AT THE HEART OF THE BOMB: The Dangerous Allure of Weapons Work by Debra Rosenthal

AT THE HEART OF THE BOMB: The Dangerous Allure of Weapons Work

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this chilling and thought-provoking journalistic work, Rosenthal (Poll. Sci./Univ. of New Mexico) explores the strange culture underlying nuclear weapons work at Albuquerque's Sandia Laboratory and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. ""Stars and bombs are a lot alike,"" explains one Los Alamos physicist when Rosenthal asks why he's based his career on nuclear weapons work, ""but you don't get to design a star."" Claiming that his only regret is that ""I'd love to see an above ground test,"" this avid H-bomb designer offers just one of a variety of reasons lab employees provide for continuing in a program that seems to contradict the traditional aims of science. In chatting with lab employees in Los Alamos coffee shops, visiting Sandia's hidden cache of nuclear weapons, and screening one disillusioned physicist's color film of the Hiroshima bombing, Rosenthal uncovers the ways in which the cachet of top-secret work, the access to first-rate equipment, the higher salaries, and, occasionally, patriotic considerations encourage employees to deny moral responsibility for their actions. At both the Los Alamos Lab, where the ""guts"" of the nuclear weapons are designed, and at Sandia, where weapons systems are engineered, physicists who have resigned for ethical reasons are gamely tolerated or ignored, while outside peace activists are referred to as ""drag-tailed people who come up here in vans sometimes and hand out literature."" In any case, as one ex-employee points out, the ethical dilemma lies not only with the labs. ""Because everyone is threatened by the arms race, everyone is responsible. Thus everyone must do their best to stop it."" Rosenthal's relentless logic, tenacity, and skepticism make this as penetrating a work as William Broad's acclaimed Star Warriors (1985), and perhaps even more perceptive.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 1990
Publisher: Addison-Wesley