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Atomic Accidents

A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters from the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima

By James Mahaffey
12-minute read
Audio available
Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters from the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima by James Mahaffey

Atomic Accidents (2014) explores the evolution of one of the most fascinating and yet controversial technologies of our times, nuclear energy. These blinks explore the development of nuclear technology and reveal the details behind the tragic accidents that occurred along the way.

  • People curious about the pros and cons of nuclear energy
  • Historians or students of engineering and technology
  • People wanting to better understand the debate over nuclear power

Nuclear engineer James Mahaffey was a senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute and has worked for the US Defence Department’s Defense Nuclear Agency, the Air Force Air Logistics Center and the National Ground Intelligence Center. He is also the author of Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power.

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Atomic Accidents

A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters from the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima

By James Mahaffey
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters from the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima by James Mahaffey
Synopsis

Atomic Accidents (2014) explores the evolution of one of the most fascinating and yet controversial technologies of our times, nuclear energy. These blinks explore the development of nuclear technology and reveal the details behind the tragic accidents that occurred along the way.

Key idea 1 of 7

The discovery of radiation and radioactive elements was both exciting and deadly.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Nikola Tesla accidently discovered radiation. Then, in 1896, after more research and experimentation, Wilhelm Rontgen published the first paper on radiation.

Soon, scientists around the world were researching this new phenomenon. Scientists Marie and Pierre Curie soon discovered a radioactive element that they named radium.

Yet underneath the excitement, radiation held a dark secret: it was mortally dangerous.

The pioneers of radiation research were not aware of its pernicious effects. They would all suffer, in one way or another, from the negative effects of radiation.

Tesla’s health deteriorated after repeated exposure to radiation. An assistant of Thomas Edison’s died from overexposure; Pierre Curie was weakened from prolonged exposure to radioactive materials.

While new medical applications for radiation were discovered, because people didn’t yet know how truly dangerous it could be, those using these new methods didn’t take sufficient precautions.

X-ray machines became a widely used diagnostic tool, yet technicians, exposed on a daily basis, suffered from leukemia and cataracts. Today medical professionals use appropriate precautions to protect themselves from excess radiation exposure.

Despite the health risks, radiation still offered many exciting solutions. Radium therapy, in which tumors are exposed to radium, became one of the few effective treatments against cancer at the time.

The “healing power” of radiation, however, was a popular idea and one that foolhardy entrepreneurs tried to cash in on, often with tragic consequences.

Businessman William Bailey created a “medicine” that was essentially water enriched with small quantities of radioactive materials. His tonic, “Radithor,” was popular until people started getting sick. Millionaire Eben McBurney Byers, who had consumed large quantities of the tonic, suffered from weakening bones, so much so that his jaw almost completely deteriorated.

Such tragedies changed the public perception of radiation, and are the source of modern society’s fear of the phenomenon. But those fears would only deepen as scientists explored a further use of radiation – the nuclear bomb.

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