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 The story of how we nearly Chernobylized our northwest Alaskan wilderness. O'Neill, a University of Alaska oral historian, builds on his previous studies of Project Chariot, a plan by the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s to use a thermonuclear blast to create a major harbor on the Alaskan coast. We are taken back to 1948, when a science writer at the New York Times gushed that work on the atom would usher in a ``new Eden'' where man would ``abolish disease and poverty, anxiety and fear.'' Atomic hubris is personified by O'Neill's Faust, Edward Teller, who wanted to nuke the world's ice pack and flood the deserts in what he called ``geographic engineering.'' Teller and others from the military and scientific communities were opposed by a vocal minority of Alaskans, by the first environmental activists (such as Barry Commoner), and by Arctic-loving scientists. (O'Neill delights in describing this last group eating parasites from dead caribou and crawling into dens to take the rectal temperatures of hibernating bears.) Because the stakes in this largely bureaucratic drama were so high, we can forgive O'Neill for demonizing the Atomic Energy Commission as ``little boys...with a pathological glee'' for setting off explosions. The proposed ground zero was a pristine spot called Tikiraq. O'Neill periodically breaks from the political wrangling to limn in glorious detail the richness of Arctic wildlife and Eskimo culture, rendering absurd the government promises to relocate natives and turn them into ``productive'' coal miners. For the first time, the Feds (obsessed with Reds) had to consider a people's irreplaceable loss of their ``way of life.'' Federal money for an O'Neill film on Project Chariot disappeared, but this book became his eloquent revenge. Eyebrow- and consciousness-raising at its ecological best.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-11183-5
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1994