricultural wonderlands at the service of humanity.