Past Event

Toshihiro Higuchi - Birth of the “Atomic Tuna”: Radioactive Fallout, U.S.-Japan Alliance, and the Politics of Radiological Standards in the Mid-1950s

December 14, 2016
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
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NYU Gallatin (Room 801), 1 Washington Place, New York

Speaker: Toshihiro Higuchi, Assistant Professor of History, Georgetown University

Our Planet Earth is contaminated by radioactive fallout, one of the most enduring environmental legacies of the Cold War. During the period from 1945 to 1980, a total of 543 nuclear weapons explosions took place aboveground, scattering radioactive dust all over the world. It is far from a foregone conclusion, however, that this material fact was bound to reveal itself as a dangerous event of pollution, or something “out of place” as Mary Douglas once defined. Its global dispersion weakened its radiation levels to those of natural background radiation, only to make both scientific knowledge and ethical judgment disturbingly uncertain. Moreover, we humans are deprived of any embodied experience of worldwide fallout that might otherwise come to our senses, such as black smoke, scarred landscape, and bodily pain. If we cannot experience radioactive fallout in a direct manner, what makes “contamination” out of this material fact? Revisiting the so-called “atomic tuna” scare in Japan following the Lucky Dragon incident of 1954, my talk will focus on the understudied role of reference standards in making the material presence of pollutants socially perceptible as “contamination.” In the case of the “atomic tuna,” the dynamic of standards-setting was trans-Pacific in nature. Japan and the United States shared not only the Mid-Pacific environment where contamination occurred, but also technical knowledge and political interest in coping with such an outcome. The talk, which will serve as an introduction to my book project on worldwide contamination with radioactive fallout (currently in preparation for publication), will focus on the bilateral politics of standards for the radiological inspection of tuna as a key driver behind the rise and fall of the “atomic tuna” scare.

This event is free and open to the public.

This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series.

Sponsoring Organizations:
New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Columbia University in the City of New York
City University of New York
The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Medicine