Escaping S-102: Waste, Illness, and the Politics of Not Knowing

By Shannon Cram.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper explores the lived experience of radioactive and chemical poisoning following the S-102 accident at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. It seeks to understand how sickness is made intelligible (or not) in the context of nuclear toxicity, and how layers of certainty and uncertainty structure medical decisions, legal action, procedure, and daily life in the nuclear complex.
Discussions about nuclear risk and illness often hinge on the issue of causality, on whether—and at what dosage—radioactivity causes harm. I argue, however, that centering these discussions on truth versus falsehood sidesteps critical examination of the politics that created the terms of the debate. Rather, improving nuclear safety and accountability means analyzing how the boundaries of valid (and by default, invalid) nuclear illnesses are
identified and made legally actionable. It also means integrating qualitative measures of health and safety with the quantitative measures of risk currently informing management practice at Hanford.

Keywords: Nuclear Waste Management, Radioactivity, Illness, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Uncertainty, Worker Health and Safety, Risk Assessment

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.243-252. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 504.232KB).

Shannon Cram

Graduate Student, Graduate Student Instructor, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

Shannon Cram is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Geography. Her dissertation research (as well as her previous masters thesis research) examines nuclear waste management in the United States, with a specific focus on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. She is particularly interested in the politics of long-term environmental stewardship, worker health and safety, indigenous rights, and risk assessment within the nuclear industrial complex.