The Stunning Record of Our Nuclear Culture

Paul Loeb, Nuclear Culture: Living and Working in the World's Largest Atomic Complex. New York: New Society Publishers 1986, 257pp, US$9.95

By Alan Phillips (reviewer)

Paul Loeb is a young freelance writer who made several prolonged visits to Hanford, Washington, in order to get a picture of life in Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, the three cities that house the workers at the nuclear complex.

He found, as expected, a society that had -much in common with any American community based largely on a single industry, but with some important differences.

Since the community is entirely dependent upon the nuclear industry, it is not surprising that anti-nuclear dissent is a rare and socially unacceptable, and that the local people lobbied in Washington (successfully) against a cut in the nuclear budget for the area. It is also predictable, but alarming, that safety regulations and procedures are seen by staff as time-wasting harassments, and are often omitted. Occasional accidents have resulted. Even at Hanford, contractors and construction workers cut corners when they can get away with it. So has management: a big leak in a radioactive waste storage tank is a troublesome item in an official report, and expensive to fix. It was cheaper and easier to get rid of the inspector who insisted on reporting it, and to emasculate his report.

The monumental waste of taxpayers' money in the Washington Public Power Supply System, whose debt is second only to the national debt, is an eye-opener. Its apparently endless construction bonanza breeds a different and completely cynical type of construction worker.

There are a few dramatic disclosures in the book, but the main picture is of a second and third generation community, where building for nuclear power and manufacturing plutonium for bombs is routine. The social structure in the three cities has unusual features: Most of the wives do not work outside the home, and the only grandparents are the engineers and scientists originally brought to the complex. But life goes on in standard American fashion, pleasantly free from poverty and crime. The author's concern about the global threat represented by the Hanford complex is not shared by those most involved. High school athletic teams are called "The Bombers," with a mushroom cloud on their T-shirts, called the "symbol of peace" by the principal.

This book increases the concern of readers opposing America's "peace by nuclear threat" policy, and I strongly recommend reading it. In 1982 it was printed, reviewed, but then withdrawn by the original publishers (Coward, McCann & Geoghan).

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1987

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1987, page 34. Some rights reserved.

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