THE SECRET MESA by Jo Ann Shroyer


Inside Los Alamos National Laboratory
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 A thorough, sometimes unsettling look at the culture of nuclear science. Famed for its role in the development of the atomic bomb, Los Alamos is today a little-visited town not far from Santa Fe. In New Mexico, writes journalist and first-time author Shroyer, the town is an anomaly--a predominantly white society in the midst of a multicultural state that is mainly Hispanic and Native American. With millions upon millions of federal dollars supporting it, Los Alamos is also an island of wealth in a poor state, inhabited by well-educated, civic-minded civil servants whose business happens to be mass destruction. That business is changing, writes Shroyer; Los Alamos scientists now cooperate with Russian scientists to make sure that no other party develops nuclear weapons, a matter of stuffing the genie back into the bottle. The collapse of the Soviet Union has made the world not safer but more dangerous, she observes, inasmuch as destructive technology is now leaving the former republics for armories in Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries. Her look at the people in charge of seeing that these countries do not drop the big one is illuminating, and it puts a comprehensible face on a mind-boggling science that has inspired profound fear for generations. (One expert admitted to Shroyer that he was surprisingly frightened the first time he walked into the plutonium facility at Los Alamos.) Shroyer's reports are not always reassuring. For one thing, some residents of Los Alamos suffer from various cancers that can be attributed to radiation. For another, the technology is imperfect; as one scientist puts it, ``A cosmic ray can go through and flip a bit in the computer so that you get a completely screwball answer.'' All this doesn't seem to bother the residents of Los Alamos overmuch; after all, the local oldies' radio station, K-BOM, carries the slogan ``We're radio-active!'' A solid piece of reporting on a little-viewed corner of national life.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1997
ISBN: 0-471-04063-0
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997