The Uranium Files

Richland Dock, 1956

Someone launched a boat into the current,

caught and delivered fish to the lab
and someone tested for beta and P-32.
Someone with flasks and test tubes tested
and re-tested to double check the rising values.

And someone drove to the public dock
with a clipboard and tallied species and weight.
Chatting with his neighbors, Which fish
are you keeping? How many do you eat?

And someone with a slide rule in a pool of light
figured and refigured the radionuclide
dose. Too high. Experimented frying up
hot whitefish. No. No. Then someone decided

all the numbers were wrong. Someone
from our town. Is that why we
were never told? While someone fishing—
that little boy; the teacher on Cedar Street—

caught his limit and never knew.

Richland Dock, 2006

The Columbia rolls on,
unimpressed with the desert,
a king and his court
plowing through crowds of serfs.
The river is unattached.
It’s a girl who doesn’t need boys
in order to dance, a school of fish
with a single conscience,
an endless line of warrior ants.
The river speaks French
in a land of inferior grammar.
The river is blue in a field of brown,
green in a field of grey,
black in a field of bronze.
The river shuns the desert.
It holds its tongue.
It saves itself for the ocean.
The river is fast, undammed,
Rapunzel’s hair let down.
And won’t allow this
shrub-steppe plain to climb it.
The river won’t lend itself
to grow a tree. Look—
sagebrush flush with its banks.
No meeting, no kiss, no marriage.
Look at the tumbleweeds.
The river bathes in its glory,
the desert eats dust. The river
belongs to somewhere else.
The mighty river passes untouching.
But not untouched.

–Kathleen Flenniken

from Plume (University of Washington Press, 2012)

In 2010 I began traveling and working on a series of photographs of the nuclear infrastructure of Washington State. In studying these sites I became fascinated by the uranium mineral and its uses by industry. One of the (more obscure) applications was the intensification of glass slides. Upon further research I discovered that Kodak had actually manufactured a uranium toner but that it had been discontinued (for obvious reasons) in the 1960s. After returning to Seattle I printed the work in my studio and the resulting prints were then toned in uranium toner (turning the prints a red hue). I am interested in using these images to raise awareness regarding the issues surrounding the use of uranium and its procurement as well as the human costs these activities have on all of our lives. I am also working to produce a bound limited edition book for inclusion in the University of Washington Book Arts Special Collection. This edition will contain a limited number of small toned prints from the project.

–Dan Hawkins

Kathleen Flenniken began her career as a civil engineer and didn’t discover poetry until her early 30s. Her collection, Plume (University of Washington Press, 2012), a meditation on the Hanford Nuclear Site and her home town of Richland, Washington, won the Washington State Book Award and was a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Pacific Northwest Book Awards. Her first book, Famous (University of Nebraska Press, 2006), won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Her other honors include a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Artist Trust. She was the 2012 – 2014 Washington State Poet Laureate.

Dan Hawkins is a Seattle-based photographer who uses a wide variety of obsolete and innovative imaging processes to create his work. These highly personal documents often deal with the dual themes of memory and decay. Beginning with empty houses and discarded water towers he has gone on to record EPA Superfund sites, chemical factories, decaying ballrooms, deserted nuclear facilities, crumbling hotels, and a number of derelict mental hospitals and jails. In his attempts to describe a “landscape of the soul” he has managed to see many of the nation’s lost treasures of industry and tour its forgotten mental health legacy. He is currently working on a body of photographs from a recent tour of the nuclear reactors of Northern France.

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