CULTURE, COLD WAR, CONSERVATISM, AND THE END OF THE ATOMIC AGE: RICHLAND, WASHINGTON, 1943-1989
Powell, Lee Ann
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This study explores the atomic identity and nuclear politics of Richlanders and Tri-Citians through an analysis of the collision points between local atomic culture, federal nuclear policy, and the antinuclear environmental movement. Between 1943 and 1989, nuclear supporters in the Tri-Cities and in the nation moved from the center to the outskirts of American politics and values. Pronuclear Tri-Citians in the early post-war period influenced the course of federal nuclear policy in their efforts to maintain and grow the local economy. By the 1980s, however, the political and cultural power of pronuclear Tri-Citians decreased as the nation moved away from nuclear power and limited the production of atomic bomb-making materials. This national realignment pushed pronuclear Tri-Citians toward the conservative antienvironmental camp. Deeply rooted in the community's Manhattan Project heritage and World War II victory narrative, pronuclear Tri-Citians' environmental politics developed in relation to their work at Hanford, the geopolitical division in Washington state, and the modern environmental movement. Using the experiences of pronuclear Richlanders and Tri-Citians, I show how divisions over nuclear technology contributed to the state's and the nation's growing political and cultural divide. While Richland and the Tri-Cities were not unique in their allegiance to nuclear power or dependence on federal money, the community's relative isolation, the profound effects of the Manhattan Project on the area, and the ongoing economic and psychological dependence of the community on Hanford, render these cities an excellent case study of the long-term political and cultural effects of atomic production. The antinuclear environmental movement's message characterized Hanford as a source of danger and cast Hanford's managers, scientists, and engineers as sinister atomic secret keepers. This image stood in stark contrast to the community's vision of themselves as World War II heroes and Cold War patriots, and investigating the points of conflict between these two narratives brings to the fore nuclear technology's role in the culture wars and growing division between conservative and liberal Americans.