Being Nuclear

Uranium from Africa has long been a major source of fuel for nuclear power and atomic weapons, including the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, but it has been almost completely absent from accounts of the nuclear age, whether scholarly or popular. This changed in 2002, when the US and British governments claimed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” (later specified as the infamous “yellowcake from Niger”). Africa suddenly became notorious as a source of uranium. But that did not admit Niger, or any of Africa’s other uranium-producing countries, to the select society of nuclear states. Nor did it mean that uranium itself counted as a nuclear thing. What did it mean for something — a state, an object, an industry, a workplace — to be “nuclear”? Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade shows how the history of African uranium production forces us to rethink not just the “nuclear age,” but also the meaning and use of the “nuclear” as a political, cultural, and technoscientific category.

Along the way, the book explores how Africans – from national leaders to ordinary mineworkers – became technological and political actors in late colonial and postcolonial times. It examines the dialectical production of knowledge and ignorance in transnational context. And it studies relationships between technology and power in several African countries in order to analyze the multiple technopolitical arrangements and practices that governed industrial development.

Chapter 1: The Power of Nuclear Things Chapter 10: Uranium from Africa


Martin A. Klein Prize (African History), American Historical Association, 2012

Robert K. Merton Prize, American Sociological Association, 2013

Honorable Mention, Herskovits Prize, African Studies Association, 2013

Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize, 2014

Rachel Carson Prize, Society for the Social Studies of Science, 2016

édition française chez Le Seuil, 2016

Uranium Africain-cover

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