Unintended Consequences of Nuclear Energy

The development and implementation of nuclear energy programs has proved to be a double edged sword. Although harvesting the potential energy of nuclear fissions original intention served to gain advantage in war, scientists shifted their aims to utilize nuclear power as an energy source. Nuclear energy is not only more efficient than fossil fuels, but also proves much less harm to the atmosphere. Governments, unaware of the potential consequences of running large nuclear power plants (NPPs), installed them primarily in Russia, the United States, France, Germany, and Japan. The immediate consequences of NPPs remained practically non-existent—experts knew radiation exposure could be a fatal and is why nuclear arms were tested in remote, uninhabited areas. Containment and control were primary safety concerns during the establishment of NPPs, but scientists and the public failed to predict the potential consequences of nuclear energy. Due to nuclear fuel emissions, inadequate operations, and devastating nuclear disasters, the unintended ramifications of nuclear energy development manifest themselves in the form of radioactive wastes, contaminating gasses and emissions, and harmful environmental effects both on fauna, plant life, and humans.[1] Another issue scientist took into calculation but failed to control proved to be the long-term effects of fallout on the environment and humans resulting from nuclear weapons testing. Although isolated locations were chosen to execute tests for observatory purposes, nearby humans developed side effects from the draft of nuclear fallout. These include growths, irritation, ulcers, cancer and other health risks.[2]

            The largest concern for nuclear weapons testing and nuclear meltdowns remains the delayed effects of fallout, or radioactive products that have settled to the ground.[3] BRAVO, a thermonuclear bomb tested above Bikini Atoll in 1954, unpredictably gave the children in the proximate Marshall Islands thyroid nodules, lesions, and lasting medial problems. The radius of destructing was thirty times what scientists estimated, and an unpredicted shift in wind patterns carried fallout over two hundred kilometers away.

BRAVO Nuclear Test

BRAVO Nuclear Test

The skin of fisherman over eighty miles away was scorched to blistering, as white as enveloped them and contaminated their catch.[4] Burns are a short-term symptom, coupled with blast injuries and radiation illness.

Radiation Burns;Blisters

Radiation Burns;Blisters

Lasting, unintended injuries plague the victims of nuclear weapons as well. Ionization radiation damages chromosomes by radioactive particles breaking up molecules and creating free radicals, which “damage DNA and disrupt cellular chemistry in other ways – producing immediate effects on active metabolic and replication processes, and long-term effects by latent damage to the genetic structure.”[5] Victims of radioactive fallout are also extremely susceptible to hair loss, due to the effects from disturbance in lymphatic tissues, blood, and the immune system, leading to continual cell division.


Hair loss due to radiation poisoning

Although damage to chromosomes can heal over time, side effects can manifest themselves many years later, and it is quite possible to develop cancer due to cell division. Contrary to popular belief, the genetic disturbances nuclear radiation has on human DNA rarely causes mutations due to high rates of genetic variability and uncertainty.

Birth defects as a result of Chernobyl

Birth defects as a result of Chernobyl

Another reason is because high levels of exposure usually damage reproductive tissues to the point of sterilization, which prevents the transmission of genetic defects.[6] These fallout effects are not exclusive to nuclear weapons testing and use; they are also a product of large-scale nuclear accidents.

            In 1989, reactor four of the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a melt down due to improper management. The Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe in 1986 introduced extremely large amounts of radioactive waste into the atmosphere, which continue to have unpredicted consequences throughout the Soviet Union and Western Europe.

Nuclear Reactor 4 Meltdown at Chernnobyl

Nuclear Reactor 4 Meltdown at Chernnobyl

Effects on agriculture, the environment, and health risks are three of the major unintended consequences that are a byproduct of nuclear radiation fallout from large-scale nuclear accidents. The disaster destroyed forests, contaminated water supplies and had devastating effects on wildlife. Britain experienced effects from fallout a week after the disaster, resulting in a dip in the economy due to radiation in the livestock, crops, and food. [7] The consumption of contaminated meats and food inevitably leads to side effects, and the agricultural markets of Great Britain fell as farmers, who were hit hard by the fallout as their livestock ate plant life with radiation and became contaminated. Groundwater, and especially plant and animal life all suffered detrimentally as a result of the nuclear meltdown. Although the effects on the drinking water were seen to be generally non-threatening in the immediate aftermath due to the insolubility of the radioactive particles in water, the accumulation of radiation in fish in the nearby areas made them too dangerous to eat. The famous “Red Forest” is a direct product of the Chernobyl meltdown, a four-kilometer area of woods that died after the incident. Due to caesium-137 particles, which were absorbed into the environment, scientists are estimating it will take roughly one hundred years to for these woods to recover.[8]

If you look closely you can see the radiated area of the Red Forest

If you look closely you can see the radiated area of the Red Forest

The unintended human death toll due to cancer as a result of fallout rests at higher rates than most are aware of.

