In southeast Washington, and in southern Russia there are two atomic cities a world apart but with surprising similarities. The new book “Plutopia” studies the cities of Richland, Washington and Ozersk, Russia. Both places made plutonium for nuclear bombs. And both sprung up from desolate places during WWII and the Cold War.
Kate Brown says people who lived in Richland and Ozersk during the plutonium production days remember both towns as delightful places to live.
Brown says the urgency of war and limited resources also meant both the Americans and Russians disposed of waste harming the environment — legacies that affected multiple generations in surrounding communities. Americans disposed of liquid and solid radioactive waste in pits in the desert sand, filled underground tanks with millions of gallons of radioactive waste, and sent more downstream in the Columbia River. In the late 1940s, the Russians filled their own underground tanks, sent thousands of curries of highly-radioactive waste downstream and sickening riverside communities.
Brown: “They didn’t tell any of the 28,000 people living downstream who didn’t have wells. They drank from those rivers, who cooked with it, watered their livestock, watered their crops and ate the fish.”
Brown says, much of that waste both in Russia and near Richland has yet to be cleaned up. She says some in Russia, call themselves the “White Mice,” because they believe the government used them as some sort of experiment. And in the American Northwest downwinders and atomic workers also suffered from poisoning from Hanford. Brown says ultimately, these two spots are linked both in their foundations, fates and their legacies.
Brown: “They used to say in Ozersk, the Richland equivalent, if you drilled a hole through the ground, you’d end up in Richland….”