Paul Loeb believes the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is the prototype -- for better or worse -- of America's future nuclear development.
Situated in a remote area of Washington State, Hanford is protected by its isolation from antinuclear protesters. Because local residents are mostly numbered among the facility's 13,000 employees, they overwhelmingly support nuclear power and see it as linked to their own economic well-being.
So while new nuclear plants are strenuously opposed in many US communities, the Hanford area actually lobbies to receive more. Today the reservation's 570 -square-mile expanse includes a billion-dollar test center for breeder technologies and three nuclear power plants under construction -- not to mention the biggest radioactive-waste site on earth.
During three extended visits to Hanford, Loeb explored a subculture generally similar to -- yet distinct from -- the US mainstream. He attended Kiwanis meetings and ladies' teas, talking to top engineers and humble technicians, construction workers and housewives. He found the community a bastion of traditional values: hard work, patriotism, and material success.
One of Loeb's observations is that in 1982, as in 1944, Hanford residents see themselves as ''doers, not thinkers,'' content to leave questions about the ethics of nuclear technology to the ''politicians and preachers.'' A disturbing lesson: those most directly involved in nuclear work are often those who think least about its implications.