I am a human geographer interested in the processes through which military defense installations, bases, weapons production facilities, and test ranges are closed down, undergo remediation efforts, or are converted to other uses. At the intersections of historical geography, political economy, hazards and environmental policy, I study the "afterlives" of military landscapes with a particular interest in the longitudinal impacts of defense spending and land use on communities and ecology.

My doctoral research looked at Soviet defense legacies in Kazakhstan at three formerly secret installations: The Baikonur Cosmodrome, Priozersk-Sary Shagan, and Stepnogorsk. These three sites were central to the Soviet space program, antiballistic missile capabilities, and bio-chemical weapons industries, respectively. From the mid 1950s to the early 1990s, these sites occupied vast tracts of land in Kazakhstan. They were complex military industrial areas managed by adjacent suburban residential communities, and all were responsible for extensive environmental damage from rocket debris and fuels, mining waste, and munitions. What I examined specifically was how post-Soviet (geo)political and economic changes have affected these areas and what kinds of environmental regulations have dictated how the sites are used today. Currently the Baikonur Cosmodrome is a commercial hub for the global space industry, Priozersk-Sary Shagan is a downsized missile range with recreation tourism developing along the nearby shore of Lake Balkhash, and the management of Stepnogorsk has been taken over by mining and other industrial firms. 


I have two new projects 1) I am researching the social life of rocket debris at commercial spaceports. Particularly I am looking at how the commercialization of the space industry is dependent upon areas for waste and accidents (or the risk of them) and how industrial firms are negotiating land use agreements, environmental use regulations, and economic stimulus packages with communities. This is a collaborative, interdisciplinary, and multi-sited project looking at sites in North America and Europe with colleagues from the Department of Geosciences at the University of Fribourg. 2) I am researching the environmental and community impacts from Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) in the United States. 


© 2018 by Robert Kopack

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