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Signs of Danger

Waste, Trauma, and Nuclear Threat

2004
Author:

Peter C. van Wyck

Signs of Danger

Questions the literal burying of the nuclear threat and how it relates to expectations for our future

Focusing on the government’s nuclear waste burial program in Carlsbad, New Mexico, Signs of Danger begins the urgent work of finding a new way of thinking about ecological threat in our time. The reflections at the center of this book—on memory, trauma, disaster, representation, and the virtual—offer invaluable insights into the interface of where culture ends and nature begins.

At a time when heads of state worry about nuclear weapons getting into the wrong hands, Signs of Danger draws our attention to the dangers not only of nuclear weapons but also of peaceful nuclear power in the right hands. How to mark the disposal sites and be sure they will remain untouched three thousand generations hence?

Alphonso Lingis, author of Trust

A rising ocean. A falling building. A toxic river. Species extinguished. A nuclear landscape. In a world so configured, the state of contemporary ecological thought and practice is woefully—and perilously—inadequate. Focusing on the government’s nuclear waste burial program in Carlsbad, New Mexico, Signs of Danger begins the urgent work of finding a new way of thinking about ecological threat in our time.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad began receiving shipments in 1999. With a proposed closing date of 2030, this repository for nuclear waste must be secured with a sign, the purpose of which will be to keep people away for three hundred generations. In the official documents uncovered by Peter van Wyck, we encounter a government bureaucracy approaching the issue of nuclear waste as a technical problem only to find itself confronting a host of intractable philosophical issues concerning language, culture, and history. Signs of Danger plumbs these depths as it shows us how the problem raised in the desert of New Mexico is actually the problem of a culture grappling with ecological threats and with questions of the limits of meaning and representation in the deep future.

The reflections at the center of this book—on memory, trauma, disaster, representation, and the virtual—are aimed at defining the uniquely modern status of environmental and nuclear threats. They offer invaluable insights into the interface of where culture ends and nature begins, and how such a juncture is closely linked with questions of risk, concepts of history, and the cultural experience of time.

Winner of the 2005 Gertrude J. Robinson Book Prize of the Canadian Communication Association

Awards

Winner of the 2005 Gertrude J. Robinson Book Prize of the Canadian Communication Association

Signs of Danger

Peter C. van Wyck is associate professor of communication at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. He is the author of Primitives in the Wilderness: Deep Ecology and the Missing Human Subject.

Signs of Danger

At a time when heads of state worry about nuclear weapons getting into the wrong hands, Signs of Danger draws our attention to the dangers not only of nuclear weapons but also of peaceful nuclear power in the right hands. How to mark the disposal sites and be sure they will remain untouched three thousand generations hence?

Alphonso Lingis, author of Trust

Peter van Wyck brings together the sciences and the humanities to theorize environmental issues in this interesting and entertaining book.

Verena Conley, Harvard University

Signs of Danger

UMP blog: Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis is latest example of how containing radioactive materials is simply not possible.

4/05/2011: At the time I wrote Signs of Danger, the two great nuclear indices were Three Mile Island (1979), and Chernobyl (1986). Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the third index, but here at least, in North America, these events stand as repressed adventures particular to war-time endeavors. In a word, they were not accidents.

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