Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The Western Star

The Western Star
The Western Star by Craig Johnson

Saturday, September 27, 2014

THE KILLING OF KAREN SILKWOOD-The Story Behind the Kerr- McGee Plutonium Case by RICHARD RASHKE


The Killing of Karen Silkwood: The Story Behind the Kerr-McGee Plutonium CaseThe Killing of Karen Silkwood: The Story Behind the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Case by Richard Rashke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Killing of Karen Silkwood by Richard Rashke is a 2014 Open Road Integrated Media publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange in the for an honest review.

The Karen Silkwood case is one many of you may have seen depicted in a movie starring Kurt Russell and Meryl Streep. This book was originally published back in 1981 and is now being released in digital format with a few updates.

The introduction attempts to draw a parallel between Karen Silkwood and the now notorious whistle blower, Eric Snowden. But, for me the only thing the two had in common was they were both whistle blowers and both allegedly took sensitive documents and therefore broke the law.
The similarity ends there. I'm not sure why this was added to the introduction except to perhaps freshen it up for the reissue , but I didn't think the comparison was a good one in this is case.

The information was well organized and thankfully did not bounce back and forth in time. We start with a little background on Karen and how she came to work for the plant in Oklahoma. We follow her through her days of gathering information, to the car wreck and then the fall out. There are periods in the book that are so dry it is hard to stay focused. It was like reading a technical manual or something. Then we get into the FBI and the incredible saga that was , but it took the focus off of the main story with all the players trying to jockey for power and control and journalist and authors getting dragged into the mix, I almost forgot we were trying to solve a possible murder and expose the motive for the crime. Then we finally enter the trial phase and this will really get to you. Again so much legal wrangling, the wins, then loses, and the final result was just anti-climatic.

The Cimarron Plant , for those who are wondering, was a plutonium manufacturing plant operated by Kerr- McGee from 1965-1975. When 40 pounds of plutonium went missing there was a massive coverup and Karen Silkwood's poking around made someone really nervous. When Karen became contaminated, the company went so far as to claim she did so on purpose to make the company look bad. But, Karen's dogged determination to uncover the truth and expose the dangers in the plant that could have led to many deaths, may have been a contributing factor in her own death.

In 1974 Karen was on her way to a meeting with a reporter from the New York Times. She never made it. She was killed in a single car “accident” before she could completely blow the lid off the inner working of the plant. From that day forward Karen's friends and family became convinced Karen was ran off the road deliberately and was also contaminated deliberately.

Strange coincidental accident? Drugs and alcohol? She fell asleep at the wheel? Or was it something far more sinister? How did Karen become contaminated? We will never really know for sure. What happened to the plutonium? A clerical error is the official explanation, but the entire situation is as murky as the Mississippi River.

Now, I like a good conspiracy theory like anyone else. Sometimes there is enough tangible proof that what the public is being told is not all there is to it or it's a total damage control situation. Mostly though conspiracy theories are spun because of the inability to believe a person died they way they did. Did Marilyn really overdose on pills? Was Princess Diana's accident staged? Sometimes things happen just the way it's reported. But, in this case, there is ample proof that something was rotten in Denmark. From the mysterious way the car went off the road, to the unexplained dents in the side, to the company simply refusing to give answers , the all out smear campaign by the FBI on those investigating the allegations and the mountains of paperwork and court documents, the years the case lingered through the legal system with more losses than wins. The hair should stand up on the back of your neck when you think of the ramifications if only one quarter of the information is accurate. Whatever happened to that missing plutonium? That really bugs me, obviously.

Although I do think the case reeks of a cover up and that Karen Silkwood died under the most suspicious of circumstances there were some theories spun in the book that went beyond belief. Conjecture and facts sometimes have to mix to give us the whole picture, but when you throw out wild theories with legitimate facts you lose some credibility.

The frustrating thing about this case is that after years and years of litigation the case just kind of fizzles out. We will never get the whole story of what happened to Karen that night her car went off the road, or the missing plutonium, and those who should have done the right thing will walk away scot free leaving behind a devastated family and friends as well as a very high rate of cancer diagnosis in the area surrounding the plant.

I do wish we could have gotten to know Karen a little better. Her likes, dislikes and what moved her or motivated her. I think she was a little quirky and had a lot of problems, her job and what she knew about the day to day operations at the plant certainly didn't help her health and the contamination, despite mixed test results may have been the death knell for her years in the future if she had lived.

This case is one of the most frustrating cases I have ever read about. So, little was ever really proven, so many red herrings, so many dead ends and stonewalling and manipulations. A life cut short and all her secrets buried with her, Karen Silkwood still remains a figure of mystery, a women admired for her tenacity and courage and an inspiration to many. 3.5 stars rounded to 4


Richard Rashke is the author of nonfiction books including The Killing of Karen Silkwood  and the forthcoming Useful Enemies. His books have been translated into eleven languages and have been adapted for screen and television. Rashke is also a produced screenwriter and playwright; his work has appeared on network television and in New York.

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