Article ID: CBB903994495

Locating the Boundaries of the Nuclear North: Arctic Biology, Contaminated Caribou, and the Problem of the Threshold (2021)


This essay is a historical–geographical account of how scientists and public health officials conceptualized and assessed northern radioactive exposures in the late 1950s and 1960s. The detection of radionuclides in caribou bodies in northern Canada both demonstrated the global reach of nuclear fallout and revealed the unevenness of toxic relations and radioactive exposures. Following the documentation of the lichen–caribou–human pathway of exposure, Canadian public health officials became increasingly concerned about the possibility of heightened radioactive exposures among Indigenous northerners. Between 1963 and 1969, scientists and officials with Canada’s Radiation Protection Division (RPD) coordinated an interdepartmental monitoring program through which they sought to determine whether the consumption of contaminated caribou meat had caused radioactive exposure levels in northern communities to exceed the officially recognized “safe limits.” In 1969, the northern monitoring program was suspended after officials determined that radionuclide body burdens had not exceeded the threshold for radioactive exposures. While the RPD emphasized its development of a technoscientific approach to measuring radioactive body burdens, the legitimacy of the monitoring program was linked directly to interdepartmental relations within Canada’s colonial northern administration. I situate the northern monitoring program within broader shifts in public health approaches to radiation protection and use Gabrielle Hecht’s concept of nuclearity to demonstrate how RPD officials employed the logic of the threshold in their assessment of radioactive exposures.

Included in

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

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Article Sumiko Hatakeyama; (2021)
Let Chromosomes Speak: The Cytogenetics Project at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) (/isis/citation/CBB161117781/) unapi

Article M. X. Mitchell; (2021)
The Cosmology of Evidence: Suffering, Science, and Biological Witness After Three Mile Island (/isis/citation/CBB799186607/) unapi

Article Sörlin, Sverker; (2014)
Circumpolar Science: Scandinavian Approaches to the Arctic and the North Atlantic, ca. 1920 to 1960 (/isis/citation/CBB001420410/) unapi

Thesis Emelin Elizabeth Miller; (2019)
Empire of Ice: Arctic Natural History and British Visions of the North, 1500-1800 (/isis/citation/CBB984131524/) unapi

Book Dathan, Patricia Wendy; (2012)
The Reindeer Botanist: Alf Erling Porsild, 1901--1977 (/isis/citation/CBB001321143/) unapi

Book Brenda Parlee; Ken J. Caine; (2018)
When the caribou do not come : indigenous knowledge and adaptive management in the western Arctic (/isis/citation/CBB391645362/) unapi

Article Joan H. Fujimura; Ramya M. Rajagopalan; (2020)
Race, Ethnicity, Ancestry, and Genomics in Hawai‘i: Discourses and Practices (/isis/citation/CBB252611287/) unapi

Book Krupar, Shiloh R.; (2013)
Hot Spotter's Report: Military Fables of Toxic Waste (/isis/citation/CBB001213739/) unapi

Article Masco, Joseph; (2004)
Mutant ecologies: Radioactive life in post-cold war New Mexico (/isis/citation/CBB001180560/) unapi

Article Hamblin, Jacob Darwin; (2008)
Gods and Devils in the Details: Marine Pollution, Radioactive Waste, and an Environmental Regime circa 1972 (/isis/citation/CBB001231513/) unapi

Article Bickerstaff, K.; Lorenzoni, I.; Pidgeon, N. F.; Poortinga, W.; Simmons, P.; (2008)
Reframing Nuclear Power in the UK Energy Debate: Nuclear Power, Climate Change Mitigation and Radioactive Waste (/isis/citation/CBB000831216/) unapi

Book Walker, J. Samuel; (2009)
The Road to Yucca Mountain: The Development of Radioactive Waste Policy in the United States (/isis/citation/CBB001033010/) unapi

Article Shun'ya, Yoshimi; (2012)
Radioactive Rain and the American Umbrella (/isis/citation/CBB001202144/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Hamblin, Jacob Darwin
Lorenzoni, I.
Poortinga, W.
Bickerstaff, K.
Pidgeon, N. F.
Simmons, P.
Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin Canadien d'Histoire de la Medecine
Journal of the History of Biology
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Public Understanding of Science
Cultural Anthropology
Journal of Asian Studies
University of California Press
University of Minnesota Press
University of Calgary Press
Michigan State University
Yale University Press
UBC Press
Environmental pollution
Nuclear and radioactive waste
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Public health
Science and politics
Medicine and government
Porsild, Alf Erling
United States
Arctic regions
Great Britain
20th century, late
21st century
20th century
20th century, early
17th century
16th century
Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment