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Half-Lives & Half-Truths

Confronting the Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War

Edited by Barbara Rose Johnston

The long Cold War of the twentieth century has ended, but only now are the poisonous legacies of that “first nuclear age” coming to light. Activists and anthropologists, the authors of this volume reveal the devastating, complex, and long-term environmental health problems afflicting the people who worked in uranium mining and processing, lived in regions dedicated to the construction of nuclear weapons or participated, often unknowingly, in radiation experiments. The nations and individuals, many of them members of indigenous or ethnic minority communities, are now demanding information about how the United States and the Soviet Union poisoned them and meaningful remedies for the damage done to them and the generations to come. As nuclear proliferation accelerates, this struggle takes on ever greater urgency.

2007. 336 pp., 16 black-and white illustrations, 7 maps, 7 tables, notes, references, index, 7 x 10

Contributors: Holly Barker, Marie Boutte, Susan Dawson, Paula Garb, Hugh Gusterson, Barbara Rose Johnston, Joshua Levin, Edward Liebow, Gary Madsen, Laura Nader, David Price, Kathleen Purvis-Roberts, Theresa Satterfield, Edith Turner, Cynthia A. Werner

Awards: 2007 New Mexico Book Award Finalist

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Half-Lives & Half-Truths: Confronting the Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War … tackle[s] issues relating to the production of scientific knowledge and the wide-ranging effects of nuclear weapons development, manufacture, testing, and proliferation.

Situated in a particularly contentious, violent, and transformative period of global history Half-Lives & Half-Truths offers significant contributions to the critical study of relationships among science, technology, and society; ecological and environmental anthropology; and the social construction of health and environment in the 20th century.

Half-Lives & Half-Truths [has] the constitution of a multisided and multi-scalar examination of science, secrets, and the socio-politics of the national security state-delivering “lessons of the past” that are particularly relevant as nuclear proliferation and conflicts continue into the 21st century.”
—Amber Huff, Ecological and Environmental Anthropology, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2008

“These cautionary tales ought to be read carefully and taught widely.

…compelling, insightful prose.

…[C]ancer spikes and contaminated food chains are not the only Cold War Legacies the contributors and commentators assess. The essays [also] scrutinize government secrecy practices-the ‘half-truths of the volume title.’”
—B. Bianco, Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, July 2008

“The fifteen contributing anthropologists explore the environmental and health effects of the American and Soviet nuclear war machine on the communities near atomic weapons and uranium mining faclities. Editor Barbara Rose Johnston argues in her introduction that rather than preventing Armageddon, as is commonly assumed, the superpowers waged nuclear war on the environment and their own people, particularly targeting minority communities with the processing of waste and fallout of nuclear testing. Since all science is rife with politics, the authors claim it is their responsibility to abandon neutral posturing and become representatives of marginalized communities. The positive result of their political activism is that they portray the victims of radiation exposure with great compassion, although some of the essays oddly devote little time to discussing their field work and show little original research.”
—Thomas Wellock, New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 85, no. 1, winter 2010

“The world is in a perilous financial meltdown. This book addresses the industry that introduced us to that term….I remember attending a powerful speech by physician and nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott. This book is a blueprint for a kind of engaged anthropology that matters.”
—Brian McKenna, University of Michigan, Dearborn, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, December 2010


  1. Half-lives, Half-truths, and other Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War
    Barbara Rose Johnston
  2. “more like us than mice”… Radiation Experiments with Indigenous Peoples
    Barbara Rose Johnston
  3. Earle Reynolds: Scientist, Citizen and Cold War Dissident
    David Price
  4. There are No Peripheries to Humanity: Northern Alaska Nuclear Dumping and the Iñupiat’s Search for Redress
    Edith Turner
  5. Uranium Mining and Milling: Navajo Experiences in the American Southwest
    Barbara Rose Johnston, Susan Dawson, Gary Madsen
  6. Uranium Mine Workers, Atomic Downwinders, and the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA): The Nuclear Legacy
    Susan Dawson and Gary Madsen
  7. Hanford, Tribal Risks and Public Health in an Era of Forced Federalism
    Edward Liebow
  8. From Cold War Complex to Nature Preserve: Diagnosing the Breakdown of a Multi-Stakeholder Decision Process and its Consequences for Rocky Flats
    Theresa Satterfield and Joshua Levin
  9. Health Assessment Downwind: Past Abuses Shadow Future Indicators
    Marie Boutté
  10. From Analysis to Action: Efforts to Address the Nuclear Legacy in the Marshall Islands
    Holly Barker
  11. Russia’s Radiation Victims of Cold War Weapons Production Surviving in a Culture of Secrecy and Denial
    Paula Garb
  12. Unraveling the Secrets of the Past: Contested Versions of Nuclear Testing in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan
    Cynthia Werner and Katie Purvis-Roberts

There are no working papers for this book at the present time.