That the world hasn’t been the same since the ignition of the Atomic Age in the 1940s is certainly an understatement, yet the public’s awareness of how the nuclear industry operates has always been dismally low. Secrecy has played a part—especially in relation to bomb-making activities—but so too has the establishment news media, which focuses on individual events and sidelines institutional factors. So an accident is news (if it’s not covered-up), but not the regular practices or misguided motivations that led to it, even though they were ultimately responsible.
Also, stories about nuclear power can be complicated to tell as they involve, first, technical processes that are arcane to people outside the field, and second, powerful corporate interests who don’t want them told, and who confuse and confound the discourse with slick PR..
But raising public awareness of the facts around the nuclear industry is especially important in this third decade of the 21st century, when well-meaning people who are seeking to reduce carbon emissions out of a legitimate concern for the climate crisis are proposing to expand the use of nuclear power to replace fossil fuels. That this recommendation is no solution at all cannot be overstated, yet it’s being peddled by respected people with public platforms.
Fortunately for advocates of common sense, Joshua Frank has brought his investigative skills to bear on the nuclear industry with his new book, “Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America,” in which he takes a deep dive into the subject of Hanford, that is, of the Hanford Nuclear Site, in eastern Washington state.