Downwind of the Atomic State
Atmospheric Testing and the Rise of the Risk Society
by James C. Rice
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Pub Date 07 Mar 2023 | Archive Date Not set
How the scientific community overlooked, ignored, and denied the catastrophic fallout of decades of nuclear testing in the American West
In December of 1950, President Harry Truman gave authorization for the Atomic Energy Commission to conduct weapons tests and experiments on a section of a Nevada gunnery range. Over the next eleven years, more than a hundred detonations were conducted at the Nevada Test Site, and radioactive debris dispersed across the communities just downwind and through much of the country. In this important work, James C. Rice tells the hidden story of nuclear weapons testing and the negligence of the US government in protecting public health.
Downwind of the Atomic State focuses on the key decisions and events shaping the Commission’s mismanagement of radiological contamination in the region, specifically on how the risks of fallout were defined and redefined, or, importantly, not defined at all, owing to organizational mistakes and the impetus to keep atomic testing going at all costs. Rice shows that although Atomic Energy Commission officials understood open-air detonations injected radioactive debris into the atmosphere, they did not understand, or seem to care, that the radioactivity would irrevocably contaminate these communities.
The history of the atomic Southwest should be a wake-up call to everyone living in a world replete with large, complex organizations managing risky technological systems. The legacy of open-air detonations in Nevada pushes us to ask about the kinds of risks we are unwittingly living under today. What risks are we being exposed to by large organizations under the guise of security and science?
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