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This is a book about the language used to promote both atomic weapons testing and the storage of nuclear waste, by the United States government, with a particular focus on the Nevada Test Site (NTS), north of Las Vegas, and Yucca Mountain, also in Nevada. The author is a retired English and humanities community college professor, and long-serving member of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects. Though not intended as a history of atomic testing in Nevada, the book does provide an overview of that history for those (like me) unfamiliar with the subject. (Though a bibliography is included, unfortunately the author did not provide an annotated list of recommended reading.)The first chapter introduces the reader to nuclear test sites, and the author’s thesis that decisions about such sites (such as their selection), while based mostly on non-scientific criteria, were usually justified with baseless claims of scientific soundness. The author introduces the concept of nuclear colonialism, to describe the style of decision-making by far-away administrators regarding the selection and use of nuclear test sites. The chapter ends with a discussion of maps, which the author interprets as tools of such colonialism. The second chapter discusses the site selections of the very first nuclear test, the Trinity site near Alamogordo, New Mexico, and the tests in the Marshall Islands, such as at Bikini Atoll (as well as the tragic consequences for the islanders). The author notes that among the most important pre-specified criteria were meteorological ones, and that the final site selections essentially ignored these criteria in favor of more expedient ones. The theme continues in the third chapter, which discusses the selection of the Nevada Test Site, based on the government’s Project Nutmeg report. Los Alamos personnel initially favored the Alamogordo site instead, which was closest to home for them, until they got their hands on secret reports about the Trinity test‘s radioactive fallout. The chapter ends with a brief review of site selections by other nuclear nations.The fourth chapter discusses journalists’ accounts of the NTS tests, as well as their amusing portrayals of the locals’ reactions to the tests. “Each tale produced a chuckle at the expense of the local fool who became the focus of the joke, rather than the test, the radiation, the fallout, or the governmental organizations themselves. The bomb, the tales suggest, is benign” (p. 44). The fifth chapter describes a series of atmospheric atomic tests that exposed humans and animals, especially those in Nevada and Utah, without their consent, to nuclear fallout. The government denied that the tests posed any public health risk, claiming that radiation levels were comparable to natural exposure, and that nobody was harmed by the tests. Concerned citizens, anti-nuclear activists, and critics in the scientific community were dismissed, and their patriotism was even questioned.Chapters six and seven ruminate on the codenames given to the bombs and the tests, while touching on topics such as limited experiments using radioactive tracers done on Amazon tribes, accidental radiation leaks during atomic tests, the health effects of uranium mining on Navajo miners, and the decision not to evacuate Apaches living in the fallout zone of the Trinity test. Chapter eight examines scientific studies of the effects of atomic weapons on animals and towns; the construction of mock buildings and even entire towns in the test areas is described. The 1950 government pamphlet, “Survival Under Atomic Attack,” is described as propaganda, since its instructions are designed to manage fear and offer unrealistic hopes of survival.Chapter nine, by publisher Peter Goin, is a photographic essay of the use of atomic weapons imagery in advertising products, including candy, body lotion, and card games. The author returns in chapter ten, with the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Atomic testing moved underground at this point, but the propaganda motifs continued: “Supporting nuclear testing, even when it occurs next door, is your patriotic duty; We know more than You; sound science will ensure your safety; sites are scientifically selected; and radiation is natural” (p. 132). The author notes that an underground test site near Hattiesburg, MS, still has groundwater contaminated by radionuclides. She then describes some of the incredible proposals to harness atomic weapons for peaceful uses, such as excavating a harbor in Alaska. (Thankfully the local Eskimos voted to oppose the project.) Chapter eleven describes a failed attempt, involving the reclusive tycoon, Howard Hughes, to create a new test site in central Nevada, further away from Las Vegas. Chapter twelve moves to the topic of nuclear waste depositories, particularly the proposed site at Yucca Mountain, which is sacred to the Shoshone people. The chapter also discusses the failed MX missile proposal, wherein nuclear missiles would be constantly shuttled around in a “shell game” among various launch sites in Nevada and Utah. Chapter 13 discusses scientific efforts at prediction, such as predictions made for the very first atomic test (Trinity) and the initial South Pacific nuclear tests, but mostly focusing on predictions made for the Yucca Mountain repository (eg., seismic and climatological predictions). Designers of the facility had to imagine how to ward off future inhabitants of the planet, up to ten thousand years in the future, when contemporary language may well be long lost. The final chapter discusses the “cultural fallout” of the atomic age, on both popular culture and on literature. The chapter ends with a discussion of nuclear tourism, focusing on atomic-themed museums as well as an account of the author’s tour of the NTS itself.As a novice to the topics discussed in the book, I learned a great deal. Furthermore, I had not previously invested much thought in the serious issues of nuclear waste storage raised by the author. More generally, I found it instructive and sobering to learn of the extent to which the government is willing to mislead the public, including those who would be directly or potentially exposed to radiation or fallout. I share the author’s dismay on these issues. On the other hand, for an author so focused on the government’s use of language to distort, I often found her treatment superficial. For instance, the general claim that “radiation is natural” is strictly speaking true, and is often also used to justify medical imaging and other routine uses of radiation in our daily lives. A student of language and argumentation would like to see how such words can be harnessed to mislead the untutored. The author does not examine this issue in any depth, a lost opportunity to teach critical thinking about radiation in my view, though writing such an account would probably require the collaboration of a health or medical physicist. A scientific background might also have been helpful in a critical assessment of the Yucca Mountain computer predictions. How would the author compare/contrast the uncertainty of such computer models with, for instance, those of the predictions of global climate change, also based on advanced computer modeling and accompanied by the rhetoric of “sound science”? Another shortcoming, in my view, is that given the weighty issues of life and death discussed in most of the chapters, the book’s analysis of bomb test code names, and the discussion of maps as tools of colonialism, seemed trivial and out of place. Despite these weaknesses, my time spent with the book was valuable. It provides compelling evidence for the author’s assertions that “Words have the power to shape culture, write the past to suit the present, create truth, and disguise falsehood….Words have been used to make the unsafe appear safe, and the unthinkable, well, thinkable” (p. xiii)



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