I am a budding nuclear policy wonk rooted in activism and art.
For years I thought I would be crafting an anthology of poems or spearheading a grassroots movement, but instead my life took a strange turn towards learning about nuclear weapons, a subject rarely associated with creativity or social engagement. The transition from poet to nuclear nerd was totally unplanned, but I try to incorporate the creative spirit from my early years in my research and writing. The fusion of my two passions -- appreciating art and studying nuclear politics -- produced the philosophy behind Bombshelltoe: making nuclear-related knowledge accessible and relevant through artistic and cultural exploration.
I didn’t enter the nuclear field, but rather stumbled into it. And during this process, I wasn’t sure how to embrace my new interest and retain my identity as an artist. It was partly due to the process of learning a new language - the acronyms and jargon - that constitutes the nuclear world. Nuclear politics is almost always nonsensical to the outside world -- its discourse is coded by generations of scientists, academic experts, and policymakers, which limits the possibility for wider engagement. As a person who has worked with communities to eliminate social barriers, it’s difficult to see myself contributing to the reinforcement and preservation of one.
And yet nuclear politics permeate our daily lives, from tv reports on a possible Iranian nuclear weapons program to debates about nuclear energy expansion post-Fukushima. It also influences us in profound and subtle ways, through stories and images - the narrative of the iconic mushroom cloud, Blinky the fish, the black suitcase holding the nuclear codes. Through popular culture, we have constructed our own abstract, ill-informed, and ominous understanding of anything associated with the word “nuclear.” The consequence: We deal with nuclear issues without proper understanding of it, which bars us from discussing it in a meaningful way. It is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
I am interested in the ways in which nuclear politics can overlap with the act of being creative. I want to help bridge the gap between the wonks, advocacy groups and the general public, and foster a healthier relationship between them. Bombshelltoe is my attempt to share these goals to the world and push a reconceptualization of what it means to be engaged and creative in the nuclear field. I hope that you, too, can be part of it.
Lovely Umayam is the founder and chief writer for Bombshelltoe, a blog featuring stories about nuclear history/politics, art, and media. Bombshelltoe is the first-prize winner of the U.S. Department of State’s Innovation in Arms Control Challenge in 2013. Lovely’s work under Bombshelltoe was featured at the 2013 SxSW Interactive, FastCompany, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, and the 2013 U.S. Department of State’s Generation Prague Conference in which she interviewed Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller. From 2013 – 2014, Lovely contributed as a columnist for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist.
Lovely is currently a Research Analyst & Project Manager at the Stimson Center, a premier foreign policy think-tank in Washington, DC . Her work currently focuses on innovative ways to promote and incentivize WMD nonproliferation, such as exploring industry’s role in upholding nuclear security, as well as examining the intersection between WMD nonproliferation and global trade development. Prior to joining Stimson, Lovely served as a Program Manager at the Office of Nonproliferation and Arms Control within the U.S. Department of Energy - National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA), where she implemented nuclear safeguards engagement projects in Southeast Asia and Latin America. At DOE/NNSA, she also helped coordinate nonproliferation and nuclear-stability focused Track 1.5 engagements in South Asia and Southeast Asia.