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Kate Brown, MIT: Nuclear Terrorism in 21st Century War in Ukraine

Thursday, March 28
11:00 AM
1060 HBLL

Russel B. Swensen Lecture

Nuclear Terrorism in 21st Century War in Ukraine

Since the height of the Cold War, nuclear powers have been careful to delineate a distinction between peaceful nuclear reactors and martial nuclear weapons. The War in Ukraine shows how energy reactors can serve as potential weapons of war and how easy it is to take nuclear power plants and nuclear plant operators hostage in a form of nuclear terrorism. Brown reflects on the history of nuclear power in Ukraine, a place where in 1986 a nuclear reactor for the first time blew up like a bomb spreading into the surrounding environment up to two hundred million curies of radioactive fallout. Trying to figure out what happened to those curies after the accident, Brown turned to scientists—biologists, foresters, physicians, and physicists. She learned that contaminants saturated local eco-systems long before the Chernobyl accident and continued long after the 1986 event. Brown argues that to call Chernobyl an “accident” is to sweep aside the decades of radiation exposure that rained down on the globe during the period of nuclear testing. Instead of a one-off accident, Brown argues that Chernobyl was a point of acceleration on a timeline of radioactive contamination that continues to this day.

Kate Brown
Kate Brown is the Thomas M. Siebel Distinguished Professor in the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of several prize-winning histories, including Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford 2013). Her latest book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (Norton 2019), translated into six languages, won the Marshall Shulman and Reginald Zelnik Prizes for the best book in East European History, plus the Silver Medal for Laura Shannon Book Prize. Manual for Survival was also a finalist for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pushkin House Award and the Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage.

Students in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences gain Experience Points for attending this lecture. Learn more about Experience Points.