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Bursting the Plutonium Bubble: How Utopian Communities Made Dystopian Nuclear Landscapes

Historian Kate 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. 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.

Date & Time

May. 18, 2015
4:00pm – 5:30pm

Location

6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Bursting the Plutonium Bubble: How Utopian Communities Made Dystopian Nuclear Landscapes

Historian Kate 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. 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. Drawing plutonium curtain around production sites and promoting ‘nuclear villages’ with healthy nuclear families has left a lasting legacy.

Kate Brown lives in Washington, DC and is Professor of History at UMBC.  Brown, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of two award-winning books: Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford 2013) and A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard 2004). Brown’s most recent book Dispatches from Dystopia: History of Places Not Yet Forgotten will appear in 2015 with the University of Chicago Press. 

This final meeting in the Washington History Seminar Spring 2015 series is co-sponsored by the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs Nuclear Policy Talks.

The Washington History Seminar is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. See www.wilsoncenter.org/collection/washington-history-seminar for the schedule, speakers, topics, and dates as well as webcasts and podcasts. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

Speaker

Kate Brown

Kate Brown

Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and former Title VIII-Supported Research Scholar, Kennan Institute
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History and Public Policy Program

The History and Public Policy Program uses history to improve understanding of important global dynamics, trends in international relations, and American foreign policy.  Read more

Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. Through an award winning Digital Archive, the Project allows scholars, journalists, students, and the interested public to reassess the Cold War and its many contemporary legacies. It is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more

Nuclear Proliferation International History Project

The Nuclear Proliferation International History Project is a global network of individuals and institutions engaged in the study of international nuclear history through archival documents, oral history interviews, and other empirical sources. At the Wilson Center, it is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more

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