Article ID: CBB799186607

The Cosmology of Evidence: Suffering, Science, and Biological Witness After Three Mile Island (2021)


The 1979 partial nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island was simultaneously hyper-visible and hidden from public view. It was the subject of non-stop media attention, but its causes and consequences required expert explanation. No fire or explosion marked the moment when insensible radionuclides escaped the facility. Yet, residents recalled a variety of troubling sights, sounds, odors, tastes, and sensations. Public distrust percolated in the interstices between government assertions that little radiation had escaped the facility and residents’ sense memories of the incident. This article traces intertwined networks of activists from Japan and Pennsylvania as they mobilized legally, politically, and scientifically to develop evidence about the offsite effects of Three Mile Island. Exploring the distinct cosmology of evidence that activists marshaled, the article shows how they placed the messy, contingent, dynamic living world at the center of inquiries about the meltdown’s consequences. Activists developed new practices of biological witness that reconfigured the interplay between scientific, legal, and moral authority, while concurrently reformulating sufferers’ subjectivities and notions of scientific objectivity. In the process, they suggested that environmental justice entailed epistemic justice. Their cosmology of evidence served as an argument and a material proof that the beloved but suffering living world, and the sciences used to understand it, could and should frame the governance of industrial society’s invisible harms.

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Article Jacob Hamblin; Linda M. Richards (2021) Connecting to the Living History of Radiation Exposure. Journal of the History of Biology (pp. 1-6). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Kosek, Jake
Norwood, Vera
Correia, David
Fujigaki, Yuko
McGurty, Eileen
Tolliday, Steven
Environmental History
Journal of the History of Biology
Business and Economic History On-Line
History and Technology
Public Understanding of Science
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Rutgers University Press
Michigan State University
University of New Mexico
Johns Hopkins University Press
Nuclear reactors
Nuclear industry
Atomic energy; nuclear power
Environmental pollution
Science and politics
Disasters; catastrophes
United States
North Carolina (U.S.)
New Mexico (U.S.)
20th century, late
21st century
20th century
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission

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