Becoming irradiated: the epistemic politics of neglect along india’s nuclear fuel cycle

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Shaik Ali, Misria
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Science and technology studies
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Becoming Irradiated demonstrates that the dual epistemic conditions of self-reliance and nuclear safety neglect experiences of radioactive contamination across three varied irradiated facilities in India that comprise the nuclear fuel cycle under study. The Nuclear fuel cycle, as the study’s technoscientific apparatus, puts things, facilities, distinct entities, bodies and illnesses that are out of relations, back into relations and, capture the self-reliance conditions that shape India as nuclear country. The facilities include Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, Tummalapalle Uranium Mine and Mill and the Mayapuri Scrap Metal Market modelled on developmentalist, technological and neoliberal self-reliance. The dissertation provides a map of self-reliance, exploring its multiplicity, to demonstrate the psychopathology of colonialism embedded in India’s conceptual practice of self-reliance. Through a discourse analysis of IAEA regulatory episteme, the dissertation’s regulatory intervention questions the epistemic premise of today’s international nuclear regulation—nuclear safety achieved in the facility’s technologies, operations and management protects health and environment from irradiation. It analyzes the ontological enactment of the nuclear safety episteme in the facilities, and critiques it through embodied, subjugated epistemologies of becoming irradiated around it based on situational, para-sited, sensory and multispecies ethnographic analysis. The dissertation is theoretically framed by Cognitive Justice which provides a space for thought experiments on how different knowledge systems from Global North and Global South come to coexist in tense and dialogical relations. Under Cognitive Justice creating knowledge is not a task marked off to technoscientific expertise and hence, in this dissertation, I treat experts and epistemically oppressed peoples who experience irradiation as “epistemic bodies” whose epistemic process is embedded in ways they relate with varied technologies. By putting the embodied knowledges of irradiation and the epistemology of nuclear safety that shapes regulation in the facilities in conversation, this dissertation demonstrates how nuclear safety with its material arrangements emerge as an epistemology of neglect, making neglect less of a moral/behavioral matter and more of knowledge issue in Agnotology. The embodied knowledges of radiation illnesses, the dissertation demonstrates, are made and legitimated by victims of irradiation through accounts shared in popular media and in village meetings, forging radioactive kinships—relations that are forged due to ionizing effects of irradiation. Through epistemic bodies, nuclear neglect, radioactive kinship and nuclear differentiation, this dissertation lays the grounds for Critical Nuclear Studies (CNS). The attention to the production and sharing of subjugated knowledges and as they challenge the official discourses of the nuclear order are components of the field of Critical Nuclear Studies. This dissertation pushes forward the frame of cosmopolitical and relational thinking by critiquing the move away from epistemology to ontology in STS and pivots STS, Study of Expertise, Cognitive Justice, Southern theory and Critical Nuclear Studies along the relational turn. The analyzes puts forth a demand for a regulatory apparatus namely Embodied Radiation Protection regime that attends to the epistemic agency of local people living around the facilities in knowing radioactive contamination. The embodied radiation protection regime relies on Ariviyal as pluralized embodied/specialized knowledge, alter-tracers as sensory apparatus, and is founded on the porous relations established with radioactivity on neglected epistemological grounds of nuclear operations and becoming irradiated. This dissertation frames sites of evasion as places where responsibility unevenly gets distributed onto the victims under an embodied radiation protection regime if the state is not held accountable in an increasingly capital centered regulatory apparatus.
December 2022
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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