            The Internal Agency for Research on Cancer released its estimation that 16,000 cancer deaths by the year 2065 are a result of the Chernobyl accident in the Journal of Cancer in 2006.[9] These estimations, however, wane quite significantly. The actual effects that Chernobyl fallout has had on the population is still a debated topic, with sources conflicting drastically. The most conservative estimates claim only four thousand cancer related deaths as a result of the Chernobyl meltdown, where as the higher estimates range up to 200,000. In contrast to The World Health Organization estimated that there were roughly four thousand cancer related deaths as a result of the accident, the Chernobyl Forum estimated that throughout Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, radiation poisoning could have killed between 10,000-200,000 people.[10]  The plant and wildlife in Europe was also widely affected by this disaster as well.

            The animals closer to the Chernobyl accident experience many physical health issues. Many horses in the nearby area died because their thyroid glands were destroyed by radiation. Thyroid damage and thyroid cancer is a common side effect of exposure to higher doses of radiation, and inhibited the physical maturation of cattle in the nearby area as well.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid Cancer

In Germany, 2010, one in every approximately 450 boars hunted were too radioactive to eat. In Norway, 2009, a total of 18,000 livestock had to be fed special, clean, radioactive free food until the radioactive contaminants had been purified from their systems before consumption. [11] One way of preventing future radioactive issues is by properly containing nuclear waste, making nuclear waste storage extremely important in the long term due to the long lasting nature of the radioactive particles.

            Radioactive waste is an all-encompassing term, as it refers to “the leftovers from the use of nuclear materials for the production of electricity, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and other purposes.”[12] A common strategy is to reduce the volume of waste through the methods of compaction and incineration. The two different types of waste, high and low level, are handled differently. Low-level waste products such as radioactively contaminated clothes or handled items. High-level waste is primarily nuclear reactor fuel and is usually kept at nuclear power plants due to their lack of proper disposal.

High Level Nuclear Storage

High Level Nuclear Storage

Low-level wastes are placed in radioactive waste containers and are often stored at the production zone or a NPP.

Low Level Waste Storage

Low Level Waste Storage

In order to avoid further radioactive waste leakage and prevent future environmental damage, more methods need to be developed to store nuclear waste.[13]

            The consequences of nuclear energy programs have been quite significant in terms of environmental and human affliction. Although scientists intended for the immediate short-term effects of nuclear weapons to take place, and even the longer ones—they did not accurately predict the impact it would leave on the environment and people resulting from theoretically harmless tests. The NPP programs were intended to be entirely harmless, but resulted in most likely tens of thousands of deaths worldwide, although that number is still being determined. Radiation leads to the destruction of water sources, environments, and society on a smaller scale. Humans have been developing cancer from the fallout, contributing to excess deaths potential, low-grade mutations and infertility, especially in zones proximate to the meltdowns. Storage of radioactive waste is still challenging scientists and the government. Its potency lasts as long as the contaminated particle remains radioactive, which is usually hundreds of years or more. It remains imperative to master the transportation and storage of nuclear waste to make our nuclear programs more sustainable. Had scientists been aware of these potential ramifications, they would have approached the development and control of the nuclear industry with more caution.


Chernobyl Fallout Map

Chernobyl Fallout Map



[1] Wikipedia. “Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power” Last modified November 26, 2013

[2] Sublette, Carey. “Section 5.0 Effects of Nuclear Explosions”. Nuclear Weapon Archive. Last modified May 15, 1997.

[3] Sublette, Carey. “Section 5.0 Effects of Nuclear Explosions”. Nuclear Weapon Archive. Last modified May 15, 1997.

[4] Cavanaugh, Jamie, Suzie Genyk, and Emma Uman. “Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Proliferation.” University of Michigan.

[5] Sublette, Carey. “Section 5.0 Effects of Nuclear Explosions”. Nuclear Weapon Archive. Last modified May 15, 1997.

[6] Nuclear Weapons Archive.org

[7] Chris C. Park. Chernobyl: The Long Shadow (London, New York: Routledge, 97-99).

