This is the first post in a series highlighting the work of the Nuclear Natures project, a 6-year research project funded by the Swedish Research Council, based at the Department of Thematic Studies at Linköping University in Sweden and led by Prof. Anna Storm. You can explore all essays in Nuclear Natures: A Concept Explored in Six Briefs on their project page.
by Marko Mikael Marila, Hannah Klaubert, Sergiu Novac, Axel Sievers, Rebecca Öhnfeldt, & Anna Storm
The relationship between nuclear power and nature is saturated with ambiguities and contradictions emerging from the different technological, scientific, and socio-cultural understandings of the two terms. Stemming from Nuclear Natures, an ongoing research project at Linköping University in Sweden, this article provides six takes—or briefs, as we call them—on nuclear natures in the form of analyses of environmentalist anti-nuclear campaigning, uses of natures surrounding operational nuclear power plants, nuclear waste management, and afterlives of denuclearised environments. This set of briefs supports the view that a type of situated environmental writing is called for in attempts to understand the disparate histories and futures of nuclear natures.
This set of briefs supports the view that a type of situated environmental writing is called for in attempts to understand the disparate histories and futures of nuclear natures.
Nuclear power production has altered our living environments indefinitely. From buffer zones around operating nuclear facilities and contaminated nuclear disaster sites to the open landscape scars of uranium mines and deep geologic waste storage sites dug deep into the earth, these altered environments, or Nuclear Natures, demand our societal attention. A large body of literature exists on the environmental effects and historical, social, and political relevance of atomic weapons and nuclear disasters, as well as the geopolitics of nuclear power production, including waste management, but less attention has been paid to the relationship between nature and the less spectacular manifestations of the nuclear industry from an environmental humanities perspective.
Since 2022, a six-year research project titled Nuclear Natures has been carried out at Linköping University in Sweden. The project team, consisting of Professor Anna Storm, two doctoral students and three postdoctoral researchers, aims to articulate Nuclear Natures as a key category of environments, to explain in which ways nuclear power influences the liveability of numerous areas in the near and distant future, and thereby demonstrate how Nuclear Natures demand careful consideration not only from the natural, but also the human and social sciences. The project looks at various stages of the nuclear power production cycle including uranium mining, the enclosed buffer zones surrounding active nuclear facilities, the growing number of old reactors undergoing decommissioning and leaving a potentially denuclearised territory behind, and long-term waste storage sites under construction.
It is now impossible to imagine the nuclear without nature and, concomitantly, we cannot conceive of a nature devoid of nuclear, if only because radionuclides remain one of the clearest stratigraphic markers of the Anthropocene.
The purpose of this article is to present the variety of ongoing research within the project, but more importantly to set the stage for understanding the complexities of Nuclear Natures. We do so by presenting six briefs, each of which provides a perspective on the relationship between nuclear and nature. In doing so, we acknowledge that the two components of our concept are extremely rich and nuanced, and that it is impossible to give an exhaustive definition of either one. Both are as elusive as they are widely distributed in terms of space and scale, ranging from the subatomic to the cosmic. Furthermore, since the splitting of the atom, the two terms have become inseparable. It is now impossible to imagine the nuclear without nature and, concomitantly, we cannot conceive of a nature devoid of nuclear, if only because radionuclides remain one of the clearest stratigraphic markers of the Anthropocene.
One connecting theme in our six briefs is the ways in which the complexities of Nuclear Natures are negotiated through human social and political practices and how through those processes elements of Nuclear Natures are turned into material legacies. Sergiu Novac and Rebecca Öhnfeldt draw attention to the practices through which the relationship between nuclear power and nature is negotiated as a matter of human-animal relations in areas surrounding active nuclear power plants in Germany and Sweden. Through contributions dealing with nuclear waste management and decommissioning of nuclear power plants in the UK and Germany, Axel Sievers and Hannah Klaubert demonstrate how different processes concerning the management and containment of radiation and waste give rise to a variety of natures and temporalities. In presenting a biography of an anti-nuclear monument located in Helsinki, Finland, Marko Mikael Marila reflects on the enduring materialities of political decision-making processes regarding the planning of nuclear power production and waste management. Finally, in place of a conclusion, Anna Storm reflects more specifically on the relationship between radiation and nature.
As far as the six briefs operate in the conceptual spaces between nuclear and nature, the question arises how to write without turning the two components into caricatures? How to remain faithful to the intricacies of the phenomenon when representing Nuclear Natures in written form? In navigating Nuclear Natures, we are engaging in a style of ecological writing that Timothy Morton refers to as “ecomimesis.” Following Morton, we understand ecomimesis in three tightly interwoven ways. Firstly, ecomimesis is situatedness (Morton 2013, 5). This means that to write about nature is to write about it from within and from a point of view. What the eclecticism of our case study approach then reveals are types of thematic and temporal situatedness characterised by our individual histories and research interests.
The second sense in which we highlight ecomimesis is as a strategy of addressing contradiction and non-identity in nature (see, also, Bookchin 2022). Again, following Morton (2007, 18), “[t]he more we study it, the more we see that, beyond the fact that many different people have many different opinions about it, nature in itself flickers between things—it is both/and or neither/nor. This flickering affects how we write about it.” We find it extremely important that, in engaging in ecological writing, we are exposing some of the capacities in which certain “flickerings” of the nuclear power cycle and its relation to nature can become glossed over and simplified through forms of ideologization and aestheticization. This is why ecological writing—undeniably a form of aestheticization—operates according to a fictive as if logic: as if, for a fleeting moment, we were able to capture the essence of nature by turning those flickerings into a moving image. This image is mainly achieved using the situational “as I write” trope in the service of creating an ecological ambience rather than a literal description (Morton 2007).
Only by intensifying the immediacy of situatedness as attunement to non-identity and contradiction can one begin to understand the unfinishedness that we take to be one of the defining characters of Nuclear Natures.
Thirdly, what the situatedness and “as if” logic of ecological writing give rise to is the idea that ecomimesis is an attempt at evoking a sense of immediacy (Morton 2007, 151). With immediacy we refer to forms of empirical sensitivity and ontological responsibility, all aimed at the cultivation of an art of noticing. Important to fostering this sense of immediacy is the feeling of situatedness attained through the case study approach, not the capacity of the approach for facilitating generalisation. In shining light on the open-ended practices, agencies, and materialities that make up or could constitute these sites, practices, and phenomena, our hope is that each brief will provide an opportunity for attunement to the importance of being-there and affecting-there. Only by intensifying the immediacy of situatedness as attunement to non-identity and contradiction can one begin to understand the unfinishedness that we take to be one of the defining characters of Nuclear Natures.
Bookchin, Murray 2022. The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism. Third Edition. Chico, CA: AK Press.
Morton, Timothy 2007. Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Morton, Timothy 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Latest posts by Nuclear Natures (see all)
- Nuclear Natures: A Concept Explored in Six Briefs – Introduction - January 22, 2024