Robert P. Crease with Peter D. Bond

Oct 18, 2022

The Leak

Politics, Activists, and Loss of Trust at Brookhaven National Laboratory

MIT Press 2022

In 1997, scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory found a small leak of radioactive water near their research reactor. Brookhaven was--and is--a world-class, Nobel Prize-winning lab, and its reactor was the cornerstone of US materials science and one of the world's finest research facilities. The leak, harmless to health, came from a storage pool rather than the reactor. But its discovery triggered a media and political firestorm that resulted in the reactor's shutdown, and even attempts to close the entire laboratory.

A quarter century later, the episode reveals the dynamics of today's controversies in which fears and the dismissal of science disrupt serious discussion and research of vital issues such as vaccines, climate change, and toxic chemicals. This story has all the elements of a thriller, with vivid characters and dramatic twists and turns. Key players include congressmen and scientists; journalists and university presidents; actors, supermodels, and anti-nuclear activists, all interacting and teaming up in surprising ways. The authors, each with insider knowledge of and access to confidential documents and the key players, reveal how a fact of no health significance could be portrayed as a Chernobyl-like disaster. Robert P. Crease and Peter Bond's The Leak: Politics, Activists, and Loss of Trust at Brookhaven National Laboratory (MIT Press, 2022) reveals the gaps between scientists, politicians, media, and the public that have only gotten more dangerous since 1997.

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Ari Barbalat holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of California in Los Angeles. He lives in Toronto with his family.

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