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FULL BODY BURDEN by Kristen Iversen Kirkus Star


Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

by Kristen Iversen

Pub Date: June 5th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-95563-0
Publisher: Crown

A harrowing account of Colorado’s Rocky Flats plutonium plant by a woman who grew up nearby.

In 1951, in a cow pasture outside Denver, the U.S. government broke ground for a secret Cold War nuclear weapons facility that would manufacture plutonium triggers for atomic bombs. Owned by the Atomic Energy Commission, the plant produced more than 70,000 fissionable triggers and considerable radioactive and toxic waste. Iversen (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis; Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth, 1999) grew up in a new suburban development three miles from the plant, totally unaware—like her family’s neighbors—of what went on there. In a gripping narrative that intersperses stories of the Rocky Flats plant and her family life, the author describes how an astonishing habit of silence flourished in the community, which would not permit suspicions about the cluster of gray concrete buildings to shatter its idyllic 1950s suburban innocence. The same silence reigned at home, where Iversen and her siblings were expected to overlook their father’s alcoholism and their mother’s pill popping. In 1969, after a second plutonium fire, the AEC admitted that Rocky Flats worked with plutonium but claimed this posed no threat to the public, a position the government maintained for years. This exquisitely researched book details official efforts to hide the plant’s toxic dangers; health researchers’ efforts to expose a rising incidence of cancer deaths; massive protests involving Daniel Ellsberg and others aimed at closing the plant; the 1989 joint FBI-EPA investigation of environmental crimes at Rocky Flats; and local residents’ later tumultuous class-action court battle. In 1990, Iversen took a secretarial job at the plant and began gathering information for this extraordinary book. “Nearly every family we grew up with has been affected by cancer in some way,” she writes. In 2007, after a cleanup, most of Rocky Flats was set aside for use as a wildlife refuge.

Superbly crafted tale of Cold War America’s dark underside.