[8] Wikipedia. “Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power.” Last modified October 16, 2013.

[9] Wikipedia. “Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power.” Last modified October 16, 2013.

[10] Wikipedia. “Chernobyl Disaster.” Last modified December 12, 2013.

[11] Wikipedia. “Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power.” Last modified October 16, 2013.

[12] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Radioactive Waste.” Last modified February 21, 2013.

[13] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Radioactive Waste.” Last modified February 21, 2013.

Science and Religion

We are currently living in an era defined by a technological renaissance. Humanities machines, weapons, and access to knowledge have surpassed the imaginary limits of many 20th century novelists and—to be quite honest, elicit in me a curious sense of caution as to our limits. The Internet, genomics, Solar-Photovoltaics—these are instruments and ideas that would have been inconceivable fifty years ago. My generation has always been exposed to a world of knowledge that hadn’t existed a few years before our birth. The Internet can provide us with the answers to all of our non-transcendental questions almost instantly. To many, religion is regarded merely as the manifestation of the human unknown—meaning, it is the explanation of what we have yet to prove with science. As an atheist myself, I used to frequently dwell on God’s existence, or more appropriately, the disproof for God’s existence that I could piece together using logic into a vain philosophical argument which proved to me nothing. To many, ‘logic’ and religion are incompatible.

Einstein takes a very different standpoint. He argues that religion has the answers to our aspirations and nature—something which cannot be entirely explained using proof. Einstein claims that overzealous nationalism and totalitarianism are destroying the human spirit, by resting their crosshairs on destruction rather than creation. Objective knowledge, he argues, is extremely important and has been colossal in its achievements. But does not, however, come close to giving us the meaning of our existence.

Working Women in Russia

The women’s double burden of simultaneously juggling their working life with their domestic lives has not improved much since 1936 in Russia. Up until the late 1970s, women practically had twice the workload as men. In the 1930s, the Soviet state basically falsely advertised women’s emancipation by massively increasing women’s participation in the workforce while undermining their facade by cutting wages in half and reversing the importance of the states role in child raising and placed it on the Russian family.

In the United States in the 1950’s, you see a more complete split in the working and domestic spheres with gender roles. The stereotypical nuclear family, such as ones that can be recognized on the popular television show “Mad Men”, would have a man in the workforce, with the women taking care of the domestic chores and child raising. In modern American society, where women have a much larger share of high paying jobs than they did roughly 70 years ago, there are more male figures which are involving themselves more heavily in the domestic environment, where the women make most of the income.

One things which fascinated me about women’s jobs in Soviet Russia throughout the 20th century is that they consistently dominated teaching and education. How revered were teachers in the Soviet Union compared to the United States? What about in compared to a culture which places a higher emphasis in education? Such as China or Korea?

Cinematography and Youth in Triumph des Willens

Triump des Willens (1935) succeeds in convincing the viewer that Adolf Hitler’s rise—and the rise of the Nazi party, was an enthusiastic national movement that served as the core of Germany’s ascension to dominance. The camera work is marvelous. The cameras spend the majority of time with their lenses pointed upwards at Hitler’s face or the structure upon which he stands, a subtle yet effective tactic to generate a larger than life feel. The long shots used in Trimph des Willens are the longest I have seen done in a film so aged, and are strategically placed to absorb as much of the parade or rally as possible. The music accompanying the shots in between the cuts of Hitler’s speeches are very upbeat, which exudes a type of happiness—almost eagerness that the Nazi’s are feeling at the opportunity to participate (although, many of them seem quite austere).

At the forty-five minute mark, Hitler addresses the young men of Germany, who are known as the Hitler Youth or Hitlerjugend. Males and females between the ages of 10-18 were indoctrinated into this program, which began in 1922 and ceased activity in 1945. The Hitler Youth were seen as the future of German purity, and had Nazi ideologies instilled on them at an early age, as well as physical training, military training, and academia. The Nazi Party also used them as spies in order to gain control over the Church to gain ground in the power struggle between the Church and state. Similarities can be drawn between the activities the Hitler Youth were involved in and American Boy Scouts, as they were trained in basic skills that could be very useful in dire situations. The Hitler Youth were groomed to be the next generation of the Schutzstaffel or SS, meaning protection squadron.

