MAKING A REAL KILLING by Len Ackland

MAKING A REAL KILLING

Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West

KIRKUS REVIEW

A hard-edged history of a center of Cold War death-dealing technology. Ackland, a former editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and now a professor of journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder, offers a history of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility just a few miles south of Boulder. The plant was carved from a vast cattle ranch thanks to the efforts of hawkish Senator Edwin Johnson, who, Ackland writes, “embodied the peculiar relationship Westerners had developed with the federal government,” a relationship that mixed a kind of state socialism with myths of rugged individualism. The Rocky Flats facility went on to process staggering quantities of strontium, uranium, and plutonium, materials that periodically posed a threat to public health in the Denver area—especially after catastrophic 1957 and 1969 fires, the second of which foreshadowed the disastrous Chernobyl meltdown 17 years later. Both fires were controlled. Local newspapers generally ignored the first, “muted,” Ackland says, “by the aura of national security surrounding the plant.” But the second came under more critical scrutiny, and the facility thereafter became a centerpiece of antinuclear activism in the West. More than offering a history of the plant alone, Ackland also serves up a useful summary of American nuclear policy in the Cold War era, noting that in 1948 the military petitioned President Truman for custody of the nation’s nuclear-weapons program, including Rocky Flats. Truman refused, saying of the atomic bomb, “You have to understand that this isn—t a military weapon. It is used to wipe out women and children and unarmed people, and not for military uses. So we have got to treat this differently from rifles and cannon and ordinary things like that.” The scary workings of Rocky Flats were far from ordinary. So, too, is this fine book of reportage and history.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8263-1877-0
Page count: 296pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999




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