KILLING OUR OWN: The Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation by Harvey & Norman Solomon with Robert Alvarez & Eleanor Walters Wasserman

KILLING OUR OWN: The Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation

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The names are famous and not so famous: Nagasaki; Bikini; Eniwetok; the Nevada Test Site; St. George, Utah; Fredonia, Arizona; Tonopah, Nevada; Shippingport; Three Mile Island. The cast is similarly big- and little-time: Truman, Strauss, Libby, Rickover, Sakharov, Harry Coppola, Claude Cooper, Kristen Haag. They are the places and persons who figure in this encyclopedic recording of sickness and death following exposure to radioactive materials, to fallout, or to the contamination of the countryside following nuclear tests, reactor accidents, and so on. Wasserman et al. have dug hard and interviewed at length to come up with myriad case histories of men, women, children, and animals who died of multiple myeloma, leukemia, lung cancer, and a list of brutal debilitating and disfiguring disorders attributed to the effects of radiation. Such a saga leaves the reader exhausted and depressed. Some 300,000 G.I.s were exposed to radiation either in the continental US or at the Pacific atolls. These included men who were marched to within a mile or so of Ground Zero, or who swabbed the decks of Navy vessels drenched with radioactive debris. The authors are quick to point out that the lasting damage to many came not from external radiation but from ingestion of matter that emitted alpha or beta particles that could destroy vital organs. One is dismayed, too, to learn that nuclear detonations of up to 150 kilotons were occurring under the Nevada desert at the rate of once every three weeks at the start of the 1980s. The authors review not only radiation from atom tests but also from X-rays and nuclear medicine, pointing out that it is only relatively recently that women have been alerted to the dangers of X-rays in early pregnancy. Inadequate training and careless handling of X-ray equipment may also account for higher mortality rates among X-ray technicians. With all this morbidity, with indictments of coverup and callousness on the part of the VA, DOE, and AEC, there are inevitably some exaggerations and innuendoes as well as some superheroes who emerge as Forces of Good. Nevertheless, the overall telling is convincing. Strangely, the authors propose no major program--other than wanting justice to be done and urging an end to nuclear power. Read the book, then, as a firm documentation of past disasters--and a complement to Daniel Ford's Three Mile Island (above).

Pub Date: April 30th, 1982
Publisher: Delacorte