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Jennifer Jackson

  • Faculty of Architecture
  • Urban Studies
  • ma
  • Material Infrastructures of Transition: The Silmet Plant
  • Tutor(s): Maroš Krivý
Source: Karel Kravik, Silmet and Sillamäe, c.1999, (

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.

Source: Karel Kravik, Sillamäe Radioactive Waste Storage Facility, c.1999, (

The thesis traces Silmet’s post-Soviet transition through broader forces of economic reorientation, and the digital transformations its output is strategic in sustaining.

Source: ‘The Challenge For Europe’, Centre for Policy Studies (
Source: Peeter Langovitsi, ‘tiigrihüpe infoühiskonda’ [Tiger’s Leap into the Information Society] Postimees (

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.

Sources: Mountain Pass film stills ‘Precious Minerals at Mountain Pass Mine’ ( / Lovozero film stills ‘2012-08. Ловозерские тундры 2of3’ ( / Graptolite Argillite: Image 1, S.S. Kulli, Unknown Graptolite Argillite (; Image 2, Minest Retked, Diktüoneemaa, (
Sources: Map – author / Graptolite Argillite images: See first slide.
Sources: Map – author / Lovozero images: See first slide.
Map: author (data taken from: / Mountain Pass Images: See first slide.

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.

Source: Author’s interpretation of graph from ‘Rare-Earth Elements: Critical Mineral Resources of the United States—Economic and Environmental Geology and Prospects for Future Supply’, USGS (

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.

Source: Eric Parsons, The San Bernardino County Sun, 25 May 1997, p.8. (
Source: Cheryl K. Rofer, ‘Averting a Baltic Sea Disaster’, Doomed to Cooperate: US-Russian Lab-to-Lab Cooperation Story (
Source: Film sill from ‘Half Life: The Story of America’s Last Uranium Mill’, 2016, Director: Justin Clifton (