Material Infrastructures of Transition: The Silmet Plant
Tutor(s): Maroš Krivý
The Silmet rare metal and rare earth element plant is situated in the north-eastern Estonian town of Sillamäe. Initially developed as a secret Soviet enterprise for uranium processing, its current material focus has been pursued continuously since the 1970s.
The thesis traces Silmet’s post-Soviet transition through broader forces of economic reorientation, and the digital transformations its output is strategic in sustaining.
Contextualised within its wider material geographies, emphasis is placed on the plant’s long-standing ties to Kola Peninsula loparite reserves, and brief affiliation to the bastnäsite-rich Mountain Pass Mine, California.
These territories are read in dialogue with major transitions underpinning the rare earth industry – whose centre of gravity was shifting in step with Estonia’s reorientation from command to market conditions.
A challenge to readings of infrastructure as an economic instrument, or a medium of information, at the expense of material specificity, the paper foregrounds Karen Barad’s call for ‘sedimenting historiality’, a means to engage the present pasts and futures implicated.