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Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters [Kindle Edition]

Kate Brown
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Book Description

While many transnational histories of the nuclear arms race have been written, Kate Brown provides the first definitive account of the great plutonium disasters of the United States and the Soviet Union.
In Plutopia, Brown draws on official records and dozens of interviews to tell the extraordinary stories of Richland, Washington and Ozersk, Russia-the first two cities in the world to produce plutonium. To contain secrets, American and Soviet leaders created plutopias--communities of nuclear families living in highly-subsidized, limited-access atomic cities. Fully employed and medically monitored, the residents of Richland and Ozersk enjoyed all the pleasures of consumer society, while nearby, migrants, prisoners, and soldiers were banned from plutopia--they lived in temporary "staging grounds" and often performed the most dangerous work at the plant. Brown shows that the plants' segregation of permanent and temporary workers and of nuclear and non-nuclear zones created a bubble of immunity, where dumps and accidents were glossed over and plant managers freely embezzled and polluted. In four decades, the Hanford plant near Richland and the Maiak plant near Ozersk each issued at least 200 million curies of radioactive isotopes into the surrounding environment--equaling four Chernobyls--laying waste to hundreds of square miles and contaminating rivers, fields, forests, and food supplies. Because of the decades of secrecy, downwind and downriver neighbors of the plutonium plants had difficulty proving what they suspected, that the rash of illnesses, cancers, and birth defects in their communities were caused by the plants' radioactive emissions. Plutopia was successful because in its zoned-off isolation it appeared to deliver the promises of the American dream and Soviet communism; in reality, it concealed disasters that remain highly unstable and threatening today.
An untold and profoundly important piece of Cold War history, Plutopia invites readers to consider the nuclear footprint left by the arms race and the enormous price of paying for it.

Editorial Reviews


Winner of the Ellis W. Hawley Prize of the Organization of American Historians
Winner of the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association
Winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize of the American Society for Environmental History
Winner of the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize of the Association for Slavic Studies, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Winner of the Heldt Prize in the category of Best Book in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Studies from the Association of Women in Slavic Studies
Winner of the Robert G. Athearn Prize of the Western History Association

"Turning up a surprising amount of hitherto hidden material and talkative survivors, Brown writes a vivid, often hair-raising history of the great plutonium factories and the privileged cities built around them... Readers will squirm to learn of the high radiation levels workers routinely experienced and the casualness with which wastes poured into the local air, land and rivers... An angry but fascinating account of negligence, incompetence and injustice justified (as it still is) in the name of national security." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An unflinching and chilling account." --Seattle Times

"Harrowing... Meticulously researched... Plutopia has important messages for those managing today's nuclear facilities, arguing for caution and transparency." --Nature

"The book tells two intertwined stories. One is an appalling narrative of environmental disasters... The second narrative is about the towns, the townspeople, and the creation of a spatially segmented landscape that enabled those disasters... This is admirable comparative history." --Carl Abbott, Environmental History

"Fascinating." -- Dissent

"One of the Cold War's more striking perversities never made it to public view. ... Brown is a good writer, and she describes with precision the construction of the two sites (a difficult process in the U.S. case, an unbelievably horrid one in the Russian case), the hazardous occupations undertaken by their inhabitants, and the consciously contrived bubbles of socioeconomic inequality both places became." --Foreign Affairs

"Brown's account is unique, partisan and occasionally personal in that she includes some of her thoughts about interviews she conducted... But because she is open and thorough about her sources, those are strengths to be celebrated, not weaknesses to be deplored. It also means her book is engaging, honest and, in the end, entirely credible." --New Scientist

"An amazing book... Brown found many parallels between Richland and Ozersk that disrupt the conservative Cold War dichotomy between the 'free world' and the totalitarian one. Her research included not only uncovering previously secret documents in both countries but also tracking down and interviewing old-time residents of Ozersk and Richland. Her picture of the treatment of plutonium workers on both sides of the Iron Curtain is enough to make you gnash your teeth or cry." --Jon Wiener, American Historical Review

