By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 10, 2023)
[Shame mode] All the times I’ve zipped by the I-82 turn-off to Richland, Washington while driving on I-90 and thought “hey, isn’t that where that Hanford superfund nuclear thingy is?” I’ve never stopped to ponder its historical significance. Adjacent to the Hanford Nuclear Site that was built in the early 1940s to house nuclear government workers at the height of the Manhattan Project, Richland is, in essence, a company town; a true-to-life “atomic city” with a problematic legacy.
Then again, according to Irene Lusztig’s absorbing documentary, how “problematic” depends on who you talk to. For example, many current residents don’t see why anyone would make a fuss over the local high school football team’s “mascot”, which is a mushroom cloud. The town manufactured weapons-grade plutonium for decades following the end of WW2 (to which they had a direct hand in “ending”, via providing the plutonium for the ”Fat Man” nuclear bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki).
Lusztig incorporates archival footage for historical context; these segments reminded me of the 1982 documentary The Atomic Café. With Christopher Nolan’s anticipated biopic Oppenheimer looming (July 21st), this is a perfect primer for brushing up on America’s complex relationship with nuclear energy.