HAPSAT Graduate Workshops - First Session

When and Where

Wednesday, October 25, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Victoria College
91 Charles Street West, Toronto, ON M5S 1K7


Bree Lohman



Bree Lohman will present:

Stained Soils: Nuclear Security, Environmental Risk & the Partial Containment of Hazards in the Canadian Arctic

Abstract: For this workshop, I examine the containment of nuclear risk and chemical hazard in the Distant Early Warning Line, a Cold War-era network of radar spanning the North American Arctic. Beginning in 1953 and lasting until its deactivation in 1993, the DEW Line comprised at its height a perimeter of 63 radar and communication stations from Alaska to Greenland, which monitored the North Hemisphere for a Soviet nuclear attack. This binational US-Canadian project of Arctic geoengineering represented a new expansion of Cold War militarization, as P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Matthew Farish argue, denoting “the systematic consolidation of nature as a military entity.” Here, I investigate the history of one artifact integral to the maintenance of the DEW Line and the colonial prosecution of the Cold War, as well as subsequent remediation efforts: the oil drum. Shipped North by the tens of thousands to fuel this engine of war, oil drums were emptied, dumped, and laid abandoned for over a generation as the DEW Line obsolesced, registering an archaeology of Cold War use and disuse. These oil drums, along with other infrastructural remnants of the DEW Line, leeched polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Arctic soil and waterways, with chemical signatures exhibiting a longevity that has long since surpassed the operational span of the DEW, Line a permanent contamination that constitutes what Rob Nixon terms “slow violence” and manifests what Michelle Murphy calls “the chemical regime of living.” Beginning in the 1980s and continuing to the 2010s, remediation efforts on former DEW Line sites were undertaken, which eventually totaled over a half-billion dollars, and merit comparison to other measures of chemical containment. The shift from Arctic militarization to Artic remediation signaled a discursive turn in how the Far North was imagined, from an inhospitable landscape instrumentalized for war to a vulnerable ecosystem out of balance. Under this new regime of remediation, an international consortium of federally funded scientists, engineers, and technicians, developed measurements for contamination and benchmarks for containerizing substances, namely the PCBs from corroding oil drums, that sedimented Arctic soils and waterways. Through a study of this scientific and political work, I track how the contaminant risk of PCBs were negotiated, managed, and never fully contained, demonstrating that the DEW Line, as a Cold War apparatus of security-making, reflexively produced its own hazards.

In-person event. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023, 12 pm to 1:00 pm Room VC304

Save the date for our upcoming sessions: November 15 and December 6, 2023


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