CAS Symposium 2014: Catastrophic Asia

Event Type: 
Event Date: 
Friday, April 4, 2014 - 13:00
Center for British and Irish Studies, Norlin Library, CU-Boulder

[CAS Speaker Series] Asia has been the site of some of the greatest human and natural catastrophes.  From the 2011 earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Japan, to the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India, to the legacy of Soviet nuclear testing in Kazakhstan, to the ever-present risk of nuclear war in South Asia, Asian sites reveal much about the intersection of the political and the natural.   The Center for Asian Studies will host four presentations by  scholars on the risks, costs and effects of different types and contexts of disaster in a day-long symposium on April 4, 2014.  Please join us.

1:00 p.m. "Radiation 'Adaptation': Emergent Subjectivities and Health Strategies Among Indigenous Kazakhs at Semipalatinsk," Magdalena Stawkowski, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder

In this paper, I draw on sixteen months of field work to describe the legacies of the Soviet atomic testing project and its long-term disastrous effects on the inhabitants of the nuclear zone in Kazakhstan.  Focusing on the village of Koyan in the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site region, I examine local Indigenous Kazakh villager’s understandings of health, livelihood and suffering, specifically their emerging subjectivities and health strategies after forty years of Soviet nuclear testing. While rooted in the broader histories of the Kazakh steppe and subsequent decline of the Soviet state, the context for this discussion is a forty-year period of Cold War nuclear testing and then its programmatic and abrupt closure. Particularly, I elucidate how scientific authority about the biological effects of low-dose radiation exposure, coupled with Kazakhstan’s economic restructuring programs, led to the socio-economic marginalization of inhabitants living adjacent to the test site. Principally, I address how Kazakhstan’s current political-economic climate has fostered a specific post-socialist “mutant” subjectivity in the nuclear zone—one that has rural populations “embracing” radioactive pollution. Tragically, the people I came to know see their own survival as proof that they are biologically adapted to a radioactive ecosystem.

1:40 p.m. "Recovery and Lessons Learned from Fukushima Dai-ichi," Jerry Peterson, Professor, Department of Physics, University of Colorado Boulder

One of the many dire problems resulting from the March 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake was the loss of cooling water to three operating nuclear power reactors at TEPCO’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.  Without the cooling, residual radioactive heating began to melt some of the components within the containment vessel.  Radioactive material was released from these components, and some left the plant in the air, ground water, and sea water, with wide media coverage.  Although the reactor safety systems themselves worked as designed, the entire system was overwhelmed by the quake and tsunami.  This system, we now realize, included a wide range of regulatory, corporate, public information, and other social, economic and political ingredients.  This accident has been called “a new type of nuclear disaster found at the interface of both social and natural phenomena”.  With nuclear fission providing 11% of global electricity, we must learn how to prevent, plan for, and deal with future incidents, within a much wider range of responsibilities.

2:20 p.m. "Catastrophic 'Experiments' and Corporeal Categories: Bhopal Gas Victims as 'Special' Citizens," Bridget Hanna, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

The Bhopal Disaster – the 1984 gas leak from an American-owned chemical plant into a densely populated central Indian city – was paradigmatic event of the risk society. Not only was it a novel and unique catastrophe: it was also a massive, uncontrolled, and largely undocumented experiment, one conducted with neither a protocol nor a control, on a sleeping city. What unfolded initially as the accidental exposure of 500,000 people to an unknown combination of deadly gases, has become over time (for those who have survived) an ongoing struggle for cure in the face of an ill that experts have still not fully defined. Rather, extant notions of treatment, illness, and exposure have been retrofit to Bhopal with mixed results, in an ongoing attempt to respond to, or perhaps neutralize, the suffering of the victims. Today, debates over detoxification, chronicity, stigma, categorization, and even clinical trials, are continuing to play out over the bodies of the gas-affected. In this talk I describe the medical institutions and practices that have arisen to manage the relationship of the gas-exposed to their health, in order to expose how medical uncertainty and the creation of “special” categories has constrained both access to care, and hopes for healing.

3;00 p.m. "Self-Assured Destruction: The Climate Impacts of Nuclear War," Brian Toon, Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder

Climatic Consequences and Agricultural Impact of Regional Nuclear Conflict - Brian Toon. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, with each country using 50 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs as airbursts on urban areas, would inject smoke from the resulting fires into the stratosphere. This could produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history and global-scale ozone depletion, with enhanced ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching the surface. Simulations with the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM), show a long stratospheric residence time for smoke and hence a long-lasting climate response, with global average surface air temperatures 1.1 K below normal and global average precipitation 4% below normal even after a decade. The erythemal dose from the enhanced UV radiation would greatly increase, in spite of enhanced absorption by the remaining smoke, with the UV index more than 3 units higher in the summer midlatitudes, even after a decade. Scenarios of changes in temperature, precipitation, and downward shortwave radiation applied to the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer crop model for winter wheat, rice, soybeans, and maize by perturbing observed time series with anomalies from the regional nuclear war simulations, produce decreases of 10-50% in yield averaged over a decade, with larger decreases in the first several years, over the midlatitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. The impact of the nuclear war simulated here, using much less than 1% of the global nuclear arsenal, would be devastating to world agricultural production and trade, possibly sentencing a billion people now living marginal existences to starvation. The continued environmental threat of the use of even a small number of nuclear weapons must be considered in nuclear policy deliberations in Russia, the U.S., and the rest of the world.

3:40 p.m. Break

4:00 p.m. Discussion by a faculty panel of respondents

Waleed Abdalati (Professor of Geography, CU-Boulder), Donna Goldstein (Professor of Anthropology, CU-Boulder), Laurel Rodd (Professor of Japanese, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, CU-Boulder), and Emily Yeh (Professor of Geography, CU-Boulder); moderated by Tim Oakes (Director ofthe Center for Asian Studies and Professor of Geography, CU-Boulder)

5:30 p.m. Reception

The closest metered parking is along University Avenue and in Lot 381, which is at the end of University Avenue along the roundabout just before the road turns north down the hill. These are limited to two hours, however, so we suggest that you park in the Euclid Auto Park by the University Memorial Center.

CAS Symposium 2014: Catastrophic Asia

Map of Norlin