Business as Usual: Fukushima in Light of the Great Cold War Plutonium Disasters



Kate Brown, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)

Date and Time

May 14, 2012 12:00 PM - 1:15 PM



RSVP required by 5PM May 07.


Philippines Conference Room

While Chernobyl, and now Fukushima, are household words, far fewer people have heard of Maiak in the southern Urals and Hanford in eastern Washington State where Soviet and American engineers built plutonium plants to fuel the Cold War nuclear arsenal. Within nuclear "buffer zones," plant managers, who were pushed to produce as much plutonium as quickly as possible, polluted freely, liberally and disastrously. During the plutonium disasters that ensued, each plant issued over 200 million curies of radioactive isotopes into the surrounding environment, at least twice the amount released at Chernobyl. Under cover of nuclear security and powered by generous corporate welfare, plant managers employed influential public relations campaigns, restricted medical research, deployed temporary, migrant workers as ‘"jumpers" for the dirtiest work, and generally denied the existence and hazards of radioactive contamination. This was the house plutonium built. Kate Brown argues these histories are important because they supplied models, staff, blueprints and subsequent ready-made disasters for Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Kate Brown is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is the author of a Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard 2004), which won the American Historical Association’s George Louis Beer Prize for the Best Book in International European History. Brown is a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow and is working on a book called Plutopolia, a tandem history of the world’s first plutonium cities, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2012.


Special Japan Studies Program and CEAS Series: Winter-Spring 2011-12

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Japan's March 11 Disasters One Year Later

The earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that hit Japan in March 2011 had both immediate catastrophic consequences and long term repercussions. Fundamental areas of Japan’s environment, economy, society, and collective national psyche were deeply affected, giving rise to a broad range of urgent issues. These include economic debates about how to meet the country’s energy demands with nuclear power plants offline, and what path to take for the country’s energy future; political crises, including criticism of the government’s disaster response; the psychological challenges of coping with trauma and grief; a daunting environmental clean-up; and social developments, including a new wave of civil society activism. This series brings together scholars and activists from a wide range of specialties to take stock of how the Japanese have been affected by the disasters, and to assess the efforts of residents, volunteers, and policy makers to recover and move forward.

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