The life of the by-product in the “Grants uranium district” of northwestern New Mexico

De Pree, Thomas A.
Thumbnail Image
Other Contributors
Fortun, Kim
Akera, Atsushi
Campbell, Nancy D. (Nancy Dianne), 1963-
Kinchy, Abby J.
Fortun, Michael
Jacka, Jerry K., 1966-
Issue Date
Science and technology studies
Terms of Use
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
Full Citation
In the “Grants uranium district” of northwestern New Mexico, there is a large-scale high-tech operation underway to monitor and cleanup the uranium mine waste and mill tailings from the U.S. Cold War development of nuclear weapons. This dissertation presents an anthropological study of the expertise involved in cleaning up the by-products of such historic production. Though the focus of the study is on the experts who monitor and manage the mine waste and mill tailings, the dissertation considers the different perspectives on policy, planning, design, and engineering surrounding uranium tailings piles. Through this emphasis on multiple perspectives, the study opens up the kind of “explanatory pluralism” prescribed by Evelyn Fox Keller (2002), in which differences in perspective are “not simply a reflection of differences in epistemological cultures but a positive virtue in itself, representing our best chance of coming to terms with the world around us.” The goal of this dissertation is to refine our understanding of the different “stakeholders” involved in cleaning up the mining district, as they deliberate about the possibility of reclaiming abandoned uranium mines, remediating Superfund sites, and restoring the natural and cultural resources of northwestern New Mexico. My thesis is that the possibility of cleaning up the Grants uranium district hinges on the “politics of baselining”—a term I introduce to help articulate my argument about the relationship between three categories of stakeholders. By tracing lines of geochemical evidence through the same groundwater samples, each stakeholder’s model imagines a different geological past prior to mining that can be deemed “natural,” as the background against which to measure the anthropogenic impact of “man-made” piles of uranium tailings.
August 2019
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Dept. of Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
CC BY-NC-ND. Users may download and share copies with attribution in accordance with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. No commercial use or derivatives are permitted without the explicit approval of the author.