Abstract: Today’s international relations are plagued by anxieties about the nuclear state and the state of being nuclear. But exactly what does it mean for a nation, a technology, a substance, or a workplace to be “nuclear”? How, and to whom, does the designation “nuclear” matter? Considering these questions from African vantage points shifts our paradigm for understanding the global nuclear order. In any given year of the Cold War, African mines supplied 20%–50% of the Western world’s uranium ore. As both political object and material substance, African ore shaped global conceptions and meanings of the “nuclear,” with enduring consequences for the legal and illegal circulation of radioactive materials, the global institutions and treaties governing nuclear weapons and atomic energy, and the lives and health of workers. This talk explores those consequences, drawing on historical and contemporary examples from Niger and South Africa. The view from Africa offers scholars and policymakers fresh perspectives on issues including global nuclear governance, export controls, pricing mechanisms, and occupational health regulation
About the Speaker: Gabrielle Hecht is professor of history at the University of Michigan, where she also directs the Program in Science, Technology, and Society. Her publications include two books on history and policy in the nuclear age. Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade (MIT Press, 2012) offers new perspectives on the global nuclear order. The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity (MIT Press, 1998, 2nd edition, 2009) explores how the French embedded nuclear policy in reactor technology. It received awards from the American Historical Association and the Society for the History of Technology. Hecht was appointed by ministerial decree to the scientific advisory board for France’s national radioactive waste management agency, ANDRA. She also serves on the advisory board for AGORAS, an interdisciplinary collaboration between academic and industry researchers to improve safety governance in French nuclear installations. She recently advised the U.S. Senate Committee on Investigations on the history of the uranium market, for its report on Wall Street Bank Involvement with Physical Commodities. Hecht’s work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council for Learned Societies, and the South African and Dutch national research foundations, among others. Hecht holds a Ph.D. in history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.