A History of Toxic Waste at the Watertown Arsenal

Dublin Core


A History of Toxic Waste at the Watertown Arsenal


The Horace Hardy Lester Reactor and contamination of the site


U.S domestic and foreign policies in the decades throughout the Cold War saturated the lives of people all around the world. The ideological battle between the capitalist U.S and communist U.S.S.R inspired fear and paranoia between the two bi-polar countires. Each wished to diminish the foreign influence the other wielded in their respective regions. These conditions prompted proxy wars, nuclear and munition advancements in science and technology, as well as cultural and social transformations. In the U.S, investments in science and the military was a significant focus of the various leaders. Nuclear capabilities proved to be a reality in the U.S with the first successful testing of an atomic bomb in 1945, marking the U.S as the most powerful nation at the time. However, sinister and devastating truths accompanied this power. Millions of innocent lives were lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in but there were indirect victims of the development of nuclear weaponry and scientific development in the name of advancing further than the Soviets as well.

There exist horrible accounts of institutions, such as MIT, conducting radiation experiments on mentally retarded children in the 1950s (while none of the children proved fatally ill from these tests, they were conducted immorally). Furthermore, radioactive emissions from nuclear plants and reactors contaminated nearby soils, waters, and air, affecting crops and causing cancer and illness in unaware citizens. However, in efforts to trudge ahead of the Soviets, the president and the military worked to keep developing new munitions. Relics and footprints of the Cold War can be found all over the United States. Watertown, Massachusetts is no exception.

In 1960, in a small, 131 acre unit of land run by the U.S. Army, a containment shell was built for purposes of radiology experimentation. These experiments served to enhance weaponry by finding out ways to strengthen metals and produce enhanced chemicals. Known as the Horace Hardy Lester Reactor, this powerful building was in use for a decade. The reactor represents the ascribed American ideology of working toward new technologies to preserve themselves against the threat of the Soviets.


Valorianne Steier


Environmental Protection Agency, Digital Commonwealth, Boston Public Library Digital Collection, Library of Congress, U.S. Army, Global Security, Siegal,


Valorianne Steier




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