Becoming the ‘nuclear front-end’ – Tracking Uranium in Tanzania

Authors: Patrick Schukalla*,
Topics: Natural Resources, Africa, Economic Geography
Keywords: nuclear geographies, uranium mining, geological exploration
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8224, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Scholars and activists working on nuclear fuel production argue that uranium mines often end up as
the forgotten sources of nuclear power. Yet, before the fissionable element can be mined, uranium
deposits have to be discovered, geological data has to be gathered and reaffirmed, controversies
with on-surface usages and valuations of the respective area have to be ‘settled’, licenses have to be
acquired and agreements with governments and national as well as international institutions have to
be signed, a mine has to be built and transportation routes for the radioactive material have to be
adjusted and secured. These pre-conditional processes of uranium ‘becoming’ a resource are
obscured from our view by a general focus on successfully established mines and the ‘spectacular’
parts of the fuel chain.
I refer to these preparatory and pre-conditional processes as “becoming the nuclear front-end”. The
term builds on the industry’s schematic subdivision into stages from the front-end (mining, milling),
the production phase (running NPPs) to the back-end of the fuel chain (reprocessing, waste disposal).
Disguised in such schematic representations and within the reactor core itself are the condensed
global connections and uneven relations that facilitate its existence. The contribution’s aim is to
follow uranium not only back to the mine, but to how, when and why it was explored, desired,
‘dropped’, reconsidered or kept ‘in reserve’ as geological knowledge. The analysis includes
ethnographic and archival empirical insights from the centres of the global nuclear industry to its
margins in Central- and Southern Tanzania.

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