Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Julie Staggers, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Elizabeth Metzger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Carl Herndl, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cynthia Patterson, Ph.D.


technical communication, rhetoric of science, nuclear, Nevada Test Site, Las Vegas, Nevada, Risk, pop culture


This dissertation is a rhetorical analysis of presentations of risk across three different sites of inquiry: technical communication, the popular press, and pop culture. This dissertation focuses on The Nevada Test Site (NTS), a nuclear testing facility near Las Vegas, Nevada, and analyzes presentations of risk in language of the technical report following an NTS accident in December 1970. Project Baneberry, a routine underground nuclear test, became the accident known as "The Baneberry Vent" when it cracked through the earth and vented into the atmosphere, exposing NTS employees and nearby communities to radiation. Presentations of risk in the technical document were then compared to presentations of risk in local popular press reports. Findings indicate that the technical document (titled the Baneberry Summary Report) presents research about potential health risks through the lens of legal culpability, which is termed "legal risk" in this dissertation. Conversely, the popular press reports health risk as health risk (rather than legal risk); however, popular press consistently deemphasizes the risks of the Baneberry Vent. Popular press reporting insists the NTS accident was not dangerous to local populations.

This dissertation also analyzes nuclear-related pop culture in Las Vegas, Nevada between 1951-1985 and argues pop culture as a meaningful participant in the social construction of risk for the discourse community of Las Vegas. The nuclear-infused pop culture of Las Vegas celebrated the nuclear tests and capitalized on their draw of tourists. This dissertation coins Las Vegas as a Risk Spectacle, which is an inversion of Ulrich Beck's risk society. Las Vegas is a risk society as a result of NTS, but Las Vegas termed their local hazard a spectacle and celebrated the bomb through pop culture.