"Arresting, engagingly narrated... Kate Brown skillfully mixes Cold War policy assessment and associated political intrigue with sociological study of the lives of those who lived and worked in those places... Plutopia is history told through the voice of drama and investigative reporting." --Stephen E. Roulac, New York Journal of Books

"Plutopia is reporting and research at its best, both revealing a hidden history and impacting the important discussions about nuclear power that should be happening today." --Glenn Dallas, San Francisco Book Review

"An untold and profoundly important piece of Cold War history, Plutopia invites readers to consider the nuclear footprint left by the arms race and the enormous price of paying for it." --H-Soyuz

"Kate Brown has written a provocative and original study of two cities -- one American, one Soviet -- at the center of their countries' nuclear weapons complexes. The striking parallels she finds between them help us -- impel us -- to see the Cold War in a new light. Plutopia will be much discussed. It is a fascinating and important book." --David Holloway, author of Stalin and the Bomb

"Kate Brown has produced a novel and arresting account of the consequences of Cold War Nuclear policies on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Interweaving documentary research in government archives, reviews and revisions of the public record, and a host of personal interviews with the citizens -- perpetrators, victims, and witnesses -- Brown's Plutopia makes a lasting contribution to the continuing chronicle of the human and environmental disasters of the atomic age." --Peter Bacon Hales, author of Atomic Spaces: Living on the Manhattan Project

"It may be the best piece of research and writing in the nuclear history field in the last 25 years - perhaps the best ever... Extremely impressive." -- Rodney Carlisle, Prof. Emeritus, Rutgers University, author of Encyclopedia of the Atomic Age

About the Author

Kate Brown is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland, winner of the American Historical Association's George Louis Beer Prize. A 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, her work has also appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, American Historical Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Harper's Magazine Online.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2063 KB
  • Print Length: 417 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0199855765
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (March 8, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00BF9N24Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,343 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We are all citizens of Plutopia May 25, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Since its inception, the hallmarks of the "nuclear industrial complex", which includes nuclear weapons and nuclear power, have been "secrecy, cover-up, and minimization. Plutopia is very well researched, beautifully written, and perhaps the most clear expose of the fundamental nature of this poisonous industry. The account of nuclear industry's birth and subsequent physical and social destruction in the US and USSR, is breathtakingly painful. It is particularly so because the devastation caused by the "splitting of the atom" continues today with further secrecy, cover-up and minimization as we watch the same process continue with small and large accidents, purposeful and accidental leaks and dumping, waste that we have no idea what to do with, and the duplication of the US/USSR's poisonous path by other nations around the world. If we are fortunate enough not to blow ourselves away with the over 20,000 nuclear weapons that remain active, our children and future generations will almost certainly curse us for the willful and immoral destruction of our beautiful planet through the virtually permanent pollution that this book so eloquently describes.

Everyone should heed the messages put forth in this book and become active in the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Einstein was correct when he said "The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our mode of thinking, thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe". Read Plutopia and become an activist for the sake of future generations and our planet. This is the only way that we will gain the freedom from the "risk and contamination" of the nuclear industry , since, as Dr. Brown notes, "we are all citizens of plutopia."
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This is a fun read for anyone interested in the history of nuclear weapons complexes. Kate Brown tells two stories in parallel - that of the U.S. plutonium production facility, Hanford, and the nearby city of Richland, and that of the Russian counterparts Maiak and Ozersk, respectively.

The two stories are told from the perspective of the workers and focus primarily on their long term health issues. She begins with an early history of both plants and the uncertainties the plant managers faced in dealing with waste management and containment. She then follows the outcomes of these uncertainties (to the extent they are known) through today. The desires of the citizens of Richland and Ozersk to remain separated from nearby communities and attempt to maintain a sense of independence while being completely dependent on temporary government projects are also discussed in detail.

