25 Jan 2024 17:15 - 19:00 Online & Room SG2 Alison Richard building, CB3 9DP


An event by the Military Surplus: Toxicity, Industry and War research network


  • Catherine Alexander (Durham University)
  • Jonathon Turnbull (University of Oxford )


Catherine Alexander
‘A chronotope of expansion: resisting spatio-temporal limits in a Kazakh nuclear town’

This paper explores the various strategies used by the Soviet regime to contain and ‘disappear’ the nuclear weapon test site in Kazakhstan before moving on to outline attempts by the independent Republic of Kazakshtan’s National Nuclear Centre (NNC) to be more open—including making much of the site available for commercial and agricultural use, after 25 years of remediation and monitoring. Juxtaposing these strategies with accounts from residents living in the town that hosts the NNC provides more ambivalent engagements with both town and site. Thus, in what I call a chronotope of expansion, what appears is a resistance to any kind of spatial or temporal containment, a denial of progress and the possibility of moving to a brighter nuclear future by leaving behind the Soviet period and its entailments. I end by discussing the consequences of assumptions that the site can be limited and bounded in terms of radioactive contamination.

Jonathon Turnbull
‘A natural laboratory? nuclear natures in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone’

Ukraine has recently been described as a “laboratory” in relation to global challenges involving the environment, information, warfare, and security. Ukraine is also the site of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe of 1986: the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. The Zone straddles the border between Ukraine and Belarus and is frequently described as a natural laboratory; a place where researchers from various disciplines go to test diverse hypotheses. At the time of the catastrophe, it was predicted that Chornobyl would become a “dead zone,” incapable of supporting life. In the 37 years since, however, stories of nature’s resurgence in the Zone have proliferated, with images and imaginaries of both mutant life and “nature taking back control” becoming common refrains in public and scientific discourse. Indeed, Chornobyl is now an official biosphere reserve in Ukraine, yet researchers starkly contest whether nature in the Zone has recovered or not. This presentation is interested in how such diverse representations come to co-exist in relation to Chornobyl’s “nuclear natures.” It draws from fieldwork conducted in the Zone between 2019 and 2022 with researchers from the nebulous field of radioecology; a scientific community tasked with making sense of how radiation moves through and affects the natural world. It advances the notion that nuclear natures are spectacular and weird, situating itself within the emerging field of the Ukrainian environmental humanities.

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