Poison in the Well

Poison in the Well investigates the policy decisions, scientific conflicts, public relations strategies, and the myriad mishaps and cover-ups that were born out of the dilemma of where to house deadly nuclear materials. Why did scientists and politicians choose the sea for waste disposal? How did negotiations about the uses of the sea change the way scientists, government officials, and ultimately the lay public imagined the oceans? Jacob Darwin Hamblin traces the development of the issue in Western countries from the end of World War II to the blossoming of the environmental movement in the early 1970s.

First published in 2008, Poison in the Well remains the historical standard on the subject of radioactive waste in the oceans. It is a striking study of the conflicts that so often occur at the intersection of science, politics, and international diplomacy.


“This impressively researched and judiciously argued book challenges readers to think in new ways about what happens when science, politics, and the environment intersect.”
American Historical Review
“Hamblin’s examination of radioactive waste dumping in Europe and America is an important and valuable study, particularly for those interested in the role of science, technology, and environment in modern life.”
—Ronald Rainger, Professor of History, Texas Tech University
“A fascinating account of the role of health physicists and marine scientists in the international politics and public relations of dumping radioactive waste at sea.”
—John Krige, author of American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe
Poison in the Well tells how British and American nuclear scientists have handled radioactive wastes since World War II, despite uncertainty about long-term genetic and somatic effects, creating a legacy that will last for thousands of years. Interdisciplinary turf battles, government secrecy, and technological hubris all play a role in this well-constructed narrative.”
—Robert W. Seidel, Professor of History of Science and Technology, University of Minnesota