The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age

Steve Olson. Norton, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-63497-6
Science writer Olson (Eruption) delivers a lucid, fast-paced chronicle of the discovery and weaponization of plutonium and the unforeseen consequences of the nuclear arms race. Delving deeply into the history of the Hanford nuclear facility in south-central Washington State, the first full-scale nuclear reactor in the world, Olson documents how material produced at Hanford as part of the Manhattan Project during WWII was tested at the Trinity site in New Mexico and used in the bomb detonated over Nagasaki in August 1945. He covers the struggle between researchers and the military for control of nuclear weaponry, and the sincere but ultimately counterproductive efforts by scientists to reduce the chances of nuclear war by “stoking people’s fears” of nuclear annihilation. During the Cold War, the Hanford site expanded from three to nine nuclear reactors and supplied most of the plutonium for the American nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, inadequate safety standards and waste disposal procedures, as well as rushed production, contributed to groundwater contamination and high cancer rates in the surrounding region. Olsen has a knack for explaining complex chemistry in ways that even the most science-averse reader can follow, and he packs many intriguing tangents into the narrative. This comprehensively researched and compulsively readable account deserves a large audience. (July)
Reviewed on : 04/21/2020
Release date: 07/28/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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