Bill Dietrich, left, and a radiation technician suit up
before watching the nuclear reactor refueling at the WPPSS 2 power plant at
BILL DIETRICH is a Pulitzer-prize winning science
reporter and the author of two books. A native of Tacoma, Washington, he
is a graduate of Fairhaven College at Western Washington University and later had
a one-year Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.
Dietrich has worked
for several Northwest newspapers and as a correspondent in Washington, D.C. He was one of a team of
four Seattle Times reporters who won a Pulitzer in national reporting for coverage of the
1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
His first book, ``The
Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest''
(Simon & Schuster, 1992) won the Washington Governor Writers Award and the
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. His second, ``Northwest Passage: The Great
Columbia River'' was published this spring to critical praise in both regional and
national newspapers. Dietrich's work as the Times' science reporter has resulted
in major recent projects on Antarctica (where he visited the South Pole),
ecosystem management, and the atomic bomb.
COMMENTS ABOUT THE TRINITY PROJECT:
I grew up in the
shadow of the atomic bomb. My boyhood home was in the flight path of McChord Air
Force Base near Tacoma, Washington. My father worked on construction of radar and computer
facilities designed to detect incoming Soviet bombers. My uncles serviced nuclear
submarines and aircraft carriers. We had regular nuclear attack drills in school,
and I vividly remember the fear among adults that the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
would spark a nuclear war.
Now the Cold War is
over, ending a struggle that bankrupted and dissolved the Soviet Union and left
the United States with a $4 trillion debt and deserts of nuclear waste. The
contest was in deadly earnest. Photographer Alan Berner and I were in Berlin
shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and came away from the drabness of
communist East Germany with powerful impressions of what a difference political
systems make in the lives and health of ordinary people.
The Trinity project
was a fascinating, sobering opportunity to look back at what now seems like a
half-century's bad dream of fear, rivalry, and irrational weapons stockpiling.
Visiting some of America's nuclear design, testing and manufacturing facilities
brought home the huge scale of the human effort that has gone into the arms race,
while walking the Ground Zeros of past tests and peering into vast craters gave
some sense of nuclear power.
scientist who triggered the first atomic explosion, or the physicist who pioneered
development of the hydrogen bomb, made abstract history come alive. And my own
radiation treatment for cancer made me a recipient of a positive side of nuclear
The atomic bomb was
not so much necessary as inevitable, once we learned the secrets of the atom. The
morality of blindly harnessing new technology remains unresolved, however. Today's
young people will have to find a balance between our ability to transform and
destroy the world and our need to sustain it. And they must learn to be wise,
courteous skeptics about the glib political philosophies and expedient military
decisions that can have such long-lasting, dire effects.
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