Amchitka and the Bomb: Nuclear Testing in Alaska

by Dean Kohlkoff

Reviewed June 6, 2005

Book CoverSome forty years ago on an island in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, the United States conducted the first of three underground nuclear tests. In Amchitka and the Bomb: Nuclear Testing in Alaska , author Dean Kohlkoff recounts the history and politics of these often forgotten nuclear tests. The book begins with a brief history of the Aleutian Islands, including Amchitka. After surviving as a battle zone during World War II, these islands then became the focus of the Cold War. Readers of the recent Edward Teller biography will be familiar with his efforts toward testing in Alaska.

The first of these nuclear tests (1965), code-named Long Shot, was designed to determine whether the blast's shock wave could be distinguished from earthquakes. Kohlkoff carefully examines the social and political responses to the testing, as well as how the Aleut population responded to the pressures from the government to continue testing.

As the next test, Shot Milrow, was planned, opposition to the testing continued to grow. This opposition was lead by early activist groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. In fact, the origins of Greenpeace can be directly attributed to the testing on Amchitka (learn more here ). Kohlkoff frames these efforts against the pressures of the Cold War to continue testing.

Finally, in 1971, the United States detonated the largest underground nuclear test. This test was a 5.1 megaton blast, code-named Cannikin. The blast was set a mile beneath the earth, and lifted Amchitka one foot in the air, drowning its rugged cliffs in waves two stories high. The test was felt throughout Alaska as a massive earthquake.

Pressure to control the arms race ended the need for such a remote testing location for high yield weapons. This book is an excellent account of this often forgotten chapter in America's nuclear history. Amchitka Island is once again a National Wildlife Refuge but concerns about radioactive contamination still linger. Available at amazon.com

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