Atomic Harvest by Michael D'Antonio
Hanford And The Lethal Toll Of America's Nuclear Arsenal
reviewed by Joanna Macy
This gripping tale catches the historic, human drama unfolding now, as our society struggles to come to terms with the nightmare created by the waste from nuclear weapons production and five decades of negligence, secrecy, and deception. Both hard-nosed and compassionate, D'Antonio is masterful in taking us into the lives and minds of men and women making fateful choices, as they confront the enormity of the damage already inflicted on our own generation and waiting like a ticking time-bomb for countless future generations.
Engineers, journalists, farmers, ministers, administrators, these are ordinary men and women, involved with their families, concerned for their jobs, enjoying their friends. And an inspiring number of them, thanks to their courage and decency and perseverance, play extraordinary roles. So this book, while horrifying in what it reveals about the mess created by our military industrial complex, is morally exhilarating.
While it focuses on Hanford, the same kinds of dramas are at play around Rocky Flats and Savannah River and all our other major weapons sites -- and I hope it will inspire us to cherish and make common cause with all fellow-citizens who, right now, are taking risks, working long night hours, and putting their personal and professional lives on the line to see that the radioactive materials are handled responsibly.
In these pages I was not surprised to meet downwinders like Tom Bailie, who incurred the wrath of fellow-farmers by revealing the contamination of land and produce; whistleblowers like Casey Ruud, who lost his job because he could not stop telling the truth about waste management at Hanford; reporters like Karen Dorn Steele, a single mother risking her position at the paper to research and make public what we all need to know; and Unitarian minister William Harper Houff, who risked his reputation in a conservative community to name the evils he perceived and educate his congregation to the point that they created HEAL (Hanford Education Action League), a dynamic citizen organization that is active now both locally and globally. These and other such "ordinary people" take their place now in my own Hall of Heroes, enriching my inner storehouse of courage.
I was surprised to meet such figures within the Department of Energy itself, and have them shatter some of my stereotypes about who are the good guys and the bad guys. These include John Herrington, the Bush-appointed DOE Secretary who allowed himself to be startled by the pollution, sloppiness and cover-ups at the DOE weapons sites and, in the face of his department's entrenched culture of secrecy, ordered far-reaching studies and disclosures. And they include his deputy, former Oakland city police officer Joseph Delgado, who listened to the whistleblowers and worked tirelessly to incorporate the feedback they provided. As we give support now to Secretary Hazel O'Leary's efforts to dismantle DOE's culture of secrecy, it is good to know of the brave efforts of those who preceded her. All would-be guardians deserve this informative, fast-paced read.
Atomic Harvest: Hanford and the Lethal Toll of America's Nuclear Arsenal by Michael D'Antonio. Crown Publishers Inc., New York, 1993.