Uranium from Africa has long been a major source of fuel for nuclear power and atomic weapons, including the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In 2002, George W. Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein had “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” (later specified as the infamous “yellowcake from Niger”). Africa suddenly became notorious as a source of uranium, a component of nuclear weapons. But did that admit Niger, or any of Africa’s other uranium-producing countries, to the select society of nuclear states? Does uranium itself count as a nuclear thing? In this book, Gabrielle Hecht lucidly probes the question of what it means for something--a state, an object, an industry, a workplace--to be “nuclear.”
Hecht shows that questions about being nuclear--a state that she calls “nuclearity”--lie at the heart of today’s global nuclear order and the relationships between “developing nations” (often former colonies) and “nuclear powers” (often former colonizers). Nuclearity, she says, is not a straightforward scientific classification but a contested technopolitical one.
Hecht follows uranium’s path out of Africa and describes the invention of the global uranium market. She then enters African nuclear worlds, focusing on miners and the occupational hazard of radiation exposure. Could a mine be a nuclear workplace if (as in some South African mines) its radiation levels went undetected and unmeasured? With this book, Hecht is the first to put Africa in the nuclear world, and the nuclear world in Africa. Doing so, she remakes our understanding of the nuclear age.
About the Author
Gabrielle Hecht is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II and editor of Entangled Geographies: Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War, both published by the MIT Press.
“Gabrielle Hecht's Being Nuclear is a monumental new study of the geopolitics of uranium. It profoundly shifts how we think about things marked 'nuclear,' underscoring the complex historical and technopolitical work embedded in any use of the term. Beautifully written and meticulously researcheda major contribution.”—Joseph Masco, University of Chicago; author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico
“This impassioned, broad-ranging, and beautifully written book puts the bodies of ordinary people at the very center of a sweeping study of the geopolitics and cultural anxieties that surround all things nuclear. Being Nuclear reorients the study of occupational health by calling attention to vital questions of knowledge production, activism, and governance in a postcolonial world.”—Steven Epstein, Professor of Sociology and John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities, Northwestern University; author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research
“Being Nuclear is nothing short of pathbreaking. Hecht's analysis of the techno-politics of African uranium production presents a critical and convincing rethinking of the global nuclear order. This is a very smart book, based on daunting and original research, on a topic of genuine importance.”—Julie Livingston, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University
Co-winner, 2012 Martin A. Klein Prize in African History, awarded by the American Historical Society.