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【event】Symposium 2014: Catastrophic Asia via Center for Asian Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

Event Date:
Friday, April 4, 2014 – 13:00

[CAS Speaker Series] Asia has been the site of some of the greatest human and natural catastrophes. From the 2011 earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Japan, to the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India, to the legacy of Soviet nuclear testing in Kazakhstan, to the ever-present risk of nuclear war in South Asia, Asian sites reveal much about the intersection of the political and the natural. The Center for Asian Studies will host four presentations by scholars on the risks, costs and effects of different types and contexts of disaster in a day-long symposium on April 4, 2014. Please join us.

1:00 p.m. “Radiation ‘Adaptation’: Emergent Subjectivities and Health Strategies Among Indigenous Kazakhs at Semipalatinsk,” Magdalena Stawkowski, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder

In this paper, I draw on sixteen months of field work to describe the legacies of the Soviet atomic testing project and its long-term disastrous effects on the inhabitants of the nuclear zone in Kazakhstan. Focusing on the village of Koyan in the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site region, I examine local Indigenous Kazakh villager’s understandings of health, livelihood and suffering, specifically their emerging subjectivities and health strategies after forty years of Soviet nuclear testing. While rooted in the broader histories of the Kazakh steppe and subsequent decline of the Soviet state, the context for this discussion is a forty-year period of Cold War nuclear testing and then its programmatic and abrupt closure. Particularly, I elucidate how scientific authority about the biological effects of low-dose radiation exposure, coupled with Kazakhstan’s economic restructuring programs, led to the socio-economic marginalization of inhabitants living adjacent to the test site. Principally, I address how Kazakhstan’s current political-economic climate has fostered a specific post-socialist “mutant” subjectivity in the nuclear zone—one that has rural populations “embracing” radioactive pollution. Tragically, the people I came to know see their own survival as proof that they are biologically adapted to a radioactive ecosystem.

1:40 p.m. “Recovery and Lessons Learned from Fukushima Dai-ichi,” Jerry Peterson, Professor, Department of Physics, University of Colorado Boulder

One of the many dire problems resulting from the March 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake was the loss of cooling water to three operating nuclear power reactors at TEPCO’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Without the cooling, residual radioactive heating began to melt some of the components within the containment vessel. Radioactive material was released from these components, and some left the plant in the air, ground water, and sea water, with wide media coverage. Although the reactor safety systems themselves worked as designed, the entire system was overwhelmed by the quake and tsunami. This system, we now realize, included a wide range of regulatory, corporate, public information, and other social, economic and political ingredients. This accident has been called “a new type of nuclear disaster found at the interface of both social and natural phenomena”. With nuclear fission providing 11% of global electricity, we must learn how to prevent, plan for, and deal with future incidents, within a much wider range of responsibilities.

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