I asked our department’s five student summer research award recipients to provide us with a brief update about how their projects are going. Here’s what Kathryn Stutz had to report about her research here and up north in Alaska..
I started my research project with a huge scope – I knew that I wanted to know more about Project Chariot, a US government proposal from 1958 which involved detonating several nuclear bombs near Point Hope, Alaska, in order to excavate a deep-water harbor, or, when the project had to be scaled back, in order to test the effects of nuclear explosions on both marine and tundra environments. I also knew that Chariot was an important – if often forgotten – part of the early environmental movement. When I began to think about how to approach my research at the end of the last spring semester, I was focused on the archival component – the cataloguing work I would be conducting with Katie Henningsen in our library archives, and then the other archival collections I would be visiting over the course of the summer. One aspect of the research which took me somewhat by surprise was the importance of contacting people directly connected with the historical events I was researching and building communication with them. This summer has been enormously rewarding in a large part because of the amazing opportunities I’ve had to speak with the people who actually fought to keep the environment of Alaska’s North Slope protected from nuclear explosives.
At the end of June, I flew up to Fairbanks, Alaska, to look at the Don Charles Foote collection at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) special collections. During my last day at the university, Rosemarie Speranza at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library kindly introduced me to Dr. Carl Benson, a professor emeritus of Geophysics and Geology at UAF who knew many of the UAF scientists who opposed Project Chariot. Thanks to Dr. Benson, I was able to personally speak with Teri Viereck, whose husband’s resignation from UAF in protest of the nuclear detonation scheme was one of the bravest acts against the Chariot proposal. Sitting with Teri at a coffee shop in Fairbanks, I realized how important it was to tell the individual stories of the scientists employed to evaluate the effect of Chariot – how did UAF biologists Les Viereck, Bill Pruitt, and human geographer Don Foote find the courage to stand up to the atomic arm of the US government in what Teri called a “terrifying” time? And why did other scientists like Bob Rausch at the Arctic Health Research Center and Puget Sound’s own Murray Johnson keep quiet?