Surface-making in Nuclear Decommissioning: A narrative of sludge, plutonium and their whereabouts

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In discourse and practice of nuclear waste storage, ‘surface’ is a contentious place and concept because of its association with porosity and thus the risk of a lack of containment. Nuclear waste kept ‘on the surface’ must be packaged in dedicated materials that create additional layers of surfaces around radioactive substances. This is the business of the Sellafield nuclear site in North West England, where decommissioning requires engagement with elusive radionuclides that must be retrieved from legacy facilities before they can be made safe. Waste kept on the earth’s surface, then, is never meant to linger on the ‘outer’ surface—nuclear surface is layered. Because of the risks associated with surface storage of nuclear waste, however, scientists tend to agree that the best solution to deal with it is to store it away from the earth’s surface, deep underground. In the UK, a siting process to find a location for such ‘deep geological disposal’ was launched in late 2018. Drawing on discussions and consultations around this siting process, and on anthropological fieldwork at Sellafield, where most of the UK’s higher activity nuclear waste lies stored on the surface, I explore the process of discursive, technological, and emotive layering of nuclear materials that plays out on the surface, and away from it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationApparition
Subtitle of host publicationThe (Im)materiality of Modern Surface
EditorsYeSeung Lee
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Nuclear waste; containment; surface storage; sub-surface disposal; deep geological facility; Sellafield; legacy pond; ethnography


Dive into the research topics of 'Surface-making in Nuclear Decommissioning: A narrative of sludge, plutonium and their whereabouts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this