Dr. Lucie Genay (Université de Limoges, France): "Ubiquitous Radioactivity: Environmental Justice and the Nuclear Weapons Industry in the US Southwest"

Thursday, 06.06.2019, 4:15-5:45 p.m., U5/01.18

In 1979, the year many Americans panicked in the wake of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, a more disastrous catastrophe occurred in Church Rock, New Mexico, when a dam on a uranium mill tailings disposal pond collapsed. This was the largest release of radioactivity in the country’s history—three times as much as Three Mile Island. Most Americans have never heard of it because it affected Indigenous populations with little political influence. The main issues with radioactive contamination are its ubiquity, its invisibility, and its lethality. Behind the beautiful landscapes of the US Southwest, one can find the toxic legacies of World War 2 and the Cold War, as well as a substantial dose of irony in the way nature and wildlife came back to colonize areas that have been closed to the public or revered markers of millennia-old cultures compete with futuristic nuclear laboratories for survival. This seminar will focus on notions of nuclear colonialism, anti-nuclear activism (especially on the part of Indigenous populations), and the politics of environmental remediation in the wake of radioactive contamination.

Lucie Genay is an Associate Professor of US civilization in the English and American studies department at the University of Limoges, France. She specializes in the history of the nuclear weapons industry, the Manhattan Project, the Cold War and their socioeconomic, environmental, and cultural impacts in the Southwest of the US in the 20th and 21st centuries. The University of New Mexico Press is publishing a book this year adapted from her doctoral dissertation: The Land of Nuclear Enchantment: A New Mexican History of the Nuclear Weapons Industry. In this book as well as her other publications, she explores the themes of memory, social and oral history, domestic colonialism, and environmental justice. Her current research project is on the Pantex nuclear assembly plant in the Panhandle of Texas. The courses she teaches at Unilim address the following topics: the birth of the US, the US in the Cold War, US imperialism, the history of the US West, Native American history, and the legacies of the Civil War.