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“A People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado”: Project Launch and Panel Recap

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By: Tieanna Graphenreed

On September 14, 2021 the contributors to the “People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado” convened for the inaugural launch of its digital platform. 

A People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado is an online digital document, including collections of edited essays, maps, and artworks that explore the history, and continued presence of nuclear power and weapons infrastructure throughout rural areas in Colorado. 

The Atlas’ event launch was led by its editors (contributors to the Atlas themselves): Sarah Kanouse, Northeastern University’s own interdisciplinary artist and researcher in the College of Arts, Media, and Design, and Shiloh Krupar, a geographer and Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor at Georgetown University. The launch included lightning talks from nine contributors to the Atlas (which, at this time, boasts as many as 46 contributors). 

From A People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado.

Contributors to the Atlas are not bound to any one area of study nor are they bound to the traditional space of the academic university itself. This interdisciplinarity—and, in some ways, refusal of disciplinary bounds—is one of the most powerful guiding principles of the Atlas. The Atlas’ pursues partnerships not only with academic scholars, but also with grassroots organizations, activists, museums, and other educators outside of university spaces. In doing so, the Atlas honors its aspirations “to be an engaging and inclusive platform for community members, scholars, veterans, workers, artists, and activists to shape the nuclear weapons legacy in Colorado through ongoing and active interpretation.” 

By crossing beyond disciplinary boundaries and moving beyond academia, the contributors to the Atlas discovered several commonplaces between their research and art on the basis of race, class and wealth disparities, rural geographies, and limited access to resources. The speakers and editors facilitated discussions with the audience about how their own research and the discovered connections between their work demonstrated how the sociopolitical factors mentioned above were often exploited to reform Colorado residents’ home communities into sites of nuclear production—and the role that the U.S. nuclear apparatus has in making other places across the globe into sites of nuclear devastation. 

The contributors who spoke at the launch event and brief descriptions of their Atlas entries are included below: 

Stephanie Malin: “Uranium Production’s History of Environmental Injustice–And Why It Matters Today

  • Malin discusses uranium mining and milling during the Cold War and its long-standing environmental and health impacts.  

Abbey Hepner: “Uravan” (artwork)

  • Hepner talks about the town of Uravan, Colorado which was so contaminated by radioactive chemicals from mining for uranium and vanadium between 1912–1986, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relocated residents and closed, burned, and buried the town. Using historic photos, Hepner renders Uravan visible once more by recreating the town’s historical buildings with three-dimensional laser-engraved pigment prints. 

Mallery Quetawki: “DNA Damage and DNA Repair” (artwork)

  • Quetawki’s two-part artwork muses about the damage that is done to DNA by environmental factors resulting from nuclear pollution, and the ways in which DNA seeks to repair itself after being faced with radioactive damage. The designs in both are based on materials symbolic to Native Culture(s), and Quetawki draws inspiration from Pendleton blankets and beadwork from the Crow Nation. 

Jen Richter: “The Glove Boxes of Rocky Flats” (essay)

  • Richter considers the use of glove boxes, both as a (poor) means to protect workers from the dangers of radioactive materials and similarly as a metaphor for the insufficient strategies to protect public health from nuclear emissions. 

Gretchen Heefner: “High Planes Armageddon” (essay)

  • Heefner maps the decommissioned U.S. Minuteman missile fields in rural Colorado and discusses how Colorado became a host-site of fifty Minuteman Missiles (which still lay beneath the high plains today). 

Nareg Kuyumjian 

  • Kuyumjian, formerly an undergraduate student assistant for the Atlas project, largely reflected on his experiences and takeaways from his work during the launch event. 
    • Read some of his work in the Atlas, in the “Refining” section of the text.

Marion Hourdequin: “Challenging the Decaying Nuclear Imagination: Nuclear Resistance at N-8 and Beyond” (essay)

  • Hourdequin focuses on the U.S. Plowshares Movement, an anti-war and anti-nuclear movement, with special attention to events at the N-8 nuclear missile silo in northeastern Colorado in 2002, which involved the arrest of three Catholic nuns involved in the protest. 

Yuki Miyamoto: “Traveling Nuclear” (essay)

  • Miyamato discusses the paradox of travel tourism and museums as educational pursuits, noting that while such venues offer opportunities to “see” unfamiliar spaces and people, they might also distract from the fact that the world is still reckoning with such issues—like nuclear devastation—today. 

Kate Chandler: “Global Positioning, Positioned: GPS at Home on Schriever Air Force Base” (essay)

  • Chandler explains how the satellite infrastructure that makes GPS location possible, was also established through the U.S. military and Cold War nuclear arms race. 

Read more about contributors to the Atlas here

The People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado welcomes contributions and future partnerships. If you would like to contribute materials to the Atlas, you may reach out to the editors: Sarah Kanouse (s.kanouse@northeastern.edu) and Shiloh Krupar (srk@georgetown.edu). 

Visit the Atlas: https://www.coloradonuclearatlas.org/.

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