In this talk, I examine the continuities and changes of scientific attention and the kinds of information that is sought and produced about the people who live in and around the Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan and were most affected by nuclear testing. I focus on the kinds of information that is not sought, and why. As the scientific collection of knowledge and epidemiological data about radiation risks and consequences from Soviet nuclear testing has increased in recent years, data about residual radioactivity that remains, and its human biological effects, is increasingly sidelined. Instead, intergenerational historical cohorts are the objects of interest, used to study genetic causes of disease and for extracting information contained within “native bodies.” What I want to propose here is that the methodological confines of Western radiation epidemiology around the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site, not only limit the kinds of claims that scientists can make, but also make it impossible to know about, or even consider, the effects of present day radiation exposure. And in this way, as I show, these confines undermine the possibility of political debate and controversy about what is happening on the test site, and convert residual radiation into a banal everyday occurrence.
Magdalena Stawkowski is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and a faculty associate at the Walker Institute for International Studies at the University of South Carolina. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2014. Previously, Stawkowski was a postdoctoral teaching scholar in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University. Prior to that, she was a MacArthur Nuclear Security Fellow and a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University. Her research has been supported by a number of grants, including those from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, IREX, the Danish Council for Independent Research, and others.