In this episode of My Nuclear Life, host Shelly Lesher interviews Dan O’Neil. Dan is author of The Firecracker Boys. In this book, he speaks about Project Chariot, a U.S. atomic energy project in Alaska, and how this project was prevented. Shelly begins the interview by asking Dan to share about the project that started it all: Project Plowshare. Dan shares how this project focused on redeeming the originally destructive technology of nuclear explosions by using it in peaceful and economically useful ways. However, while Project Plowshare did have peaceful explosions as its goal, Dan shares how this was also a way for laboratories to stay open and for certain weapons to be tested under the title of peaceful uses.
Next, Shelly moves the conversation to Project Chariot, which was the first project announced under Project Plowshare. Shelly asks Dan to talk about what this project was and explain how it was prevented. Dan begins by sharing how the AEC’s goal for this project was to create a harbor in Alaska through the use of atomic bombs. While this project’s spoken goal was to help Alaska’s economy, Dan shares how the underlying goal was to showcase atomic technology and test new explosive strategies. While most sectors in Alaska originally approved this project, opposition came from a group of scientists, conservationists, and a small group of natives at Point Hope. These people saw the potential harm that could come from this atomic explosion in how people made their living and the depletion of animals. They stood against the AEC and kept this project from happening.
Project Chariot resulted in a number of firsts. Shelly asks Dan to talk about the aftermath of the project being prevented. One big first that came from this project was the ability for a group of people to prevent the plan of the AEC. While the AEC held much power, the opposition began to grow and the AEC realized that going forward with the plan would cost them too much. Dan goes on to explain how the results of this project also encouraged Alaskan Natives to come together and protect their native land. One way they did this was by publishing Tundra Times. A last effect that resulted was a test on radiation emissions. Dan concludes by encouraging us to learn from this Project and the people who stood against it. He reminds listeners that a free society must be a skeptical one that plays a part in fighting for our rights and for what is best.
US Atomic Energy Commission Plowshare Video: https://archive.org/details/0418_Plowshare_09_00_47_00
Peaceful Nuclear Explosions: https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/non-power-nuclear-applications/industry/peaceful-nuclear-explosions.aspx
“The Atomic West”: https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvcwn37g.11<o:p></o:p>
Dan O'Neill is the author of the books "The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement", "The Last Giant of Beringia", and "A Land Gone Lonesome". He has received the Alaska Library Association's award for the best book on Alaska, twice and named the 1994 Historian of the Year by the Alaska Historical Society.<o:p></o:p>
Special thanks: Lexie Weghorn
Production costs for this episode provided though National Science Foundation Grant PHY-1713816.<o:p></o:p>