Being Nuclear

Africans and the Global Uranium Trade
  • Publication Date: 2012
  • Dimensions and Pages: 230 x 155 mm, 476 pp
  • EAN: 978 1 86814 563 8
  • Rights: Southern Africa
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 100.00
  • Recommended Price (USD): n/a

Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade by Gabrielle Hecht (co-published with MIT Press) is co-winner of the American Historical Association’s 2012 Klein Book Prize in African History. This prize recognises the most distinguished work of scholarship on African history published in English. The book has also won the 2013 Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize and the 2013 Robert K. Merton Prize from the American Sociological Association.

This book has also been shortlisted for the the 2013 Herskovits Award, presented by the African Studies Association for the best scholarly work on Africa published in English during the previous year.

“Gabrielle Hecht’s Being Nuclear is a monumental new study of the geopolitics of uranium. It profoundly shifts how we think about things marked ‘nuclear,’ underscoring the complex historical and technopolitical work embedded in any use of the term. Beautifully written and meticulously researched—a major contribution.”Joseph Masco, University of Chicago, author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post–Cold War New Mexico


“This impassioned, broad-ranging, and beautifully written book puts the bodies of ordinary people at the very center of a sweeping study of the geopolitics and cultural anxieties that surround all things nuclear. Being Nuclear reorients the study of occupational health by calling attention to vital questions of knowledge production, activism, and governance in a postcolonial world.”Steven Epstein, Professor of Sociology and John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities, Northwestern University; author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research


Being Nuclear is nothing short of pathbreaking. Hecht’s analysis of the techno-politics of African uranium production presents a critical and convincing rethinking of the global nuclear order. This is a very smart book, based on daunting and original research, on a topic of genuine importance.”Julie Livingston, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University


Uranium from Africa has long been a major source of fuel for nuclear power and atomic weapons, including the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In 2002, George W. Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein had “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” (later specified as the infamous “yellowcake from Niger”). Africa suddenly became notorious as a source of uranium, a component of nuclear weapons. But did that admit Niger, or any of Africa’s other uranium-producing countries, to the select society of nuclear states? Does uranium itself count as a nuclear thing? In this book, Gabrielle Hecht lucidly probes the question of what it means for something—a state, an object, an industry, a workplace—to be “nuclear.”

Hecht shows that questions about being nuclear–a state that she calls “nuclearity”—lie at the heart of today’s global nuclear order and the relationships between “developing nations” (often former colonies) and “nuclear powers” (often former colonizers). Nuclearity, she says, is not a straightforward scientific classification but a contested technopolitical one.

Hecht follows uranium’s path out of Africa and describes the invention of the global uranium market. She then enters African nuclear worlds, focusing on miners and the occupational hazard of radiation exposure. Could a mine be a nuclear workplace if (as in some South African mines) its radiation levels went undetected and unmeasured? With this book, Hecht is the first to put Africa in the nuclear world, and the nuclear world in Africa. By doing so, she remakes our understanding of the nuclear age.

Gabrielle Hecht is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II and the editor of Entangled Geographies: Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War, both published by the MIT Press.

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