In A Nuclear Family Vacation, a husband-and-wife duo of Washington, DC-based defense reporters takes a journey deep into the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. But wait—this turns out to be a surprisingly fun road trip, even though it’s led by a pair of Beltway policy wonks. Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger join the small but growing number of nuclear tourists who, like the families that swarm Gettysburg and Antietam each summer, visit Cold War nuclear sites and get nostalgic about mutually assured destruction. The nukes complex is happy to play along: The National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque hosts children’s birthday parties; the “Hall of Success” at Tennessee’s Y-12 uranium-enrichment facility exhibits some of the plant’s lesser-known spin-offs, such as an ultrathin aluminum beer can (now that’s a peace dividend!); and Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain command center displays framed photographs of prior visitors, including Clifford the Big Red Dog.
As they drop in on nuclear labs, production plants, icbm silos, and blast-proof bunkers (including Pennsylvania’s “Site R,” rumored to be Dick Cheney’s “undisclosed location”), Hodge and Weinberger also get a good look at our fast-deteriorating nuclear stockpile. Beneath the tourist kitsch, they find a system in panic, uncertain of its reason to exist in the post-Berlin Wall world. In the end, Hodge and Weinberger conclude, “much of the infrastructure supporting nuclear weapons continues to exist merely because no one has come up with a compelling reason to shut it down.” In the meantime, it’s fast becoming a bizarre roadside attraction for those in search of apocalyptic fun.