FALLOUT: An American Nuclear Tragedy by Philip L. Fradkin
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FALLOUT: An American Nuclear Tragedy

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A meticulously researched recounting of the events sparked by the atmospheric testing of atomic weapons in the Nevada desert during the 1950's and 60's: a tale of governmental inefficiency (or worse), of human trust and duplicity and resultant suffering, of political cynicism and greed. The narrative opens with ""Shot Harry,"" a test that took place on the morning of May 19, 1953, producing particularly heavy radioactive fallout. The radioactive debris soared skyward, then drifted over sparsely populated areas to the east. There was minimal protection offered, almost no advance planning, and, after the explosion, more than one attempt to deny the subsequent animal deaths and human illnesses. In succeeding years, an uncommonly high percentage of residents of the area developed cancer; many died. The pattern for the continuing policies of the Atomic Energy Commission had been set. Fradkin (A River, No More, 1981) traces subsequent events--more tests, more public-relations cover-ups, more governmental and scientific stonewalling--with admirable bulldog persistence: interviewing survivors and the families of the victims; cross-questioning AEC employees, government officials, scientists, and nuclear critics; examining documents and court transcripts. He is convincing in Rowing how the Cold War mentality, the Chinese incursion in Korea, McCarthyism, and the Rosenberg trial, among other things, affected the decision to initiate continental testing and provided the needed excuse for secrecy and deception in dealing with the proliferation of atomic weaponry. And if Fradkin occasionally becomes shrill, his impatience is understandable. Many of the statements and documents quoted are insensitive, to say the least. Take, for example, the comment by Norris Bradbury, J. Robert Oppenheimer's successor as director of the Los Alamos Laboratory: ""Sure there were a few people with leukemia. More people get killed in automobile accidents every hour than ever will die of leukemia."" The Reagan Administration, with its immense defense budget and its simultaneous harping on runaway ""deficit spending,"" is the target of some of Fradkin's most pointed barbs. An expos‚ that should create a firestorm of controversy and that deserves a wide audience.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1989
ISBN: 1555663311
Publisher: Univ. of Arizona Press