Book: Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (2008)

Editor’s note: This week, we are pleased to feature contributions from Sofia University graduate students enrolled in Tak Watanabe’s 2011 spring semester classes in Tokyo, Japan.

Hamblin, Jacob Darwin. 2008. Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste In The Oceans At The Dawn of The Nuclear Age. Rutgers University Press.

Poison in the Well by Jacob Hamblin provides an historical account of how scientists and politicians have handled the problem of nuclear waste from the time of World War II until the London Convention of 1972. Focusing on the United States and Great Britain, Hamblin draws a detailed picture of growing conflicts within the scientific community, political struggles, and a new awareness of public opinion about the disposal of radioactive waste at sea. A number of fundamental questions might arise for readers unfamiliar with this topic: Was it unsafe? Was it wrong for these countries to practice it? Was it right to ban it? The answers to these questions, Hamblin observes, depended largely on notions of danger, which were doubly questions of dosage and exposure and the decisions that were made about these. The book starts with one of the most important and basic questions when it comes to radioactivity: “How were threshold values chosen?” A second theme raised the conflict between different fields of science, namely the question of whether “health physicists” or oceanographers should be the final authority in the matter of nuclear waste disposal. A third theme explores the role of radioactive waste in Cold War international relations. The author details how political decisions at the face of the Cold War, as well as co-operations between allies, shaped the handling of nuclear waste significantly. Finally, Hamblin addresses the relationship between radioactive waste and environmental policy making, at the center of which stands the role of public opinion and how best to address its concerns.

Hamblin provides readers with ample and highly accessible information on radioactivity. Rather than a simple recounting of facts, the book comes alive with distinctive characters with specific agendas, from individuals and national and international agencies, to countries and power blocs. Poison in the Well will be useful to all those interested in understanding the history of how today’s the nuclear policies came to be. It will strike broad interest among students and scholars of science and technology, as well as environmental politics, nature, and history.

Marlies Linhart

This annotation was part of a course assignment in the Graduate Program in Global Studies at Sophia University.

Book: Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (2008)
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