Nuclear Theory Degree Zero, with two cheers for Derrida

12 Feb 2018

1 Coming to terms with the nuclear android. This is written on the verge. We have been set up by the holy grail of science, by the offer of a solution to diminishing resources, a solution to global war — the American Manhattan Project writ large as a full-stop on modernity (Fox). But it wasn’t a full-stop, and it wasn’t the solution to diminishing resources. It is the deadly promise of total death — fast and slow and slower. It threatens to be all encompassing. We make our journeys towards awareness of the nuclear in so many different ways, but we arrive at the same dead ends. Hiroshima and Nagasaki fallout on one side, while the other side melts down into Chernobyl and Fukushima. As Jean-Luc Nancy suggests: ‘Nuclear catastrophe – all differences military or civilian kept in mind – remains the one potentially irremediable catastrophe, whose effects spread through generations, through the layers of the earth.’ (Nancy 3) Recognition of the anthropocene threatens to mulch nuclear catastrophe amid others layers of anthropogenic damage, notably plastics. As the ecology of floods, tsunamis and earthquakes around Fukushima also reveals, the nuclear is caught up in the risks of global warming: ‘natural catastrophes are no longer separable from their technological, economic, and political implications or repercussions.’ (Nancy 4). We are caught in a symbiotic intertwining in which ‘nature’ can no longer be imagined as a backdrop, but has become a dark ecology prefigured by the nuclear, and suffused with it. Scientists talk of the nuclear industry reaching from the cradle to the grave: the mining to the enriching to its (half)life in a reactor to weapons-grade plutonium. It is not a straightforward journey — there are diversions and different routes — but semantically and biochemically, militarily and politically, they link, and in terms of ultimate outcomes, they break up the links of DNA, and the materials that constitute the world.