Cleaning up Cosmos: Satellite Debris, Radioactive Risk, and the Politics of Knowledge in Operation Morning Light


  • Ellen Power University of Toronto
  • Arn Keeling Memorial University



The Northern Review 48 (2018): 81–109

In the early morning of January 24, 1978, the nuclear-powered Soviet satellite Cosmos 954 crashed on the barrens of the Northwest Territories. The crash dispersed radioactive debris in a wide trajectory across northern Canada, with multiple communities falling within the debris field.The lengthy clean-up that followed was shaped by government understandings of the northern environment as mediated through authoritative science and technology. This authority was to be challenged from the very beginning of Operation Morning Light. Constant technological failures under northern environmental conditions only increased the uncertainty already inherent in determining radioactive risk. Communication of this risk to concerned northerners was further complicated by language barriers in the predominantly Indigenous communities affected. Although Operation Morning Light was shaped by uncertainties, archival records of this clean-up are still ultimately defined by government narratives of scientific authority, narratives which leave little room for the concerns of affected Indigenous communities.

Author Biographies

Ellen Power, University of Toronto

Department of Geography and Planning

Arn Keeling, Memorial University

Professor, Department of Geography






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