The Killing of Karen Silkwood: The Story Behind the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Case

On November 13, 1974, Karen Silkwood was driving on a deserted Oklahoma highway when her car crashed into a cement wall and she was killed. On the seat next to her were doctored quality-control negatives showing that her employer, Kerr-McGee, was manufacturing defective fuel rods filled with plutonium. She had recently discovered that more than forty pounds of plutonium were missing from the Kerr-McGee plant.

Forty years later, her death is still steeped in mystery. Did she fall asleep before the accident, or did someone force her off the road? And what happened to the missing plutonium? The Killing of Karen Silkwood meticulously lays out the facts and encourages the readers to decide. Updated with the author’s chilling new introduction that discusses the similarities with Edward Snowden’s recent revelations, Silkwood’s story is as relevant today as it was forty years ago.

For this updated edition, the author has added the latest information as to what happened to the various people involved in the Silkwood case and news of the lasting effects of this underreported piece of the history of the antinuclear movement.

About the Author

RICHARD RASHKE is a lecturer and author of non-fiction books including Stormy Genius: The Life of Aviation’s Maverick Bill Lear, Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals, Escape from Sobibor, and The Killing of Karen Silkwood. Rashke is featured in the award-winning international television series Nazi Hunters. His works have been translated into eleven languages and have been the subject of movies for screen and television. A produced screenwriter and playwright, his work has appeared on network television and off-Broadway. He is also an alto sax player and composer. His latest composition, Crane Wife, a family musical based on a Japanese folktale, was performed at the Kennedy Center, and a new play, Dear Esther, based on a Sobibor prisoner, will open in 2013. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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  • Publisher: Delphinium Books (August 19, 2014)


“Rashke’s account of the massive documentation on the Silkwood case stands up to critical review. . . It will remind students of industrial relations of an earlier anti-union period, replete with examples of coercion, espionage, cover-ups, and illegal wiretapping.”―Robert Sass, Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations

“Enjoy this book at a number of levels. . .It carefully reconstructs all the clues . . . It’s a quick primer in legal maneuvering, as maverick attorneys challenge the corporate suits. And, finally it’s the tale of one resolute but frightened young woman, fast maturing as she stares at death daily in the yellow uranium clouds that choke her workplace.”―Livingston and McLean Counties Union News, June 2000.

Amazon Reviews:
Courage Where We Find It

Here is a story that has probably been largely forgotten, of a young woman who fought a powerful corporation and an inept government (and very likely died for her efforts), and the idealistic and courageous people who came together to discover the truth.

If you were alive in the 70s you might remember Karen Silkwood, her mysterious death, and the court case that went on for years. At least two movies were made about her, but movies scripts can seldom tell the whole story or portray history with accuracy because of the demands of drama and story arc. So while I thought that I had a fairly good understanding of the events of Karen Silkwood’s death, I have learned from reading this book that there was so very much more to the story. Not only was Silkwood incredibly brave, but the lawyers who took on her case were equally so. In more than one instance, Dan Sheehan, the lead attorney, must tell his investigator, “You’re about to be killed. I’ve been contacted by the White House…”

From rural Oklahoma and an undereducated young working class woman whose cause was simply to improve the working conditions for the employees in a Kerr-McGee plutonium plant, arose what was possibly a conspiracy that could rival any international spy network: FBI, CIA, NSA, the White House, double agents, foreign powers, death threats, and more. How could such a simple woman as Karen Silkwood become involved in this level of intrigue? Richard Rashke did a masterful job of research, presenting the evidence in such a way that the reader can evaluate the evidence himself.

If Silkwood’s story were not true, this book would stand as spirited fiction and would make better reading than many a spy novel; but Silkwood’s story is true and this book exposes the depth of corruption, greed, cover-ups, and abuse of power that our government practiced in the 60s and 70s, and probably still practices today. The difference then though, is that exposing the government’s actions led to reform-today, no one seems to care.

For updated information about Karen Silkwood, read Kirk Ward Robinson’s “Founding Courage.”

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