Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

History

First Advisor

Kent B. Germany

Abstract

“Radioactive Dixie: A History of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Waste in the American South, 1950-1990,” examines the political, social, cultural, economic, environmental, and technological dimensions of the nuclear industry in the American South. Today, the US South contains more nuclear reactors than any other region and much of the nation’s radioactive waste. In “Radioactive Dixie,” I argue that this regional distinction resulted from a decades-long effort by southern politicians, industry figures, and government officials to transform the American South into a nuclear-oriented region. Waving the atomic talisman, the nuclear industry served as one pivotal part in a larger project of regional modernization, which intended to transform the South’s economy and its identity. And yet, despite the promises of progress through nuclear things, the American South’s transformation into a new nuclear South met a surprising degree of resistance, prompting debates about energy, the environment, corporate and government accountability, and risk. While some historians have called for an end to southern history, “Radioactive Dixie” demonstrates the lasting relevance of regional frameworks, and why studying a region’s energy system informs national and global issues concerning energy and the environment. By studying the forces that shaped nuclear technology development in the South and uniting top-down perspectives with local experiences, this study illustrates the uneven, contested process of modernization in the region. “Radioactive Dixie” shifts the focus away from metropolitan areas to rural communities—to the people and the places near nuclear reactors that power sprawling, energy-hungry cities.

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