In May, a tunnel filled with radioactive waste collapsed at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, making international news. This incident highlighted the...

In May, a tunnel filled with radioactive waste collapsed at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, making international news. This incident highlighted the costs and challenges of cleaning up this deactivated nuclear facility, once America’s largest producer of plutonium for atomic weapons, including the Nagasaki bomb. The U.S. government spends around $2 billion a year on cleanup efforts at Hanford, which have been the sole focus at the site since its reactors were shut down at the end of the Cold War. Melvin R. Adams was one of the first environmental engineers hired at Hanford as part of a small team focused on environmental issues. Beginning in 1979, his 24-year career at Hanford progressed alongside increasing government investment in more responsible management of nuclear waste and its disposal. In Atomic Geography: A Personal History of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (Washington State University Press, 2016) Adams recounts engineering efforts to mitigate and control radioactive contamination and offers amusing anecdotes of the characters tasked with cleaning up the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the U.S. He also captures the paradox of Hanford, an artifact of the atomic age surrounded (and sometimes invaded by) wild terrain, natural beauty, and flourishing biodiversity. Atomic Geography offers personal and poetic insight into a complex, contested landscape.

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