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Life Exposed

Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl

Adriana Petryna
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Life Exposed
    Book Description:

    On April 26, 1986, Unit Four of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in then Soviet Ukraine. More than 3.5 million people in Ukraine alone, not to mention many citizens of surrounding countries, are still suffering the effects.Life Exposedis the first book to comprehensively examine the vexed political, scientific, and social circumstances that followed the disaster. Tracing the story from an initial lack of disclosure to post-Soviet democratizing attempts to compensate sufferers, Adriana Petryna uses anthropological tools to take us into a world whose social realities are far more immediate and stark than those described by policymakers and scientists. She asks: What happens to politics when state officials fail to inform their fellow citizens of real threats to life? What are the moral and political consequences of remedies available in the wake of technological disasters?

    Through extensive research in state institutions, clinics, laboratories, and with affected families and workers of the so-called Zone, Petryna illustrates how the event and its aftermath have not only shaped the course of an independent nation but have made health a negotiated realm of entitlement. She tracks the emergence of a "biological citizenship" in which assaults on health become the coinage through which sufferers stake claims for biomedical resources, social equity, and human rights.Life Exposedprovides an anthropological framework for understanding the politics of emergent democracies, the nature of citizenship claims, and everyday forms of survival as they are interwoven with the profound changes that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4509-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction to the 2013 Edition: How Did They Survive?
    (pp. xiii-xxxii)

    “They are alive. The workers know that they didn’t die. But they don’t know how they survived.” These words were spoken to me by a biochemist in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 1996, a decade after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. This scientist, along with colleagues at the country’s Academy of Medical Sciences, pioneered a way of analyzing the tooth enamel of Chernobyl cleanup workers and evacuees for clues to past levels of radiation exposure. Affected populations included roughly 600,000 cleanup workers and 5 million people either resettled from contaminated territories or continuing to live there. Their actual doses were uncertain or...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxxiii-xxxvi)
  6. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xxxvii-xl)
  7. Chapter 1 Life Politics after Chernobyl
    (pp. 1-33)

    On April 26, 1986, Unit Four of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in Ukraine, damaging human immunities and the genetic structure of cells, contaminating soils and waterways. The main reason for the accident is by now well known. Soviet engineers wanted to test how long generators of Unit Four could operate without steam supply in the case of a power failure.¹ During the test, operators sharply reduced power and blocked steam to the reactor’s generators and disabled many of its safety systems. A huge power surge followed, and at 1:23 a.m. the unit exploded once and then again. Large-scale pressure...

  8. Chapter 2 Technical Error: Measures of Life and Risk
    (pp. 34-62)

    Dmytro is a miner from the coal-mining region of Donbas in Ukraine. I met him at the Radiation Research Center where he came to “settle his social matters.” Within ten days following the Chernobyl accident, he was one of two thousand coal miners from his region mobilized to carry out work at the disaster site. Dmytro said he underwent an occupational health screening before his mobilization: “I knew I was healthy before going there.” Dmytro lacked a special protective mask during his month-long work, which involved digging tunnels under the reactor. Miners injected these tunnels with liquid nitrogen and other...

  9. Chapter 3 Chernobyl in Historical Light
    (pp. 63-81)

    The sciences, politics, and international cooperations that informed Soviet state responses to Chernobyl produced an image of control over unpredictable and largely unassessed circumstances of risk. My focus has been to consider this absolute model of rational-technical control from an ethnographic perspective, to open that model up to scrutiny, and to identify the state and international processes through which the scale of the aftermath was defined, the ways radiation-related risk came to be a knowable (or not knowable) thing, and how populations at risk came to be identified. What was known or not known about the scale of the disaster...

  10. Chapter 4 Illness as Work: Human Market Transition
    (pp. 82-114)

    Since 1986, over 500,000 people have been resettled from contaminated regions to virtually all areas of Ukraine. Contaminated territories are divided into four “zones” according to levels of cesium, strontium, and plutonium contamination. The Exclusion Zone is managed by the national government’s Zone Administration, which also monitors the Chernobyl plant; Zone Two is an area of compulsory resettlement; Zone Three is an area of guaranteed voluntary resettlement; and Zone Four is an area of heightened radiological monitoring. Ukrainian state law guarantees resettlement to persons living in territories where existing conditions could be expected to exceed a 0.1 rem (or 7...

  11. Chapter 5 Biological Citizenship
    (pp. 115-148)

    Table 2 illustrates the different kinds of radioactive particles that were released during the Chernobyl disaster, how much was released, and when they (will have) disappeared. The half-lives of these particles have a startling range—anywhere from 1.4 hours, to 285 days, to 24,400 years.¹ The table gives a sense of the virtually infinite incubation period of Chernobyl-related illnesses (UNESCO 1996).

    In the United States, issues of environmental liability have generated a legal industry concerned with attribution of costs of pollution and legislation of the forms that remedies and remediations should take. In many contaminated zones that are beyond remediation...

  12. Chapter 6 Local Science and Organic Processes
    (pp. 149-190)

    To reach the Radiation Research Center, I hailed taxis in the morning from the Boulevard of Lesia Ukrainka to the metro stop near Kyiv’s opera house. I moved along perimeter streets lining the grand Bassarabskyi market where the construction of new casinos, imported food shops, and kiosks overtook the last of the state-operated restaurants and food stores. Villagers from the city’s surrounding areas stood along the market’s outer wall, behind stands made of cardboard boxes displaying eggs, herbs, flowers, salt, and fruits. Some had just one product to sell—a loaf of bread, a jar of homemade milk, or dried...

  13. Chapter 7 Self and Social Identity in Transition
    (pp. 191-214)

    What I observed at the Radiation Research Center was a painful determinacy of illness claims, reconfiguring the relationship between family and the state, parents and children, and the present and the future. The research process shaped the “truth” of illnesses and facilitated its transfer into other bodies. Technical, political, and subjective processes combined in the research setting and shaped the biosocial circumstances of individuals and their future. Ivan left Ukraine, thus perhaps leaving behind the illness script his parents had prepared for him, and which his social and political environment endorsed. There were many more, however, whose bodies and futures...

  14. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 215-220)

    The Chernobyl aftermath is a prism reflecting, containing, and reconfiguring the vexed political-economic, scientific, legal, and social circumstances that characterized this interim period. Lawmakers, radiation scientists, health professionals, and groups of sufferers all stood at different points along the continuum of knowledge production, power, moral sensibility, and self-disclosure. The efforts of scientists and clinicians to continually reformat the Chernobyl event and to localize radiation as a set of concrete and embodied effects, combined with efforts of citizens to gain state protection, effected a social mechanism that appeared to be, or was made to appear as, an impersonal and self-authorizing force....

  15. Notes
    (pp. 221-238)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-252)
  17. Index
    (pp. 253-264)