Amchitka and the Bomb
Nuclear Testing in Alaska
- PUBLISHED: August 2002
- SUBJECT LISTING: History / Western History
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 176 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 2 maps, notes, index
- ISBN: 9780295982557
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
More than a quarter-century has now passed since the United States set off the last of three underground atomic blasts in the remote wilderness of the Aleutian islands, off the coast of Alaska. Cannikin, as this third test was called, exploded as planned on November 6, 1971, on Amchitka Island. The first test, Project Long Shot (1965), was designed to determine whether the blast’s shock waves could be distinguished from earthquakes. Milrow, the second (1969), and Cannikin were part of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile development program.
Amchitka and the Bomb looks at how these nuclear explosions were planned and conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission, in spite of vehement protests by political and civilian groups. In addition to demonstrating the feasibility of a new generation of weapons, the government defended the nuclear tests on Amchitka as providing U.S. presidents, and especially Richard Nixon, with negotiating power to force the Soviet Union to accept a satisfactory arms limitation agreement.
Dean Kohlhoff traces the enormous environmental impact of the blasts on the Aleutian wildlife refuge system. He also examines the social and political fallout from the tests on Aleut civilian populations. As the tests inexorably went forward, an emerging environmental movement was galvanized to action. Passionate but ultimately futile attempts to stop the blasts were made by such nascent groups as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Wilderness Society. Although Alaskan Aleuts sued to halt Cannikin and environmental groups joined them for an injunction against the test, a split U.S. Supreme Court eventually approved the 5.1-megaton explosion.
Amchitka and the Bomb tells a harrowing story of the struggle of private citizens and small environmental groups to counter the weight of the federal government. It adds immeasurably to our understanding of the nuclear history of the United States. Its concise interweaving of the military, scientific, economic, and social implications surrounding the nuclear explosions on Amchitka Island exposes the unpleasant consequences of allowing treasured national values to become victim to political necessity. Kohlhoff has contributed a vital chapter to Alaska's history and to the history of the American environmental movement.
Authors & Contributors
Dean Kohlhoff (1933-1997) was a professor of history at Valparaiso University in Indiana for 30 years. His other publications include When the Wind Was a River, the story of the military evacuation of Aleut residents of Attu Island in World War II.
Among the Many Islands
On an Anvil of War
Before a Mighty Windstorm
Under Rufus and Larkspur Scrutiny
During a Long Shot
Through Milrow Calibration
For Safeguard Security
Amid More Cannikin Controversy
Beyond the Last Bomb
Kohlhoff offers an interesting account of the destruction of a 'wilderness natural area' as the result of WWII, the Cold War, and the testing of nuclear weapons. . . . This book will interest those concerned with the impact of 'civilization' on nature and nature's creatures as well as the interaction of different bureaucracies.- Choice
Amchitka and the Bomb reconstructs thoroughly the decision by the Atomic Energy Commission to use Amchitka Island in the Aleutians as a test site for nuclear missile weaponry. . . utterly disregarding the fact that the island was a wildlife refuge. It will be an important contribution to environmental and Alaska studies and to national defense studies.- Stephen Haycox, University of Alaska, Anchorage
Amchitka and the Bomb is an important, original, and well—crafted work, one that will find a ready audience because it speaks to some of the main themes currently being explored by historians of Alaska, nuclear weapons and the Cold War.- Bruce Hevly, University of Washington