Cover image for The atomic West
The atomic West
Hevly, Bruce William.
Publication Information:
Seattle, Wash. : University of Washington Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
x, 286 pages ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QC773.3.U5 A85 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Manhattan Project--the World War II race to produce an atomic bomb--transformed the entire country in myriad ways, but it did not affect each region equally. Acting on an enduring perception of the American West as an "empty" place, the U.S. government located a disproportionate number of nuclear facilities--particularly the ones most likely to spread pollution--in western states. The Manhattan Project manufactured plutonium at Hanford, Washington; designed and assembled bombs at Los Alamos, New Mexico; and detonated the world's first atomic bomb at Alamagordo, New Mexico, on June 16, 1945.

In the years that followed the war, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission selected additional western sites for its work. Many westerners initially welcomed the atom. Like federal officials, they, too, regarded their region as "empty," or underdeveloped. Facilities to make, test, and base atomic weapons, sites to store nuclear waste, and even nuclear power plants were regarded as assets. By the 1960s and 1970s, however, regional attitudes began to change. At a variety of locales, ranging from Eskimo Alaska to Mormon Utah, westerners devoted themselves to resisting the atom and its effects on their environments and communities. Just as the atomic age had dawned in the American West, so its artificial sun began to set there.

The Atomic West brings together contributions from several disciplines to explore the impact on the West of the development of atomic power from wartime secrecy and initial postwar enthusiasm to public doubts and protest in the 1970s and 1980s. An impressive example of the benefits of interdisciplinary studies on complex topics, The Atomic West advances our understanding of both regional history and the history of science, and does so with human communities as a significant focal point. The book will be of special interest to students and experts on the American West, environmental history, and the history of science and technology.

Author Notes

Bruce Hevly is associate professor of history at the University of Washington. John Findlay is professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington. Other contributors include Robert E. Ficken, Carl Abbott, Stanley Goldberg, Gregg Herken, Ferenc M. Szasz, Barton C. Hacker, Dan O'Neill, Matthew Glass, Thomas Wellock, and Daniel Pope.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Ever since World War II, when plutonium was manufactured in Hanford, WA, and the atomic bomb was designed and tested in New Mexico, the U.S. government has placed a number of nuclear facilities in the American West. How the development of atomic power affected this region is the subject of these two very different books. The Atomic West is a collection of papers presented at a symposium sponsored by the Center for the Pacific Northwest at the University of Washington. The well-documented articles examine both the promise and the problems of the Manhattan Project. Offering the perspective of someone who lives in the region, award-winning nature writer Meloy (Raven's Exile: A Season on the Green River, LJ 6/15/94) visited the Trinity Site, Los Alamos, and the sites of uranium mining. She describes the landscape and the effects of radiation on the area's plants and animals. Both books fill niches in history of science collections. Meloy's offers insight for the nonspecialist and is recommended to public libraries, especially regional collections. The Atomic West is for larger academic libraries.‘Dale Ebersole Jr., Univ. of Toledo Lib., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Ten contributions in history, urban studies, philosophy, and religion review the connection between development of nuclear enterprise in the US and the American West. Preeminent in this history are the weapons laboratories of Los Alamos in New Mexico and Hanford in Richland, Washington. Most scientists, and the general public, with interests in the discovery of fission and fusion are familiar with the scientific and technical obstacles that Manhattan project participants had to overcome from 1940 to 1945. The first six chapters shift the attention to the bureaucracy, the politics, the physical environment, and the reasons why atomic research weapons design, plutonium production, and weapons testing came to be done almost exclusively in western states. Four last chapters discuss antinuclear activism in the same region, which ultimately defeated such proposals as Project Chariot (to create an artificial bay in Alaska by using nuclear explosives) and brought to a standstill the nuclear power industry in California and the Pacific Northwest. The wealth of references and notes at the end of each chapter illuminate further the sociology of the national, military-political community of individuals connected with the nuclear effort. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. E. Hadjimichael; Fairfield University