Gabrielle HechtNov 10, 2013
Africans and the Global Uranium Trade
MIT Press 2012
We tend to understand the nuclear age as a historical break, a geopolitical and technological rupture. In Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade (MIT Press, 2012), Gabrielle Hecht transforms this understanding by arguing instead that nuclearity is a process, a phenomenon, a property distributed among and across objects. In this multi-sited study of several localities in Africa, Hecht weaves together narratives of atomic history, African history, and the histories of mining, economies, and health. Part I of the book looks carefully at the invention of a global market in uranium, exploring the place of African ores in a worldwide uranium trade in a series of accounts of the market and technopolitics in areas that include Niger, Gabon, Namibia, Europe, and the US. Part II focuses on the bodies and work of African mine workers and the production of nuclearity in the context of occupational health in locations that include Madagascar, Gabon, South Africa, and Namibia. Being Nuclear is grounded on several years of research extending across multiple media of historical evidence, including interviews, archives of very different sorts in different places, and experiences in underground mine shafts, haul pits, and other spaces of the story. It is a fascinating, transformative, and important study.