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Oasis of the Future

The Nuclear City of Shevchenko/Aqtau, 1959–2019

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Focussing on Shevchenko/Aqtau, an urban laboratory of Soviet nuclear modernity on the Caspian Sea in Western Kazakhstan, this study provides a close reading of Soviet technopolitics in a long-term perspective. Encompassing a time span from the late 1950s to the present, the article traces how Shevchenko evolved from a secret uranium mining camp for the Soviet A-bomb project in the Western Kazakh desert into a testing ground for fast breeder and nuclear desalination technologies and a showcase of "atomic-powered Communism" (Josephson), but is now struggling with its transition into the post-Soviet era. Adopting a multi-dimensional perspective to show the interconnectedness of political, techno-scientific, ecological and social developments, the article highlights how the showcase city lent substance to the imaginary of the Scientific-Technological Revolution both domestically and abroad but also tracks the underlying decision-making processes in the Soviet nuclear establishment to reveal substantial disputes over questions of military versus civilian use and safety versus technological prowess. It analyses traits of the city's social microcosm to reveal the strictly segregated, but closely interconnected spheres of a privileged urban society and a sprawling, post-GULag forced labour camp, and adopts an enviro-technical perspective to study how the Promethean project of nature improvement eventually entailed grave environmental degradation. Finally, it sheds light on transsystemic cooperation across the block divide and highlights how Soviet visions of the future continue to shape visions of the future in Russia and Kazakhstan.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2018

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  • The Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas ("East European History") present the discipline in its entire breadth; for thematically focused articles the emphasis lies on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. A double-blind review process with international experts ensures adherence to the annals' recognized high quality standards. An extensive section devoted to reviews informs the reader about current trends in German and international research. In addition, the editorial board publishes an electronic review supplement under the title jgo.e-reviews at
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