No Immediate Risk: Environmental Safety and Nuclear Weapons Production, 1942-1996

EPA Grant Number: U915200
Title: No Immediate Risk: Environmental Safety and Nuclear Weapons Production, 1942-1996
Investigators: Silverman, Michael J.
Institution: Carnegie Mellon University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: January 1, 1997 through January 1, 2000
Project Amount: $102,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Environmental History , Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


The objectives of this research project are to examine:

1. Changing waste management and public health practices in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Identifying this package of behaviors, risk assessment techniques, and decisionmaking procedures as "environmental safety," my analysis shows how nuclear weapons scientists, engineers, managers, and workers seek to contain and limit damage from the hazardous materials with which they work.

2. The role and behavior of significant actors outside of the production process such as regulatory agencies and neighboring communities, as concerns grow over the possible effects of production and testing practices.


This research utilizes the methodologies and the analytical tools of the history of technology, environmental history, and the history of science. Using the records, reports, and physical artifacts of the nuclear weapons production process as historical data, this project begins by examining the initial assumptions about health, safety, and ecological impact that shaped the development of the Manhattan Project and its postwar successor, the Atomic Energy Commission. The analytical heart of this project consists of three case studies in which conflict over some aspect of environmental safety reveals implicit or tacit decision-making practices. These case studies focus on the atmospheric nuclear weapons testing program at the Nevada Test Site, the Hanford Engineering Works, and the former Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald, OH. This project uses the history and practice of "risk analysis" to link these sites across time and location. Although the field of risk analysis has existed self-consciously only since the 1970s, practices to identify, minimize, and communicate about risk have been utilized and refined throughout the entire history of nuclear weapons production process.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, nuclear weapons manufacture and/or production, environmental safety, atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, Manhattan Project, Atomic Energy Commission, Nevada Test Site, Hanford Engineering Works, Feed Materials Production Center, risk analysis.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1997
  • 1998
  • Final