Radioactive knowledge: The role of oil geologists and geophysicists in the development of the nuclear industry

Activity: Talk or presentation / Performance / SpeechesTalk or presentation - at conferenceAcademic


The geographical properties of uranium shaped the involvement of different oil actors in the uranium industry. This article studies the geographical properties of uranium underpinning Gabrielle Hecht’s notion of nuclearity to show how the knowledge that helped locate and extract uranium deposits spilled over from the post-World War oil industry into the early nuclear industry. By focussing on the story of the formation of an infamous international cartel allocating the uranium prices during the 1970s, the article explores the controversial role Gulf Oil Corporation played in the uranium mining industry and argues that Gulf Oil’s contribution to the cartel was mainly shaped by the geographical positioning of their uranium mines and the developing knowledge and technologies in the competing oil industry that helped create new economically viable uranium deposits. In this way, the article shows by combining Science and Technology Studies and Business History that the Western oil industry was not a one monolithic entity trying to “sabotage” the development of nuclear energy, but a mutually competitive market where new technologies and knowledge easily spilled over to other energy sectors.
PeriodOct 2022
Held atCornell Univ, Cornell University, United States, New York