Title: Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
Author: Kristen Iversen
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Memoir
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
Kristen Iversen grew up near Rocky Flats, the site of the secret factory where plutonium triggers were made for America’s nuclear weapons stockpile. Most of the locals had no idea what was happening right next door, but as Rocky Flats gained more notoriety, Kristen and the others around her began to realize what it really meant to live next to “the most contaminated site in America.”
Full Body Burden is a mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction. Iversen intwines her own life story, growing up with an alcoholic father, with that of the goings on at Rocky Flats. Admittedly, most readers will likely be more interested in the overall picture than Iversen’s personal story, but it’s interesting to see how she combined the two. Rocky Flats is such an integral part of Iversen’s personal history that it’s difficult for her to separate the plant from her own life, and it makes for an interesting narrative.
Iversen approaches Rocky Flats with the keen eye of an investigative journalist. What she finds out is shocking, to say the least. The negligence that went on at the plant, the requirement to put production over the health and safety of the workers, to say nothing of those who lived around the plant, is all incredibly dejecting, but also eye-opening. It’s surprising that there was never a major incident at Rocky Flats, judging from how poorly everything was maintained. It’s also scary how close Rocky Flats came to being another Chernobyl.
But there’s also another story of Rocky Flats; that of the people who worked there and also those who lived in surrounding areas. Iversen makes sure to put a human face on her story in Full Body Burden. The number of people who are diagnosed with cancer is staggering, but what’s even worse is the continuous denial by the government that Rocky Flats was unsafe (which continues to this day). It’s easy to say that the story of Rocky Flats took place a long time ago, during the Cold War, but it’s also worth remembering that the lawsuits and hasty cleanup continued into the early 2000’s.
It’s hard to describe Full Body Burden without really discussing its finer points, so I’ll just say that it’s an incredibly interesting read. Iversen’s narrative style ensures that the story is easily consumed, and readers will be left with a sense of outrage after the book is over. Where is the justice for all those who lived around Rocky Flats? It’s a sad tale, but one that is well worth reading.