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Poison in the Well

Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age

Jacob Darwin Hamblin

Publication Year: 2008

Poison in the Wellprovides a balanced look at the policy decisions, scientific conflicts, public relations strategies, and the myriad mishaps and subsequent cover-ups that were born out of the dilemma of where to house deadly nuclear materials. Jacob Darwin Hamblin traces the development of the issue in Western countries from the end of World War II to the blossoming of the environmental movement in the early 1970s.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

The first horror movie I ever saw was Empire of the Ants. It was on television when I was eight or nine years old. Drums of radioactive sludge had washed up onto a Florida beach, creating, well, an empire of giant ants. In retrospect it was not a very good movie, but it kept me awake at night. I mention this...

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pp. 1-9

When russian president Boris Yeltsin decided in the early 1990s to reveal some of the old Soviet regime’s dark secrets, he dropped an environmental bombshell. A major report from his special advisor on the environment, Alexei Yablokov, unveiled the long history of dissimulations and lies by the...

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Chapter 1: Threshold Illusions

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pp. 10-38

As oceanographer Richard Fleming went home to the University of Washington in the fall of 1952, he was hoping to have lifted a heavy burden from his shoulders. He had just put together a draft statement about the disposal of radioactive waste at sea, and he admitted, “I am returning to Seattle...

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Chapter 2: Radiation Anxieties

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pp. 39-72

When american biophysicist Detlev Bronk invited British nuclear physicist Sir John Cockcroft to breakfast in April 1956, it became more than a meeting of old colleagues. Bronk was president of the National Academy of Sciences, and in some six weeks the academy would issue its most...

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Chapter 3: The Other Atomic Scientists

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pp. 73-98

In his 1957 charter address at the University of California, Riverside, oceanographer Roger Revelle mused about the new roles of scientists and politicians in the postwar era. Between them, he said, they held the future of the human race in their hands, and each should pay close attention to the other...

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Chapter 4: Forging an International Consensus

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pp. 99-125

Although there were some tough questions at the press conference about the BEAR committees on exposure from fallout and waste disposal, academy president Bronk and the six committee chairmen conveyed the unifi ed message that no harm had been done yet. But there were some bumpy spots, as...

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Chapter 5: No Atomic Graveyards

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pp. 126-158

When oceanographers came to Göteborg, Sweden, in 1957 to plan the International Geophysical Year of 1957–58, they knew they were on the cusp of a scientific opportunity about which generations of their predecessors could only have dreamed. For the fi rst time in history, the IGY gave oceanographers...

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Chapter 6: The Environment as Cold War Terrain

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pp. 159-189

When arnold joseph, an Atomic Energy Commission sanitary engineer, feared that John D. Isaacs’s report would rattle the British Atomic Energy Authority (AEA), he was right to do so. Already the report on nuclear-powered ships implicitly criticized Britain’s high levels of discharge at Windscale. Now...

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Chapter 7: Purely for Political Reasons

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pp. 190-218

When british health physicist H. J. (John) Dunster visited Lisbon in April 1967, the city recently had constructed a new suspension bridge that boasted the longest suspended span in Europe. Overlooking the wide Tagus River, the bridge was named after Portugal’s longtime prime minister...

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Chapter 8: Confronting Environmentalism

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pp. 219-251

By 1970, british radiobiologist Alan Preston had been working for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for nearly twenty years, at its Fisheries Radiobiological Laboratory at Lowestoft. During that whole period he and his colleagues had been studying organisms in the Irish Sea, into which the...

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pp. 252-260

The London convention went into effect in 1975. Ten years later, the Commission of the European Communities inaugurated a study, Project Marina, to assess the radiation exposure to Europeans from radioactivity in the seas around northern Europe. Although most of the participants had to...


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pp. 261-289


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pp. 291-299


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pp. 301-311

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About the Author

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pp. 313

Jacob Darwin Hamblin is an assistant professor of history at Clemson University. He is a former postdoctoral fellow of the Centre Alexandre Koyr

E-ISBN-13: 9780813544236
E-ISBN-10: 0813544238
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813542201
Print-ISBN-10: 0813542200

Page Count: 326
Publication Year: 2008