NUCLEAR CULTURE: Living and Working in the World's Largest Atomic Complex by Paul Loeb

NUCLEAR CULTURE: Living and Working in the World's Largest Atomic Complex

Email this review


Housewives, nuclear engineers, pipe fitters, an irascible editor, a stoned carpenter--all tell their stories in this book about the life and times of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, in Eastern Washington: the largest atomic energy and research complex in the world. The rub is that (for better or worse) it turns out to resemble your average, middle-class American community. Hanford was founded in 1943 as a top secret military facility to manufacture plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb. It evolved into a civilian-administered complex of nuclear reactors, test reactors, labs, waste dumps, and vast nuclear construction projects that just keeps on growing. Loeb's people reminisce about the hush-hush past, tell what it's like to get ""crapped up"" (contaminated), talk about their jobs and their feelings about nuclear power, and tell stories about the gross mismanagement, stupidity, and carelessness of their coworkers and superiors. Loeb sees Hanford as a microcosm--both an archetype of American progress gone awry and a portrait of a ""nuclear culture,"" where ""Ozzie and Harriet meet the breeder reactor."" He wants us to believe that these are people who are somehow different from the rest of America--people who, being close to nuclear energy, ""had convinced themselves that the world in general was about to end."" That's not, however, what emerges from the book. Certainly the town thinks (and worries) more about nukes than most, but it is in the same way that Detroit thinks about cars. The people worry about their jobs, they gossip, they have affairs, they break the rules, they go to church, and sometimes they have second thoughts about what they're doing. Loeb is an able interviewer, at his best when he zeroes in on an individual--an eccentric engineer with 14 patents to his name, or a welder drinking beer in front of the TV. But when he strings his material together with simplistic sociological pronouncements, the book begins to read like a nuclear soap. Only the people, speaking for themselves, redeem it.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1982
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan