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Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen - Author Q&A

Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen - Author Q&A

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Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a young woman, Kristen Iversen, growing up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated "the most contaminated site in America." It's the story of a childhood and adolescence in the shadow of the Cold War, in a landscape at once startlingly beautiful and--unknown to those who lived there--tainted with invisible yet deadly particles of plutonium.

It's also a book about the destructive power of secrets--both family and government. Her father's hidden liquor bottles, the strange cancers in children in the neighborhood, the truth about what was made at Rocky Flats (cleaning supplies, her mother guessed)--best not to inquire too deeply into any of it.

But as Iversen grew older, she began to ask questions. She learned about the infamous 1969 Mother's Day fire, in which a few scraps of plutonium spontaneously ignited and--despite the desperate efforts of firefighters--came perilously close to a "criticality," the deadly blue flash that signals a nuclear chain reaction. Intense heat and radiation almost melted the roof, which nearly resulted in an explosion that would have had devastating consequences for the entire Denver metro area. Yet the only mention of the fire was on page 28 of the Rocky Mountain News, underneath a photo of the Pet of the Week. In her early thirties, Iversen even worked at Rocky Flats for a time, typing up memos in which accidents were always called "incidents."

And as this memoir unfolds, it reveals itself as a brilliant work of investigative journalism--a detailed and shocking account of the government's sustained attempt to conceal the effects of the toxic and radioactive waste released by Rocky Flats, and of local residents' vain attempts to seek justice in court. Here, too, are vivid portraits of former Rocky Flats workers--from the healthy, who regard their work at the plant with pride and patriotism, to the ill or dying, who battle for compensation for cancers they got on the job.

Based on extensive interviews, FBI and EPA documents, and class-action testimony, this taut, beautifully written book promises to have a very long half-life.

To read more about Full Body Burden or Kristen Iversen please visit Crown Publishing Group at www.crownpublishing.com.
Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a young woman, Kristen Iversen, growing up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated "the most contaminated site in America." It's the story of a childhood and adolescence in the shadow of the Cold War, in a landscape at once startlingly beautiful and--unknown to those who lived there--tainted with invisible yet deadly particles of plutonium.

It's also a book about the destructive power of secrets--both family and government. Her father's hidden liquor bottles, the strange cancers in children in the neighborhood, the truth about what was made at Rocky Flats (cleaning supplies, her mother guessed)--best not to inquire too deeply into any of it.

But as Iversen grew older, she began to ask questions. She learned about the infamous 1969 Mother's Day fire, in which a few scraps of plutonium spontaneously ignited and--despite the desperate efforts of firefighters--came perilously close to a "criticality," the deadly blue flash that signals a nuclear chain reaction. Intense heat and radiation almost melted the roof, which nearly resulted in an explosion that would have had devastating consequences for the entire Denver metro area. Yet the only mention of the fire was on page 28 of the Rocky Mountain News, underneath a photo of the Pet of the Week. In her early thirties, Iversen even worked at Rocky Flats for a time, typing up memos in which accidents were always called "incidents."

And as this memoir unfolds, it reveals itself as a brilliant work of investigative journalism--a detailed and shocking account of the government's sustained attempt to conceal the effects of the toxic and radioactive waste released by Rocky Flats, and of local residents' vain attempts to seek justice in court. Here, too, are vivid portraits of former Rocky Flats workers--from the healthy, who regard their work at the plant with pride and patriotism, to the ill or dying, who battle for compensation for cancers they got on the job.

Based on extensive interviews, FBI and EPA documents, and class-action testimony, this taut, beautifully written book promises to have a very long half-life.

To read more about Full Body Burden or Kristen Iversen please visit Crown Publishing Group at www.crownpublishing.com.

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Published by: Crown Publishing Group on Apr 23, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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FULL BODY BURDEN 
Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
KRISTEN IVERSEN
1. Why did you write the book?
Rocky Flats was the big secret o my childhood. No one knew what they did at the plant; the rumor inthe neighborhood was that they made household cleaning products. We knew nothing about radioactiveand toxic contamination. My childhood was also shadowed by the secrecy surrounding my ather’salcoholism. My amily was very close and loving but also troubled. I wrote the book to learn what really happened at Rocky Flats, to learn everything I could about plutonium pits and nuclear weapons andthe crucial role the plant played during and ater the Cold War. I also wanted to understand my amily and the broader context o what it meant to grow up during the seventies. Secrecy at the level o thecommunity and at the level o amily turned out to be a central theme in the book.One o the great ironies o my lie is that I spent several years as a travel writer in Europe, lookingor good stories to write about, and the biggest story turned out to be—quite literally—in my ownbackyard. My amily and our neighbors were “Cold War warriors,” as the plutonium workers themselves were called, but no one told us.
2. How is Rocky Flats a global issue?
The 2011 accident at Fukushima, ollowing the tsunami, reminded the world in a terrible way that we cannot ignore the threat o radioactive contamination, whether it comes rom nuclear power plantsor nuclear weapons sites. The world has experienced many nuclear disasters in recent years, includingaccidents at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, the Mayak acility in Russia (the “sister”plant to Rocky Flats), Rocky Flats in Colorado, and other ormer nuclear weapons sites around theUnited States such as Hanord and Fernald. The health eects o short-term, high-level radioactivecontamination are airly well known. What are the health costs o long-term, low-level radioactiveexposure? Scientists and physicists continue to debate the topic, but one act is or sure: there is no saelevel o exposure to plutonium. One millionth o a gram, particularly i it is inhaled, can cause cancer.Rocky Flats happened in my backyard, but in a sense it is happening in everyone’s back yard.Many o us live in close proximity to ormer nuclear weapons sites or nuclear power plants withinadequate saety provisions. And, at a time when we are supposed to be decreasing our nuclear arsenal,the U.S. government is talking about producing nuclear triggers again. We need to pay attention.
 
3. Was it hard to write so intimately about your family?
I believe that the most powerul way to tell a story is through personal, everyday experience. Every person on the planet has a story that is both ordinary and extraordinary. My siblings and I swam in thelake behind our house and rode our horses in the elds. We had, in many ways, a blessed childhood. And this kind o experience is one that many readers will share. What makes our story unique is thatit connects, in ways that we never anticipated, to a broader historical and political narrative. The story o the 1969 re at Rocky Flats—which very nearly destroyed the entire metro Denver area—is all themore powerul when you realize that my amily was having a very pleasant Mother’s Day brunch at anearby restaurant. We had no idea what was going on—and neither did other Coloradoans. It was only by including the experiences o me, my amily, my neighbors, and my coworkers at Rocky Flats that Icould truly bring the story to lie. It was indeed a challenge to write intimately about things that, as aamily, we were never supposed to discuss, including my ather’s drinking. And yet the end result was atremendous sense o clarity and understanding.
4. What surprised you most during your research for the book?
I was surprised, and continue to be surprised, by the secrecy surrounding this very dramatic story. Whathappened at Rocky Flats, during the Cold War and up to the present moment, is crucially important notonly to Colorado but to the entire country. But so much o the story has been hidden over the years, andnow it is in danger o being orgotten. Recently I stayed at a hotel just a ew miles rom the Rocky Flatssite, and the young man at the ront desk had grown up in Colorado. He’d never heard o Rocky Flats.O those people who do know the story—or part o it—many believe that Rocky Flats is old history, thatit’s irrelevant and insignicant. They believe the land is sae and the story is over. Ater all, you can’t seeor smell plutonium. Yet we cannot orget the story o Rocky Flats. The eects will linger ar into the uture.There were many other surprises too. During my research, I was shocked to discover how many tons o MUF, or “Missing Unaccounted For” plutonium, was missing, even to the present day. And the history o the 1989 FBI raid on Rocky Flats is ascinating. I believe it’s the only time in the history o theUnited States that two government agencies—the FBI and the EPA—have raided another agency, theDepartment o Energy.
5. For people who want to know more about the hazards of former nuclear weapons sites and nuclear power on our environment, where should theygo? How can they get involved?
Two excellent sources o inormation regarding nuclear issues are the Bulletin o Atomic Scientists (www.thebulletin.org) and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). For news about Rocky Flats, an organization called Nuclear Guardianship (www.rockyfatsnuclearguardianship.org) is a goodsource regarding past and ongoing issues.
FULL BODY BURDEN
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very impressive i love it thanks for sharing this
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