By Michael D'Antonio

Crown x 304pp x $22.50

From World War II through Ronald Reagan's drive to best the Evil Empire in the weapons race, the government's sprawling Hanford Nuclear Reservation along Washington's Columbia River chugged away. Under a shadow of secrecy, it turned out shipment after shipment of plutonium for an ever-expanding atomic arsenal. Only now are the consequences becoming clear. In the name of peace and national security, researchers and bombmakers for nearly 40 years spewed nuclear wastes into the land and atmosphere. By 1988, when Hanford stopped producing plutonium, it had generated a shocking trail of human and animal illness and an environmental mess so severe the U.S. may never fully clean it up.

Michael D'Antonio's Atomic Harvest is an engrossing, novelistic account of Hanford's reluctant efforts to come to grips with its relationship with the bomb. In the former Newsday reporter's telling, Hanford became a place where officials and contractors lied about their activities, and workers and outsiders alike learned not to question what went on behind the barbed wire.

D'Antonio tells his tale through the eyes of Hanford residents and workers, including some made gravely ill by the radioactivity that emanated from the reservation and others who fought to unearth the scandal. All share a sense of disbelief about what happened.

D'Antonio draws parallels with Chernobyl, whose ill-fated reactor resembled a Hanford plant. Ukrainians, too, learned what can happen when national security and secrecy rule the day. Maybe a future book will discuss the fallout--literally--from the arms programs of Russia, China, France, Britain, and others. D'Antonio has provided a good start, as well as a road map for where a daunting environmental cleanup must begin.

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