Being Nuclear

Being Nuclear

Africans and the Global Uranium Trade

By Gabrielle Hecht

The hidden history of African uranium and what it means—for a state, an object, an industry, a workplace—to be “nuclear.”





The hidden history of African uranium and what it means—for a state, an object, an industry, a workplace—to be “nuclear.”

Uranium from Africa has long been a major source of fuel for nuclear power and atomic weapons, including the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In 2003, after the infamous “yellow cake from Niger,” Africa suddenly became notorious as a source of uranium, a component of nuclear weapons. But did that admit Niger, or any of Africa's other uranium-producing countries, to the select society of nuclear states? Does uranium itself count as a nuclear thing? In this book, Gabrielle Hecht lucidly probes the question of what it means for something—a state, an object, an industry, a workplace—to be “nuclear.”

Hecht shows that questions about being nuclear—a state that she calls “nuclearity”—lie at the heart of today's global nuclear order and the relationships between “developing nations” (often former colonies) and “nuclear powers” (often former colonizers). Hecht enters African nuclear worlds, focusing on miners and the occupational hazard of radiation exposure. Could a mine be a nuclear workplace if (as in some South African mines) its radiation levels went undetected and unmeasured? With this book, Hecht is the first to put Africa in the nuclear world, and the nuclear world in Africa. By doing so, she remakes our understanding of the nuclear age.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262017268 480 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 53 b&w photos


$23.95 T ISBN: 9780262526869 480 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 53 b&w photos


  • Hecht has written the first history of nuclear Africa which, given the importance of the subject and the obstacles she faced, is a major achievement.

    Jock McCulloch

    Journal of African History

  • Not only does the book stand out as one of the most comprehensive attempts to study the history of uranium mining in Africa, it also caters to an expansive academic audience—from historians of science and technology and sociologists and anthropologists of science, to those taking a broader interest in labour rights, public health issues and mining corporations.

    Jayita Sarkar

    The British Journal for the History of Science

  • Being Nuclear has very important things to say about the legacies of empire. Hecht persuasively shows how global nuclear agencies reproduced colonial logics and inequalities... It seems destined to become essential reading for those interested in uranium and Africa, as well as in issues of global nuclearity.

    Journal of Modern History


  • Gabrielle Hecht's Being Nuclear is a monumental new study of the geopolitics of uranium. It profoundly shifts how we think about things marked 'nuclear,' underscoring the complex historical and technopolitical work embedded in any use of the term. Beautifully written and meticulously researched—a major contribution.

    Joseph Masco

    University of Chicago; author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico

  • This impassioned, broad-ranging, and beautifully written book puts the bodies of ordinary people at the very center of a sweeping study of the geopolitics and cultural anxieties that surround all things nuclear. Being Nuclear reorients the study of occupational health by calling attention to vital questions of knowledge production, activism, and governance in a postcolonial world.

    Steven Epstein

    Professor of Sociology and John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities, Northwestern University; author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research

  • Being Nuclear is nothing short of pathbreaking. Hecht's analysis of the techno-politics of African uranium production presents a critical and convincing rethinking of the global nuclear order. This is a very smart book, based on daunting and original research, on a topic of genuine importance.

    Julie Livingston

    Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University


  • Co-winner, 2012 Martin A. Klein Prize in African History, awarded by the American Historical Society.
  • Winner, 2013 Robert K. Merton Book Award, given by the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association.
  • Winner, 2013 Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship
  • Finalist, 2013 Melville Herkovits Award, African Studies Association
  • Winner, 2016 4S Rachel Carson Book Prize