Project on Managing the Atom holds panel discussion on racial injustice in the nuclear field

| Oct. 29, 2020

View a recording of the full event.

The recent killings of unarmed Black Americans and the ensuing protests have highlighted the racial injustices and structural inequalities that remain a major part of life in the United States. Many institutions within the US nuclear community are beginning to face the long history of systemic racism in the nuclear field, which continues to this day. On October 9, the Project on Managing the Atom (MTA) held a panel discussion focused on this important issue and organized by current and former MTA fellows.

In opening remarks, Aditi Verma, Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow with the Project on Managing the Atom and International Security Program, discussed a recent article she co-authored in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists calling for antiracist action and accountability in the US nuclear community. Verma and co-authors Katlyn M. Turner, Lauren J. Borja, Denia Djokić, and Madicken Munk describe the origins and persistence of systemic racism in the nuclear field and explain how it has endured both epistemically and institutionally since the dawn of the nuclear age.

Exclusionary mechanisms continue to keep away those whose perspectives are most needed in the field's professional spaces, Verma said in her remarks.

"The stories we tell, the ways in which we think, the technologies we build are all filtered through this narrow lens, defined by a dominant but inequitable set of perspectives," she said.

Brief remarks from panelists Togzhan Kassenova of SUNY-Albany, Hugh Gusterson of the University of British Columbia, and Vincent Intondi of Montgomery College focused on race in the context of global nuclear governance, the nuclear disarmament movement, and nuclear weapons testing, among other issues.

Moderator Mareena Robinson Snowden of Johns Hopkins University led a broader discussion and took questions from the audience of about 150 students, researchers, and members of the public.

In one exchange with Kassenova, Robinson Snowden pointed out that much of the language commonly used in conversations about nuclear issues can hold different meanings to different people—especially when unequal standards are applied to nations with and without nuclear weapons.

"Trustworthiness, rationality, maturity, safety," Robinson Snowden said. "These are words in our nuclear context that on first impression seem pretty benign, but when you understand the context in which they’re used and who they’re often applied and not applied to, then you start to see some of the inequities around that."

The panel also discussed a recent article Kassenova wrote with MTA Research Associate Mariana Budjeryn on the intersections of race and nuclear issues in the former Soviet Union. In addition to the decades of nuclear tests and uranium extraction which led to grievous health effects for many Kazakhs, the USSR's racial hierarchy could be seen in its nearly all-Slavic missile force.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Project on Managing the Atom holds panel discussion on racial injustice in the nuclear field.” News, , October 29, 2020.