“Fugitive Dust:” nuclear waste in multi-dimensional motion

Authors: Mariya Shcheglovitova*, Utah State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Natural Resources, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: desert, biopolotics, uranium, Utah, waste
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 55
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This talk explores the politics of cleaning-up environmental waste through a case study of the Moab uranium mill tailings site in Utah, US, one of 16 active federally managed clean-up sites remaining from 107 legacy Cold War nuclear weapons production and energy research sites. I draw on 20 years of federal documents to understand the logics behind the designation of waste and the production of an environmental remediation plan. These technical texts serve as a lens into the quantification and delineation of terrestrial volumes in the form of land that is capped, excavated, and blows away. I trace the figure of radioactive “fugitive dust,” strategies to contain this dust, and the ways it defies containment. Throughout this analysis, I contrast where the environmental planning process defines dust should go with where dust does go. I find that it is not only the material properties of dust that determine its fate but also the attempts to grasp its multi-dimensional trajectories into water, soils, protected areas, bodies, and homes. The technical documents that define the danger and mobility of nuclear waste illustrate the roles of uncertainty and imagination when delineating the extent to which materials move through volumetric space. In the biopolitical clean-up discourse that seeks to secure the Moab site through remediation, land is defined by a colonial frontier history that supports an imaginary of fugitive dust and justifies the violence of excavating land at another site where dust can be entombed.

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