Atomic Environments

This week’s review reveals how environmental science contributed to the development of nuclear technologies during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations while also acknowledging how policymakers' nuclear strategies put citizens and ecosystems at risk.

Atomic Environments: Nuclear Technologies, The Natural World, and Policymaking, 1945–1960

Oatsvall, Neil S. Alabama, 2023
264p bibl index, 9780817321468 $49.95, 9780817394349 $49.95

Atomic environments : nuclear technologies, the natural world, and policymaking, 1945–1960 book cover.

Oatsvall (independent scholar) offers a fresh history of how policy makers at the dawn of the nuclear age (1945–60) dealt with the interconnections between nuclear technologies and the environment in their decisions involving the testing of nuclear weapons. Using archival collections, published primary sources, websites, and secondary sources, he thoroughly explores how officials of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations understood their responsibilities to secure the national defense by producing better atomic bombs while also protecting public health through limiting the amounts and occurrences of fallout. At the same time, these policy makers were assessing the limits and capabilities of nuclear technologies for civilian uses. Oatsvall makes a strong case that many advances in the environmental sciences were made because of the efforts to understand nuclear technologies. Yet the degree to which decision-makers put citizens at risk from dangerous levels of fallout in order to advance nuclear technologies will likely be disturbing to many readers. Nevertheless, Oatsvall is convincing in arguing that nuclear weapons stimulated the advent of ecology as a coherent field because advances in nuclear weapons required new understandings of Earth systems. The book represents solid scholarship with thorough documentation (50 pages of notes), and is well written.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.
R. E. O’Connor, National Science Foundation
Interdisciplinary Subjects: Environmental Studies
Subject: Science & Technology – Physics
Choice Issue: Oct 2023

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