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An interview with 'Full Body Burden' author Kristen Iversen

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Kristen Iversen

I think that's what a lot of activists and residents in San Antonio have said, that until there is an answer to this waste stream it's immoral to continue along this course. The response from the mayor was that, “Well, I have faith that our researchers will be able to come up with a solution in time.” Of course, we've been hearing that since the '50s.
Right. Exactly. It's all the same rhetoric. I think it is immoral. And it's immoral not to let people and future generations know exactly what's at stake here. I think people in their 20s and 30s … they really have no idea, and then they'll read in the Wall Street Journal that radiation is everywhere in the environment and it's not bad for you. I think that's morally irresponsible and it's very upsetting.

Life on the planet could not have evolved until most of that natural radiation was largely contained in the sediments and by the atmosphere.
It's a false analogy. It disregards, for example, these breathable particles of plutonium that we're dealing with at Rocky Flats.

Alcohol is very, very present in the opening sections of the book. I'm wondering if that was a tool that not just your parents but other families used. Was that an outgrowth of denial of the risks people saw from Rocky Flats?
I saw a connection as I was writing the book with respect to the idea of secrecy and silencing, and the costs of suppression and denial, and when we can't talk about things, and when we don't talk about things, and we just look the other way and pretend that it's not happening. We pay a very heavy cost for that at the level of family, or community, or government. That was a primary link between the two stories. It turned out I wrote a book about the two things that frightened me most as a child, and that was my father's alcoholism and Rocky Flats, oddly enough. There was a very important connection there and I think I wrote the book to partly explore that connection. That's a very interesting question. I don't know if other families dealt with alcoholism; I suspect they did. Also, it was the '50s and '60s and everyone was kind of Mad Men with a cocktail in hand. There was a lot of denial in the Denver area in particular, in part because so much money was involved. There's a lot of reasons to look the other way and have a drink in hand.
There was a great review of Full Body Burden in the London Sunday Times and the book has received great reception in England, Ireland, and Scotland. It's interesting that in some ways people outside the United States are much more willing to look at this story and look at the pros and cons. In Colorado we mostly pretend it never happened.

When you come to San Antonio, is there a particular message or aspect of your experience that you'll be accentuating for folks here that have been through this recent struggle about nuclear power and risk and security?
There are a couple of points I'm going to make. One: we have to tell our story and keep telling our story.  It's very easy for people to feel kind of numb about statistics and levels of contamination and stuff like that. It's also easy to slip into a sense of despair about this situation and really about the planet. And I think the only way we can move forward and make a change is through storytelling. I wanted my book to put a human face on what I felt was a very inhumane story. I wanted to tell the story of Rocky Flats from as many different perspectives as I could: workers, activists, residents, those who were sick, and those who didn't get sick. I think we have to tell our stories and get that message out to the media, and I think that will make a difference. I think it does make a difference. Rocky Flats is a really dark story. It's also a story of success. The people who protested at the plant made a difference. The journalists made a difference — all the great journalists who worked on this story over the years — and they had a lot of things working against them. And the internet, and Twitter, and Facebook, and all that kind of stuff helps. It's just really important to tell this story and get the story out there.

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

Kristen Iversen
Crown Publishers
$25, 400 pages

Kristen Iversen reading

7pm Fri, Sept 7
Barnes & Noble
321 NW Loop 410, Ste 104
(210) 342-0008

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