Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters [NOOK Book]

Overview

While many transnational histories of the nuclear arms race have been written, Kate Brown provides the first definitive account of the great plutonium disasters of the United States and the Soviet Union.
In Plutopia, Brown draws on official records and dozens of interviews to tell the extraordinary stories of Richland, Washington and Ozersk, Russia-the first two cities in the world to produce plutonium. To contain secrets, American and Soviet leaders created ...
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Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters

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Overview

While many transnational histories of the nuclear arms race have been written, Kate Brown provides the first definitive account of the great plutonium disasters of the United States and the Soviet Union.
In Plutopia, Brown draws on official records and dozens of interviews to tell the extraordinary stories of Richland, Washington and Ozersk, Russia-the first two cities in the world to produce plutonium. To contain secrets, American and Soviet leaders created plutopias--communities of nuclear families living in highly-subsidized, limited-access atomic cities. Fully employed and medically monitored, the residents of Richland and Ozersk enjoyed all the pleasures of consumer society, while nearby, migrants, prisoners, and soldiers were banned from plutopia--they lived in temporary "staging grounds" and often performed the most dangerous work at the plant. Brown shows that the plants' segregation of permanent and temporary workers and of nuclear and non-nuclear zones created a bubble of immunity, where dumps and accidents were glossed over and plant managers freely embezzled and polluted. In four decades, the Hanford plant near Richland and the Maiak plant near Ozersk each issued at least 200 million curies of radioactive isotopes into the surrounding environment--equaling four Chernobyls--laying waste to hundreds of square miles and contaminating rivers, fields, forests, and food supplies. Because of the decades of secrecy, downwind and downriver neighbors of the plutonium plants had difficulty proving what they suspected, that the rash of illnesses, cancers, and birth defects in their communities were caused by the plants' radioactive emissions. Plutopia was successful because in its zoned-off isolation it appeared to deliver the promises of the American dream and Soviet communism; in reality, it concealed disasters that remain highly unstable and threatening today.
An untold and profoundly important piece of Cold War history, Plutopia invites readers to consider the nuclear footprint left by the arms race and the enormous price of paying for it.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Winner of the Ellis W. Hawley Prize of the Organization of American Historians
Winner of the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association
Winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize of the American Society for Environmental History
Winner of the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize of the Association for Slavic Studies, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Winner of the Heldt Prize in the category of Best Book in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Studies from the Association of Women in Slavic Studies
Winner of the Robert G. Athearn Prize of the Western History Association

"Turning up a surprising amount of hitherto hidden material and talkative survivors, Brown writes a vivid, often hair-raising history of the great plutonium factories and the privileged cities built around them... Readers will squirm to learn of the high radiation levels workers routinely experienced and the casualness with which wastes poured into the local air, land and rivers... An angry but fascinating account of negligence, incompetence and injustice justified (as it still is) in the name of national security." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An unflinching and chilling account." --Seattle Times

"Harrowing... Meticulously researched... Plutopia has important messages for those managing today's nuclear facilities, arguing for caution and transparency." --Nature

"The book tells two intertwined stories. One is an appalling narrative of environmental disasters... The second narrative is about the towns, the townspeople, and the creation of a spatially segmented landscape that enabled those disasters... This is admirable comparative history." --Carl Abbott, Environmental History

"Fascinating." -- Dissent

"One of the Cold War's more striking perversities never made it to public view. ... Brown is a good writer, and she describes with precision the construction of the two sites (a difficult process in the U.S. case, an unbelievably horrid one in the Russian case), the hazardous occupations undertaken by their inhabitants, and the consciously contrived bubbles of socioeconomic inequality both places became." --Foreign Affairs

"Brown's account is unique, partisan and occasionally personal in that she includes some of her thoughts about interviews she conducted... But because she is open and thorough about her sources, those are strengths to be celebrated, not weaknesses to be deplored. It also means her book is engaging, honest and, in the end, entirely credible." --New Scientist

"An amazing book... Brown found many parallels between Richland and Ozersk that disrupt the conservative Cold War dichotomy between the 'free world' and the totalitarian one. Her research included not only uncovering previously secret documents in both countries but also tracking down and interviewing old-time residents of Ozersk and Richland. Her picture of the treatment of plutonium workers on both sides of the Iron Curtain is enough to make you gnash your teeth or cry." --Jon Wiener, American Historical Review

"Arresting, engagingly narrated... Kate Brown skillfully mixes Cold War policy assessment and associated political intrigue with sociological study of the lives of those who lived and worked in those places... Plutopia is history told through the voice of drama and investigative reporting." --Stephen E. Roulac, New York Journal of Books

"Plutopia is reporting and research at its best, both revealing a hidden history and impacting the important discussions about nuclear power that should be happening today." --Glenn Dallas, San Francisco Book Review

"An untold and profoundly important piece of Cold War history, Plutopia invites readers to consider the nuclear footprint left by the arms race and the enormous price of paying for it." --H-Soyuz

"Kate Brown has written a provocative and original study of two cities -- one American, one Soviet -- at the center of their countries' nuclear weapons complexes. The striking parallels she finds between them help us -- impel us -- to see the Cold War in a new light. Plutopia will be much discussed. It is a fascinating and important book." --David Holloway, author of Stalin and the Bomb

