‘Geology as Unconforming Infrastructure: Engineering the containment of nuclear waste’, Professor Penny Harvey, Dept of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester
6 December 2022, 4pm
CHSTM Seminar Room: Simon 2.57 [maps and travel]
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Abstract: In the UK a search has begun for a suitable site for a geological disposal facility, designed to contain high-level radioactive waste for up to a million years. In this paper I focus on the conceptual challenges provoked by the unconformities of the geological record, and the uncertainties that characterise both the deep past and the deep future. Finding a way to safely dispose of these highly mobile materials deep underground involves the navigation of complex relational terrain. Engineering solutions focus on the problem of how to achieve a permanent separation of radioactive matter from wider eco-systems through the alignment of multiple barriers, some engineered, some natural. However, the process of creating a waste infrastructure that embraces both systemic flow and fixed boundaries can only be approached via the unstable pathways of moral reasoning, the navigation of uncertainty, and the shifting scales of time and of agency. As anthropologists are challenged to re-imagine the scope of relational worlds in the anthropocene, and to follow calls to address geological relations in non-extractive mode, the engineered burial of nuclear materials poses questions about the possibilities and limitations of human entanglements with non-organic matter.
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Seminar Convenors 2022-23: Professor Ian Burney and Dr Neil Pemberton