Linda M. Richards, Ph.D. student in History of Science at Oregon State University, has been awarded a prestigious dissertation improvement grant from the National Science Foundation. She weathered the storm of a tough selection process and now is ready to take her research project on the road–literally. She’ll be traveling by bus (!) to multiple locations throughout the United States, scouring libraries and archives as she goes. She’ll also travel to Vienna, Austria, the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Congratulations, Linda! The abstract of her project is below:
“Rocks and Reactors: The Origins of Radiation Exposure Disparity, 1941-1979” will deepen knowledge of the social context of radiation safety science by examining the discrepancy between conceptions of safety at critical junctures during the Cold War. The expansion of nuclear science worldwide was influenced by the availability of uranium and by American academics who installed research reactors and built trust in the health physics field. Linda Richards’ dissertation will ask how markedly different levels of contamination became acceptable norms at different settings and stages in the nuclear fuel chain, especially by comparing radiation safety as practiced at Atoms for Peace research reactor laboratories and in the same era, southwestern U.S. uranium mines.
Material from multiple archives and secondary literature will be used to inquire how radiation safety was instituted internationally at academic research reactors but not extended to those most directly affected by radiation pollution—indigenous subsistence communities located where 80 percent of the nuclear fuel chain activities (mining, milling, production, use, and storage of nuclear materials) occur worldwide. Richards will also study the inclusion, exclusion, and exchange of scientific knowledge and practice between diverse cultures at research reactors and mining sites.
Work that incorporates previously disconnected histories informs and provides essential points of view in the current discussion of nuclear expansion and inhibition. The research seeks to explain a contested history so that a broader public can participate and contribute to discussions and decisions on environmental justice and nuclear history.