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Activities & Questions. Attending Hanford Advisory Board Meetings What are the political dynamics of stakeholder governance of site? What are the key controversies? Semi -structured interviews What kind of intergenerational ethics are used or implied by subjects?

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Activities & Questions

Attending Hanford Advisory Board Meetings

  • What are the political dynamics of stakeholder governance of site?
  • What are the key controversies?

Semi-structured interviews

  • What kind of intergenerational ethics are used or implied by subjects?
  • How do subjects generate anticipations, predictions, and representations of the future, and how do they impact their politics and knowledge production practices?

Attend meetings of relevant organizations & movements

  • What kinds of politics (and, thus, intergenerational ethics and future imaginaries) are left out of stakeholder processes?

Examine archives

  • How have future imaginaries surrounding Hanford changed and why?

Hanford site tours

  • How is the historical legacy of Hanford being crafted by the DoE?

Attend community meetings & events

  • How have the activities at Hanford shaped the future imaginaries and present situation of various communities?

Attend relevant hearings and events in Washington, DC and beyond

  • What is the relationship between remediation efforts at Hanford and national policy and politics surrounding nuclear waste and environmental cleanup?

Basic research and project design currently underway

Preliminary field site visit to Richland, WA planned for early June

Trip to conduct interviews in Washington, DC planned for July or August


Field Sites

Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Since plutonium production ended in the late 1980’s, Hanford has become one of the largest environmental remediation efforts in the world. It also houses an operating commercial low-level radioactive waste disposal facility. and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Ithas and will likely continue to have a major effect on efforts to site a national high-level nuclear waste repository. Hanford has recently been in the news because several large tanks of radioactive wastes were found to be leaking into the soil, even as a large portion of Hanford’s workforce was scheduled to be terminated or furloughed because of sequestration. It is located on the Columbia River in Washington State.

PhD. Student, Science and Technology Studies

Pedro de la Torre III

Contaminated Futures: Intergenerational Ethics and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation 

The Hanford nuclear reservation, a former plutonium production site and current nuclear waste site, is one of the most contaminated sites in North America, and is currently undergoing one of the largest environmental remediation efforts ever undertaken. This effort poses the technologically and scientifically difficult challenge of “cleaning” millions of tons of soil, water, and industrial facilities. Hanford also presents a complex sociopolitical challenge, however, that involves negotiating both the troubling legacies of the past—including the history of intentional releases of Iodine-131 and other radionuclides during the cold war and U.S.-American Indian relations in the region—and the urgencies of the present—including large cuts in government funding. It also involves very different anticipations of the future. Given the long half-lives of many of the contaminants at Hanford, long-term anticipation and imagination is implicit in much of the technoscientific, sociocultural, and political activity that surrounds this site, and understanding how these different “futures” shape nuclear waste sites is the central concern of this project. Particular attention will be paid to how various conceptions of intergenerational ethics or justice are formed and mobilized, implicitly and explicitly, by the subjects of this study. 

This project will attempt to use insights gained from an ethnography of the Hanford nuclear reservation to attempt to understand not only the long term implications of remediation efforts, but also the implications of different ways of thinking (or not-thinking) in the “long-term” about the environmental legacy that is being left to posterity. In a context of continuing environmental devastation on local, regional, and global scales, ethnographies of both environmental remediation and intergenerational consciousness will be crucial to building a critical understanding—and a critical politics—of the future.

This investigation will take the form of an ethnographic fieldwork in Richland, WA and the surrounding region, along with interviews with experts and other relevant actors around the country. I plan to engage “stakeholders,” scientists, engineers, activists, and policymakers involved with remediation efforts at Hanford in conversations about they see the past and future of the site affecting the present situation at Hanford, and their work in particular. I will also rely on the analysis of documents and other information produced by government agencies and other important actors, participant observation at key meetings and events, and comparative analyses, for which other waste sites such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico and Sellafield in the U.K. will likely be particularly important. 


How are future imaginaries generated in the present, and how do they affect the politics and governance of nuclear waste and remediation?

How are intergenerational ethics negotiated in debates about environmental remediation and nuclear waste?

Research Problems

About Me

I am a first year PhD student at RPI’s Science and Technology Studies Department. Before that, I completed an M.A. in Anthropology at the New School for Social Research. My areas of interest include nuclear waste and politics, disaster studies, social theory, and temporality.


Current Stage of Research

Richland, WA

This small city borders the Hanford nuclear radiation, and houses many of the remediation workers, scientists, and other involved with the day to day work of the site. It is also the home of the Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science and Technology, and much of the stakeholder and public involvement activities related to site cleanup. This is likely where I would reside during the vast majority of my fieldwork.