The Manhattan project’s top-secret plutonium plant at Hanford, Washington, produced the plutonium for the Trinity Test and the Nagasaki bomb and was the biggest engineering project and best-kept secret of World War II. In Rhetoric, Risk, and Secrecy in the Atomic City, Julie Staggers draws on cultural and rhetorical theory to examine the construction of knowledge about security, safety, and risk within the emerging secrecy culture of the Manhattan Project as it was distributed in the workplace and company town attached to the world’s first plutonium reactor. Why were some individuals propelled into roles as secret keepers and others into positions of willful ignorance or denial? What were the relationships between those subject positions and risk-taking and risk-making at Hanford during the 1940s and 1950s? Nearly 25 years after the Hanford site was decommissioned, it remains the most contaminated industrial site in the United States and the scene of the largest nuclear cleanup effort in the Western hemisphere. Staggers’s analysis of the failed safety culture of the waste treatment plant project shows how the status quo subjectivities of the weapons-production era undergird discursive practice during the clean-up era. Her study crucially demonstrates that far from being purely a means of conveying information, technical communication practices frequently work to stabilize the status quo under the guise of factual objectivity.
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Julie Staggers is Associate Professor of English at Washington State University,
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