- Nuclear Legacies: Communication, Controversy, and the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex
This volume addresses nuclear legacies of a specific kind: the sites of the U.S. weapons production complex decommissioned after the end of the cold war. The authors study post–cold war discourses involving citizens and government agencies, and how these discourses produce frames of reference, knowledge, and identities. Their essays focus on the symbolic dimension of nuclear legacies and advocate a vision of “the public as informed and active co-creators, along with officials and experts, of the evolving nuclear world” (p. 29).
Situated on the boundary of communications studies and the history of nuclear weapons, Nuclear Legacies aims at integrating organizational and industrial dimensions of the nuclear apparatus into the tradition of “nuclear criticism.” With its emphasis on dissent and differences rather than on consensus and the common ground, and on the communicative process itself, it also contributes to the literature on public participation in that it conceptualizes such participation as co-constitutive of a given problem.
Nuclear Legacies consists of two sections with three chapters each. In the first part, which focuses on stakeholder group interactions, Jennifer Duffield Hamilton introduces the case of the former uranium refinery in Fernald, Ohio, and argues that group and organizational identities are complex and flexible at the same time, and that both agreement on the communication process and improvisation are crucial for successful, long-term dialogue that can withstand disagreements and shifting group identifications. William Kinsella and Jay Mullen’s chapter shows how the environmental risks posed by the former plutonium production facility in Hanford, Washington, and a self-identified risk community, the “Hanford downwinders,” were mutually constituted through communication. In his essay on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, Eric Morgan argues that the discourse of “nothingness,” the evacuation of existing local functions and meanings, was a prerequisite for asserting an economic value to this site becoming the nation’s first radioactive waste repository.
In part 2, which emphasizes organizational aspects of nuclear weapons production, Jason Krupar and Stephen Depoe compare historical preservation efforts at the Nevada test site near Las Vegas, the uranium refinery in Fernald, and the plutonium trigger factory at Rocky Flats near Denver. Only the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas managed to attract federal monies, but it was immediately criticized as presenting a revisionist version of cold war history. By contrast, the Rocky Flats Virtual Exhibit, an online museum created without federal funding, presents an alternative, and [End Page 244] much more critical, account of the nuclear age. Laura A. McNamara’s essay focuses on attempts to preserve knowledge about designing reliable nuclear weapons since the 1992 testing moratorium. On the basis of fieldwork at Los Alamos, she explores how nuclear weapons designers constitute, maintain, and modify their community of knowing. Finally, Bryan Taylor analyzes the tensions between the discourse of “stewardship” (the protection of people and the environment from contamination) and “guardianship” (technocratic elites determining the degree of public participation) and makes a case for the benefits of involving well-informed citizens in decision- making processes on nuclear matters.
The volume concludes with a short response by Tarla Rai Peterson, who contemplates the potential contributions of “ethically and politically engaged scholars,” and the applicability of the research presented here.
The essays in Nuclear Legacies explicitly draw on four traditions in communications studies: a dramatistic tradition inspired by Erving Goffman (focusing on discursive practices, especially elite nuclear rhetoric); critical theory following Jürgen Habermas (with an emphasis on normative ideals); argumentation theory (examining how nuclear institutions regulate and impose their discourse on other spheres of communication); and poststructuralist and dialogic theories in the tradition of Michel Foucault and Mikhail Bakhtin (assuming distinctive knowledge and power regimes within institutions, and stressing the role of discourse in constituting knowledge). While the authors engage with this theoretical framework to varying degrees, all of them emphasize the specifics of organizational communication and address the co-constitution of knowledge through discourse.