Strategies for Containment: The U.S. Federal Government at the Hanford Nuclear Site
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This dissertation argues that the U.S. government employs multiple rhetorical strategies to manage discourse about the Hanford Site, a nuclear site located on the Columbia River in Washington State. Hanford produced plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program from 1944 until 1989 and in doing so emitted a massive amount of chemical and radioactive pollution. Today, Hanford is home to one of the largest environmental remediation projects in the world. Since the project began, journalists, advocacy groups, and whistleblowers have revealed numerous instances in which the government has mismanaged Hanford cleanup and misrepresented the Site's dangers. To counter these claims and argue that it is operating safely and transparently, the government publicizes Hanford's remediation successes, offers evidence that Site operations have been protective of nature, and invites private citizens to visit Hanford on public tours. Federal agencies adopt these rhetorical strategies to pacify private citizens, who might be concerned about Hanford's impact on the local environment and human health. In three chapters, I argue that the government uses new and social media, wildlife preserves, historic sites, and tourism to give Hanford the appearance of order and safety. Each chapter offers close readings of texts the government has made widely available to the public through the Internet. The first of these chapters explains how the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the agency that manages Hanford's waste, uses new and social media to craft a reassuring virtual image of the Site operations. This chapter investigates how the DOE has used such media to distract the public from revelations about leaking nuclear waste tanks at Hanford. The second illustrative chapter contends that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which manages the Hanford Reach National Monument, works to extend the Department of Energy's argument that Hanford operations are protective of, and not threatening to, environmental and public health. The third illustrative chapter details how federal agencies, including the DOE, FWS, and the National Park Service, are commodifying Hanford and repackaging the Site as a tourist destination. These strategies for discursive containment ultimately mislead the public and foreclose opportunities for meaningful public participation.