Journal Article

Roads to Ruin on the Atomic Frontier: Environmental Decision Making at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, 1942–1952

Ian Stacy

in Environmental History

Published on behalf of American Society for Environmental History and Forest History Society

Volume 15, issue 3, pages 415-448
Published in print July 2010 | ISSN: 1084-5453
Published online July 2010 | e-ISSN: 1930-8892 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/envhis/emq058
Roads to Ruin on the Atomic Frontier: Environmental Decision Making at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, 1942–1952

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For over forty years, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation produced plutonium for the American nuclear arsenal, generating significant radioactive waste in the process. The reasoning behind why these radioactive releases occurred has been the subject of intense debate since the government's first admission of waste management problems in the 1980s. Scholars and activists have argued that Hanford management intentionally endangered the health and safety of regional inhabitants because of a culture of secrecy and an overwhelming emphasis on achieving plutonium production goals. I argue instead that in Hanford's first decade of development, when scientists and engineers developed many crucial waste management practices, the site's environmental policies were actually well-intentioned but also informed by pre-existing standards of industrial safety that usually emphasized worker safety over broader ecological concerns. When managers did consider the impact of radioactive waste off-site, they demonstrated a utilitarian bias that was overly concerned with protecting the region's commercially valuable livestock and fish populations.

Journal Article.  14850 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) ; Environmental History

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