Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 6:00 pm at the National Humanities Center
As they are usually understood, the designations “nuclear wasteland” and “pure wilderness” are opposites; when they converge into nature reserves on the sites of decommissioned nuclear weapons lands we often describe this circumstance as “paradoxical” or “ironic.” Taking stock of plans to manage lands (and build monuments to warn the very distant future), Peter Galison argues that the categories of wastelands and wilderness are far from opposites; that their relation is more intriguing (and disturbing) than a binary of purity or corruption. Indeed, the most radioactive site in the weapons complex is also, astonishingly, one of the most bio-diverse in the United States. Removing parts of the earth in perpetuity—for reasons of sanctification or despoilment—alters a central feature of the human self, presenting us in a different relation to the physical world, and raising irreducible ethical questions about who we are when land can be classified, forever, as not for us humans.
Image: site of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant
Peter Galison photo by Andrew H. Smith