Growing Up In A “Normal Time”

Rowley’s interview with Natalie P. was not only relatively uplifting, but also opened my eyes to the the ignorance of learning in our culture. Despite going to a selective liberal arts college in what people have labeled the “information era”, I have never met someone my age whose thirst for learning was so insatiable. It was not only Natalia, however, it was also all of her classmates. Although it is sad, it is tough to imagine myself in a classroom where every student was so eager to learn. It has been said that college is the only commodity we pay for to not attend, with students taking out loans of tens of thousands of dollars yet make decisions to skip class or voluntary distract themselves in it.

It makes me think about living standards in comparison to educational or academic desire and performance. I would assume someone growing in lesser living conditions would see education as an opportune privilege and try to be as active as possible. In contrast, students I have grown up with have often loathed school, class, homework, or opportunities to learn because it has been seen as a chore rather than a way to better yourself in ways impossible otherwise.

How does culture and lifestyle effect education in a society? If you had been raised in much better or worse conditions than you have, do you think it would have changed the way you participated in your education?

Soviet Union ideologies in a post WWII era.

In post World War II Soviet society, the Party’s power seized the reigns on cultural movements including arts and sciences. Through his prior connections with Stalin, Zhdanov ascended to power in an autocratic, post war environment, where he would constrict ideological parameters. Zhdanov’s imposition in the scientific sphere ultimately led to the repression of Soviet genetics research, which remained postponed until the 1960’s. This was because Stalin and other Party officials saw Lysenkoism, a farming method in which the seed is conditioned with cold water in order to maximize production, as more important than genetics research, despite the method’s lack of evidence. This had a disastrous long-term effect on the progress of genetics research and the biological discipline as a whole. Zhdanov’s suppression of cultural progress manifested itself in the form of vehement anti-cosmopolitanism, which simultaneously pressured artists into creating more ideologically friendly pieces and in turn diminishing potential artistic transcendence. Another method Zhdanov used to perpetuate his strict ideologies was his creation of “Cominform”, a propaganda machine that used periodicals as the means to further the Party’s influence. Zhdanov’s abrupt death in 1948 led to instability in the political ring. The Leaders of Leningrad and Russian Federation executed a mass purge of thousands of Party officials as a result of the insecurity in the political atmosphere.

I imagine that this would create drag for the Soviet Union in the competition that emerged between the USSR and the United States after World War II, where they were the two remaining super powers, and ultimately had an impact on the Cold War down the stretch. It also portrays the lack of inner stability and further fear in the Soviet Union, which was most likely a residual effect, left by Stalin and mixed with Zhdanov’s fervor.



Unintended Consequences of Nuclear Development


During my research for informational websites relevant to my topic, I came across a lot of overlapping information about the effects the nuclear industry has had on our environment. The two most valuable web sources are wikipedia, and the information from the nuclear weapons archive. Both websites have the most expansive but simultaneously in depth information on my topic. A few of the websites cover both high and low level effects on the environment, and others discuss the effects on humans and cancer on the subatomic level.

The websites span from topic of nuclear weapons testing to information justifying the banning of nuclear testing through the passing of treaties. My sources are all very recent with the exception of the source belonging to the nuclear weapons archive, which dates back to 1997. I did not use the Evernote application in my research, therefore I have no feedback to how it positively or negatively effected my progress. This is the first time I have ever used the Dropbox program. I found it to be very a straightforward and convenient way to share documents. The scope of my research hasn’t changed as a result of my new sources, as they all had specific relevance to my original topic. I am going to proceed by collaborating with Barret to make sure our research aligns to stay relevant, and will continue to focus on the unintended nuclear effects that testing and reactors have had on the environment and humans.

Day in the Life

Although the critically acclaimed prose of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich has been diminished through translation, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivers a powerful novel which exposes the tribulations and inhumanity in Russian labor camps in the 1930s. Ivan Denisovich is a former soldier who was sentenced to ten years in a labor camp located in Siberia. As long as the temperature did not drop to negative forty-one degrees, Ivan and the other prison inmates were sent out in groups to perform tasks which mostly involved construction or heavy labor. The prisoners were malnourished, ill equipped for the elements, and abused by prison staff on a daily basis.

Something that interested me as I read this novel was the fact that the events took place over the course of a day, which makes the reader think of the potential types and severities of events which simply did not occur in that time frame. Another thing which stuck out to me was the fact that labor is seen as a type of privilege–it was unfortunate to have your rights to perform labor stripped because otherwise it was harder to stay warm and feel alive.

Probably my favorite quote from this novel may have been the saying “How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand a man who’s cold?”. (23) It is used repeatedly and represents the two sides of “us” and “them” that is a ubiquitous theme when learning about Russian class relations.