fORUM is Mercer Union’s ongoing series of talks, lectures, interviews, screenings, and performances. Admission to our public programming is free, and all are welcome.
Contaminating the Sahara
On 13 February 1960, the French colonial authorities detonated their first atomic atmospheric bomb in Reggane in the colonized Algerian Sahara, six years after the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution, or the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962). Codenamed “Gerboise Bleue” (Blue Jerboa), the explosive had a blast capacity of 70 kilotons, about 4 times the strength of Little Boy, the atomic bomb used by the United States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during the Second World War.
The detonation of Blue Jerboa was followed by years of other such atmospheric and underground nuclear weapons testing that continued well after Algeria’s formal independence from France. The spatial, atmospheric, and geological impacts of these bombs reveal matter coded with violence both historical and future-oriented. By tracing the lives and afterlives of radioactive debris and nuclear wastes in the Sahara, this lecture examines France’s colonial toxicity and the contaminants of a past that cannot be contained by the written record.