Oak Ridge, Tennessee was born as a planned and secret community established during World War II to contribute to the development of the first atomic bomb. Sacrificing their own civil liberties toward the goals of democracy and freedom, residents lived behind guarded fences and learned not to discuss their work with family, neighbors or co-workers. Their clandestine work became public following the bombing of Hiroshima, but the environmental legacies of weapons production increased and remained secret throughout the Cold War. In this paper, I discuss the cultural and environmental legacy of Oak Ridge and then draw on ethnographic interviews with residents, former workers, and participation in public hearings to show how the culture of secrecy has shaped the community of today, while efforts to confront the environmental legacy of the city continues to both unite and divide the community. I conclude that the history of secrecy has limited organized efforts to confront the ongoing environmental problems facing the community, while individuals act independently to investigate past and potential exposures. Paradoxically, however, the history of secrecy contributed to the development of a proud community with a commitment to environmental stewardship, democratic principles, and concern for peace and stability that many outsiders have failed

to recognize in condemning the community as a showcase of military toxic waste.


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pp. 39-64
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