The Manhattan Project not only unlocked the power of the atom, it also inaugurated a subtle but total transformation of the biosphere, ushering nature into a new kind of nuclear regime in 1945. The techno-scientific militarization of nature in nuclear discourses enabled a dual deployment of social evolution and biological extinction as the focal points of a new kind of modernity, producing not only new understandings of self, nature, and society, but also a profound mutation in each of these terms. In the post-Cold War period, the U.S. nuclear complex has implicitly recognized transformations of the biosphere by the nuclear testing regime through a new type of territorial re-inscription, such as the formation of a 1000-acre wildlife preserve within a 43-square mile territory of Los Alamos National Laboratory. This chapter describes the “re-wilding” of Los Alamos’ monitored hyper-toxic nuclear waste sites, which have been reinvented as pristine wild landscapes. It draws attention an unusual facet of Cold War environmental politics, focusing not on imagined nuclear immolation, but the creation of an ersatz “Ur” nature, a suite of new institutions, and the inscription of toxic landscapes as pristine sanctuaries.
Areas of Focus: Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.