Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age
by Rebecca Priestley. Auckland University Press, 2012, 284 pp. $45
Reviewed by Simon Nathan
New Zealanders are proud of their nuclear-free stance and our green, “100% pure” image. So it comes as a surprise for many people to realise that only a generation ago there was widespread enthusiasm for New Zealand to be part of the nuclear club. In 1966 I was delighted to get my first job as a young geologist with the DSIR, looking for uranium on the West Coast. Within my working life, attitudes have changed so much that prospecting and mining uranium are now banned in this country.
The publisher’s blurb rather misleadingly labels this book an alternative history of nuclear New Zealand. Not so – to date this is the only comprehensive account of New Zealand’s nuclear story, documenting the way public attitudes have changed over the years. It is a work of considerable scholarship, based on a PhD study, but is easily accessible. As a popular columnist, Rebecca Priestley has the gift of making complex issues understandable, and the story she tells is fascinating.