While Dr. Brown does not have a background in science, she handles it pretty well. She presents the uncertainty of the specifics of radiation poisoning by presenting a huge amount of circumstantial evidence. I use the term circumstantial only because of the difficulty in correlating a specific ailment or death with a specific amount of dose. Through the telling of the story, Brown makes it clear that the affects of the radiation on the body depend both on the person, and the specific isotopes ingested - no small task even if excellent records were kept. She does not go into the possible chemical affects the waste (radioactive or nonradioactive) has/had on humans or the environment.

Overall a recommended read if you want to understand the plutonium production complexes from a the perspective of the people that worked there.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book July 24, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have worked on Hanford issues for 25 years, helping whistleblowers, sick workers, and trying to influence the cleanup to go in a productive direction. I have also been to many of the former Soviet nuclear sites, including Mayak on five different occasions. Kate Brown's book captures not only the history, the stories, and realities, but poses some interesting and insightful perspectives on the two cities and bomb factories. She has pulled together a huge amount of information and distilled it into a readable, interesting book which all of us who live in the nuclear age should read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miners' canaries in the USA November 24, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Kate Brown writes that radioactive material "migrated from industrial to residential zones, from soils into food, from air to lungs to bloodstream, bone marrow, and finally DNA, so bodies themselves now serve as nuclear waste repositories."

The medical section of the U.S. Army's Manhattan Project, the top-secret World War II machine that built the first atomic bomb, conducted human experiments that remained classified for 50 years. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. played a major role in the Manhattan Project in 1943, designing, building and operating the massive U.S. plutonium-production complex on 780 square miles of land along the Columbia River at Hanford, Washington. Like miners' canaries, workers in the chemical industry are often the first line of exposure to environmental toxins.

"In the early thirties," writes Brown, "a DuPont chemical dye plant had an outbreak of bladder cancer among its workers. DuPont officials hired Wilhelm Hueper, a German scientist specializing in toxins, to figure out what was giving the workers cancer. Hueper isolated a new chemical agent, beta-napthylamine, used in dye production, which, he said, caused bladder cancer in rats. Rather than pull the chemical from the line, DuPont officials took Hueper off the research project, and when he refused to drop the issue, they fired him. Fearful that Hueper would broadcast his findings, they assigned another scientist, Robert Kehoe, at the company's Kettering Lab, to carry out research that would discredit Hueper's findings. For the next twenty years, DuPont workers continued to use beta-napthylamine, which caused bladder cancer in nine out of ten employees exposed to it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're on the fence about nuclear, Plutopia will knock you right...
Kate Brown has done a remarkable job of presenting many hidden aspects of the Hanford Site and its Soviet counterpart. Read more
Published 4 days ago by David A. Bethune
1.0 out of 5 stars An axe to grind rather than a story to tell
If you are going to write a non fiction book you should have real passion for the subject not just an axe to grind. Read more
Published 5 days ago by P. M.
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and written
Very interesting and engaging reading, with head-shaking, non-fiction stories that prompted me to buy a radiation detector and thank God I am not a child or grandchild of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting and unique
I love these stories that go over the nuclear history. This one tries to give a good voice of narration, and it seems to succeed in telling a story that catches the reader's ear. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kyle Wilshusen
5.0 out of 5 stars clear and bold!
Kate Brown's monograph, "Plutopia" offers her readers clear, bold writing that opens the door into a history that is unknown to the general public. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Ruth Neilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by Staria Burdell
5.0 out of 5 stars "Radiant" seems like the appropriate word
One of the best, most engaging and intriguing works of history I have read recently. Anyone interested in nuclear power, the Cold War, history, or environmentalism should read this... Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. Schwartz
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Well written and convincingly argued
Published 4 months ago by David Shneer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This book should be read by everyone who cares about the quality of life on this planet
Published 4 months ago by david perkins
2.0 out of 5 stars Predictably Political
As one who currently lives in one of the Plutopias described in this book I can say this with honesty and certainty. The verifiable details she uncovers are worth knowing about. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mari Ross Wilson
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