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Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen

Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen
  • On sale: January 1, 1970
  • Price: $
  • ISBN: 9780307955630
Contact: Rachel Rokicki

*A 2012 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick*

A gripping work of narrative nonfiction, ten years in the making, about a young woman growing up next to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated “the most contaminated site in America.”

“Superbly crafted tale of Cold War America’s dark underside.”

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“In this powerful work of research and personal testimony, Iversen, director of the M.F.A. creative writing program at the University of Memphis chronicles the story of America’s willfully blinkered relationship to the nuclear weapons industry through the haunting experience of her own family in Colorado.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Iversen seems to have been destined to write this shocking and infuriating story of a glorious land and a trusting citizenry poisoned by Cold War militarism and ‘hot’ contamination, secrets and lies, greed and denial….News stories come and go. It takes a book of this exceptional caliber to focus our attention and marshal our collective commitment to preventing future nuclear horrors.”

Booklist, starred review

“With meticulous reporting and a clear eye for details, Iversen has crafted a chilling, brilliantly written cautionary tale about the dangers of blind trust. Through interviews, sifting through thousands of records (some remain sealed) and even a stint as a Rocky Flats receptionist, she uncovers decades of governmental deception. Full Body Burden is both an engrossing memoir and a powerful piece of investigative journalism.”


Radioactive contamination. Misplaced plutonium and other radioactive materials. A sealed grand jury report.  Stonewalling by government officials. These are among the real-life incidents occurring at nuclear sites worldwide.  In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima meltdown, as well as nuclear disasters and accidents at nuclear power plants and weapons sites such as Chernobyl in the Ukraine, the Mayak facility in Russia, Rocky Flats in Colorado, and former nuclear weapons sites like Hanford in Washington and Fernald in Ohio, the safety of America’s nuclear industry is receiving fresh scrutiny, as are the issues of waste disposal and global nuclear disarmament.  The health effects of short-term, high-level radioactive contamination are fairly well known. Yet, what are the health effects of long-term, low-level exposure? While scientists and physicists continue to debate the topic, one fact is certain: there is no safe level of exposure to plutonium. Even one millionth of a gram, which is easily inhaled, is potentially lethal.  And too many of us are at risk of exposure to this or other radioactive substances.

Kristen Iversen’s haunting new book, FULL BODY BURDEN: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (Crown; June 5, 2012), skillfully combines investigative journalism with personal memoir.  Drawing on extensive interviews, FBI and EPA documents, and class-action testimony, along with her own experiences growing up just miles from Rocky Flats, Iversen presents a full picture about a childhood lived in the shadow of the Cold War, in a landscape at once startlingly beautiful and—unknown to those who lived there—tainted with invisible deadly particles of plutonium.

FULL BODY BURDEN is also about the destructive power of secrets—both family secrets and government secrets. Her father’s hidden liquor bottles, the strange cancers in children in the neighborhood, the truth about what they made at Rocky Flats (cleaning supplies, her mother guessed)—best not to inquire too deeply into any of it. But as Iversen grew older, she began to ask questions. In her early thirties, she even worked at Rocky Flats, typing up memos in which accidents were identified merely as “incidents.”

A brilliant work of investigative journalism—FULL BODY BURDEN is a shocking account of the government’s sustained attempt to conceal the effects of the toxic and radioactive waste released by Rocky Flats, and of local residents’ vain attempts to seek justice in court.


KRISTEN IVERSEN grew up in Arvada, Colorado, near the Rocky Flats nuclear weaponry facility and received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Denver. She is director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Memphis and also editor-in-chief of The Pinch, an award-winning literary journal. She is also the author of Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth, winner of the Colorado Book Award for Biography and the Barbara Sudler Award for Nonfiction. Iversen has two sons and currently lives in Memphis. Visit

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