"Kate Brown has produced a novel and arresting account of the consequences of Cold War Nuclear policies on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Interweaving documentary research in government archives, reviews and revisions of the public record, and a host of personal interviews with the citizens -- perpetrators, victims, and witnesses -- Brown's Plutopia makes a lasting contribution to the continuing chronicle of the human and environmental disasters of the atomic age." --Peter Bacon Hales, author of Atomic Spaces: Living on the Manhattan Project

"It may be the best piece of research and writing in the nuclear history field in the last 25 years - perhaps the best ever... Extremely impressive." -- Rodney Carlisle, Prof. Emeritus, Rutgers University, author of Encyclopedia of the Atomic Age

Kirkus Reviews
Turning up a surprising amount of hitherto hidden material and talkative survivors, Brown (History/Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore County; A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland, 2005) writes a vivid, often hair-raising history of the great plutonium factories and the privileged cities built around them. During the Manhattan Project, the United States commandeered land in eastern Washington, around Hanford, in 1943 to build immense facilities and an isolated, government-run bedroom community for employees. Although a crash program with unlimited finances, technical problems and labor shortages delayed the opening. Once operation began, already rudimentary safety precautions were relaxed to speed up plutonium production. Readers will squirm to learn of the high radiation levels workers routinely experienced and the casualness with which wastes poured into the local air, land and rivers. Hanford remains by far the most contaminated nuclear site in the U.S., but Ozarks, in Russia, was worse. Convinced of an imminent American attack, the Soviet Union launched its own crash program in 1945. Despite working from stolen American plans, sloppy construction by slave laborers and Soviet technical backwardness produced a leaky, perpetually malfunctioning facility. Workers sickened and died of acute radiation poisoning; far more lived shorter, diseased lives. Over a huge area, waste in the air and local rivers killed farm animals, contaminated crops and poisoned civilians. The Soviet government responded by providing workers with increased consumer goods and housing; by the 1960s, Ozarks was an island of prosperity in an impoverished nation. An angry but fascinating account of negligence, incompetence and injustice justified (as it still is) in the name of national security.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199323814
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/8/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 470,364
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

Kate Brown is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland, winner of the American Historical Association's George Louis Beer Prize. A 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, her work has also appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, American Historical Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Harper's Magazine Online.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Part I: Incarcerated Space and Western Nuclear Frontiers

1. Mr. Matthias Goes to Washington
2. Labor on the Lam
3. Labor Shortage
4. Defending the Nation
5. The City Plutonium Built
6. Work and the Women Left Holding Plutonium
7. Hazards
8. The Food Chain
9. Of Flies, Mice and Men

Part II: The Soviet Working Class Atom and the American Response

10. The Arrest of a Journal
11. The Gulag and the Bomb
12. The Bronze Age Atom
13. Keeping Secrets
14. Beria's Visit
15. Reporting for Duty
16. Empire of Calamity
17. "A Few Good Men" in Pursuit of America's Permanent War Economy
18. Stalin's Rocket Engine: Rewarding the Plutonium People
19. Big Brother in the American Heartland
20. Neighbors
21. The Vodka Society

Part III: The Plutonium Disasters

22. Managing a Risk Society
23. The Walking Wounded
24. Two Autopsies
25. Wahluke Slope: Into Harm's Way
26. Quiet Flows the Techa
27. Resettlement
28. The Zone of Immunity
29. The Socialist Consumers' Republic
30. The Uses of an Open Society
31. The Kyshtym Belch, 1957
32. Karabolka, Beyond the Zone
33. Private Parts
34. "From Crabs to Caviar, We Had Everything"

Part IV: Dismantling the Plutonium Curtain

35. Plutonium into Portfolio Shares
36. Chernobyl Redux
37. 1984
38. The Forsaken
39. Sick People
40. Cassandra in Coveralls
41. Nuclear Glasnost
42. All the Kings' Men
43. Futures

Notes
Index

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2013

    Plutonium cities - more alike than the residents knew

    This history follows two purpose built nuclear production cities, Hanford/Richland in the state of Washington, USA, and Ozersk in Cheliabinskia area in the Southern Urals region of Russia. It covers their initial wartime origin, then their following post war extension into subsidized nuclear suburbs. It documents approximately sixty years of plutonium production, contaminating accidents, and radioactive waste "disposal" in these two locations. The author points out how institutionalized racism and classism, coupled with the excesses of the military industrial contracting and Soviet/Stalinist military production influenced every part of life in these modern "company towns". Under the cover of secrecy, workers and leaders were manipulated by fear, greed and inherent bias into decisions that created ongoing hazardous radioactive areas of concern similar to dead zones near Chernobyl and Fukushima. Her viewpoint sixty years later is quite harsh on the decision makers of the "Greatest Generation". But the story is told with a personal focus on the workers, rather than big picture policy makers. Greed and venality were certainly present and institutionalized in the management of these areas, but ignorance, shortsightedness, and lack of scientific literacy were also amply present. I found the interpretation occasionally heavy handed. The author does do a good job of inserting the recollections of workers and local residents into the factual historic narration. This book brought to mind David McCollough's book "The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal". In that huge and costly construction project workers were similarly stratified, and health hazards reduced for the upper levels. Ms. Brown has a similarly massive subject to document, and a radioactive health hazard from waste that is ongoing. The serious nature and long term implications deserved a slightly better book than the author produced, but this is well worth reading. The subject is fascinating in a horrible sort of way. First you begin to sympathize with the people in and around these cities, then you realize how many more of us might become these people.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2014

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