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On March 16, 1979, Hollywood released a runof -the-mill film that might have been rather unremarkable had the fictional plot not played out in real life while the movie was still in theaters. The China Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas, features a reporter who witnesses a nuclear power plant incident that power company executives subsequently attempt to cover up. Many days pass before the full extent of the meltdown surfaces. Just twelve days after The China Syndrome premiered , operators at the Unit 2 nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island, outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, received abnormally high temperature readings from the containment building ’s sensors. They ignored them. Many hours passed before the operators realized that the facility they were standing in had entered into partial core meltdown. Power company executives attempted to trivialize the incident and many days passed before the full extent of the meltdown surfaced. 4. The Nuclear-Military-Industrial Risk Complex Boy, we’re sure going to have some wrecks now! –Walt Disney, upon constructing a model train to encircle his house  The China Syndrome went viral. When star Michael Douglas appeared on nbc’s The Tonight Show, host Johnny Carson quipped, “Boy, you sure have one hell of a publicity agent!” The staged nuclear leak filmed in the back lots of Hollywood and the real nuclear leak on Three Mile Island became conjoined, feeding into one another, each event becoming more vividly salient in the eyes of the public than if they had occurred independently . The intense media and political fallout from the leak at Three Mile Island, perhaps more than the leak itself, marked the abrupt end of the short history of nuclear power development in the United States. Nuclear industry officials regularly accuse their critics of unfairly brandishing the showmanship of disaster as if it were characteristic of the entire industry while downplaying the solid safety record of most nuclear facilities. Indeed, meltdowns like the ones at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima Daiichi don’t occur as frequently as oil spills. But then, the risks people associate with nuclear leaks are inordinately more frightening. As with oil spills, journalists, politicians, and industry officials frame meltdowns as accidents, almost without exception, though, we could alternately choose to frame nuclear power activities as highly unstable undertakings that are bound to expel radioactive secretions into the surrounding communities and landscapes over time. One of the largest single releases of atmospheric radiation into American communities, about seven hundred times that of Three Mile Island, cannot even plausibly be framed as an accident.1 The U.S. government deliberately planned and released this emission under the code name “Green Run” in a oncesecret government compound so infrequently acknowledged that even President Obama claimed to have been unaware of the site during his time in the Senate.2 The facility would later rise to become the single largest recipient of his federal stimulus funds. Seductive Futures  Green Run In the early 1940s, a U.S. government convoy rolled into a small community in Washington State, inexplicably condemned private homes, shut down the high school, and hastily laid out foundations for over five hundred buildings on an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island.3 For a time, nearby residents had no idea what happened behind the gates of the enormous secret facility, which was named the Hanford Site. But on August 6, 1945, when U.S. forces dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, its purpose became abundantly clear. The United States built Hanford to enrich plutonium, in a hurry. After the war, Hanford’s purpose shifted (the first of many shifts). In an effort to judge how much plutonium the Soviet Union was processing during the cold war’s infancy, the Pentagon decided to take measurements from the dispersion of a known quantity of radioactive iodine–131, a byproduct of plutonium production, to be released at Hanford. During the night of December 2, 1949, the U.S. Air Force deliberately executed a sudden and clandestine discharge of radioactive iodine intended to disperse and contaminate the fields, communities, and waterways surrounding Hanford.4 The U.S. government kept the radioactive dispersion secret for nearly forty years until the Freedom of Information Act forced the Department of Energy to release the classified documents in 1986.5 Selected intelligence purposes remained secret until 1993. After scientists expelled the radioactive cloud from Hanford, radiation levels in surrounding communities jumped to430 times the then permissible limits. Hanford’s...


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MARC Record
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