In This Review

Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade
Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade
By Gabrielle Hecht
The MIT Press, 2012, 440 pp

Beginning with the observation that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was made with uranium from a mine in what was then the Belgian Congo, Hecht explores the role of Africa in the development of military and civilian nuclear energy since World War II. The book is occasionally marred by Hecht’s academic rhetoric, such as her repeated references to the state of “nuclearity” that African states have achieved through the global uranium trade. Still, it sheds light on a strategically crucial market controlled by a small number of powerful states. In the postwar era, Western nuclear powers agreed on the need to ensure a steady supply of uranium and, at the same time, prevent nuclear proliferation. Still, uranium caused disputes within and among countries, pitting producers, who wanted the element to be treated like any other commodity, against foreign policy establishments, which sought to regulate it more closely. Hecht provides fascinating details about apartheid South Africa’s nuclear ambitions and also considers the shameful manner in which African governments and international companies downplayed the extent of the radiation risks posed by uranium to generations of African miners.