The Hanford Plaintiffs
Voices from the Fight for Atomic Justice
Trisha T. Pritikin
With an Introduction by Karen Dorn Steele
Foreword by Richard C. Eymann and Tom H. Foulds
For more than four decades beginning in 1944, the Hanford nuclear weapons facility in southeastern Washington State secretly blanketed much of the Pacific Northwest with low-dose ionizing radiation, the byproduct of plutonium production. For those who lived in the vicinity, many of them families of Hanford workers, the consequences soon became apparent as rates of illness and death steadily climbed—despite repeated assurances from the Atomic Energy Commission that the facility posed no threat. Trisha T. Pritikin, who has battled a lifetime of debilitating illness to become a lawyer and advocate for her fellow “downwinders,” tells the devastating story of those who were harmed in Hanford’s wake and, seeking answers and justice, were subjected to yet more suffering.
At the center of The Hanford Plaintiffs are the oral histories of twenty-four people who joined In re Hanford Nuclear Reservation Litigation, the class-action suit that sought recognition of, and recompense for, the grievous injury knowingly caused by Hanford. Radioactive contamination of American communities was not uncommon during the wartime Manhattan Project, nor during the Cold War nuclear buildup that followed. Pritikin interweaves the stories of people poisoned by Hanford with a parallel account of civilians downwind of the Nevada atomic test site, who suffer from identical radiogenic diseases. Against the heartrending details of personal illness and loss and, ultimately, persistence in the face of a legal system that protects the government on all fronts and at all costs, The Hanford Plaintiffs draws a damning picture of the failure of the US Congress and the Judiciary to defend the American public and to adequately redress a catastrophic wrong. Documenting the legal, medical, and human cost of one community’s struggle for justice, this book conveys in clear and urgent terms the damage done to ordinary Americans in the name of business, progress, and patriotism.
“The discussion of health effects from exposure to radioactive contaminants tends to focus on acute effects—cancers and death tolls. Pritikin shows in heart-breaking detail the stockpile of health problems from exposure to radioactivity and how painfully these chronic health problems dismantle lives. A passionate and carefully researched account of the failed fight for atomic justice.”
—Kate Brown, author of Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters andManual for Survival: An Environmental History of the Chernobyl Disaster
“Given the current political climate—North Korea’s nuclear threat, the current US administration’s provocation of North Korea, the potential unraveling of Iran’s nuclear deal, and the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan—Trisha Pritikin’sThe Hanford Plaintiffsis a timely addition to literature that has addressed the health harm caused by radiation exposure downwind of weapons’ production and testing sites as well as from the use of nuclear weapons in warfare; from uranium mining, milling, or transport; from nuclear power plant accidents; and from leaking nuclear waste. Pritikin’s work stands out, not only in its description of the plight of the people—called downwinders—in and around the Hanford site but also in its disclosure of the callous disregard of the US government for the innocent citizens it was supposed to protect.”
—Yuki Miyamoto, PhD, associate professor of religious studies, DePaul University, and author of Beyond the Mushroom Cloud
“The Hanford Plaintiffs is an urgent book for our times. We think we know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the one hand, and Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima on the other. We might imagine that these places stand for events safely consigned to the past or that the production of nuclear weapons and nuclear power are separate affairs. Now we are encountering, once again, cavalier talk about the use of nuclear weapons. The Hanford Plaintiffs opens our eyes to the reality of how the atomic age has played long-term, continuing havoc with whole communities, the environment, and democratic principles in the United States and throughout the world by presenting the life stories of the downwinders of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb was produced. Pritikin lays out her material methodically, providing the scientific, medical, legal, and historical components important to readers’ full understanding.”
—Norma Field, PhD, professor emerita, University of Chicago, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and author of In the Realm of a Dying Emperor: Japan at Century’s End
The Hanford Plaintiffs is an extraordinary and unique exposé of the human results of deliberate releases of huge quantities of radioactive isotopes from the Hanford reactors and nuclear complex over many years of operation.—
“The Hanford Plaintiffs is a unique document. It is a joint effort of the plaintiffs themselves; denied their opportunity to tell their stories in a court of law, their suffering and their lives downwind had largely become invisible until now. The Hanford workers and their families and neighbors were deemed expendable by the US government in the national quest for nuclear superiority. For the first time, thanks to the work of Trisha T. Pritikin, we can meet the people who lived through this horror and hear the stories of their pain, their bravery, and their dignity.”
—Robert “Bo” Jacobs, PhD, professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute and the Graduate School of Peace Studies of Hiroshima City University, and author of The Dragon’s Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age
“Timely and compelling, with the experiences and voices of impacted people at its core,The Hanford Plaintiffsis one of the most important works on Hanford to date. These twenty-four oral histories coupled with Pritikin’s eloquent and accessible analysis of nuclear history, dose reconstruction science, and toxic tort law make this book essential reading for citizens and professionals alike.”
—Sarah Fox, author of Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West
“In The Hanford Plaintiffs, Trisha Pritikin reveals the breadth and depth of the devastating health effects of the Hanford site on local residents and the extent to which they were deceived and misled by the US government. A downwinder herself, she presents a thorough account of those whose lives were unknowingly impacted by radioactive and toxic contamination. This book is an urgent reminder of why American citizens must remain diligent and hold our government accountable for the truth we deserve regarding nuclear contamination, especially when lives were—and continue to be—at stake.”
—Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
“Irradiated lambs, mysteriously paralyzed children, debilitating cancers: this is the all-too-real nightmare of America’s ‘forgotten guinea pigs,’ the Inland Northwest downwinders who have been irreparably harmed by atomic fallout. Thoroughly researched and expertly organized by Trisha T. Pritikin, this is a chilling, startling, and crucial book; no doubt its unflinching truth will inspire change.”
—Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra: A NovelSee fewer reviews...