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Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima Hardcover – February 15, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1605984926 ISBN-10: 1605984922 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 460 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (February 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605984922
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605984926
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #183,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Nuclear engineer Mahaffey’s Atomic Awakening (2009) presented an engaging history of nuclear energy that came close to offering a ringing endorsement for its continued widespread use. Although his latest work focuses mostly on radioactivity’s dark side, from its discovery in 1896 to its role in the recent Fukushima meltdown, Mahaffey nonetheless does argue persuasively that, by closely investigating its shortcomings, nuclear power can be made safer. Mahaffey begins with an episode of radiation poisoning that occurred in an Ozarks cave where hunters were exposed to radon gas, and offers a survey of nuclear weapons development, including the troubling disappearance of several H-bombs, before addressing history’s most famous nuclear accidents. Entire chapters are devoted to dissecting what went wrong at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Windscale, a lesser-known UK facility that burned uncontrollably for two days in 1957. While Mahaffey’s subtext about nuclear power’s overall safety likely won’t sit well with the practice’s many opponents, his abundant use of lively anecdotes and intriguing scientific tidbits makes this an educational page-turner. --Carl Hays

Review

NUCLEAR ENGINEERING INTERNATIONAL – David Mosey, 25 July 2014.
James Mahaffey is a fine writer. Engaging, lucid, informal and frequently (and satisfyingly) irreverent, at his best his style resembles the great satirist and mathematician Tom Lehrer's sardonic, technically-informed delivery. He also shares Lehrer's satisfaction in anatomising humankind's more fatuous missteps and his intellectual integrity. Atomic Accidents deserves the widest audience.

NATURE – Mark Peplow, February 20, 2014.
Mahaffey guides us through more than a century of atomic research, including misadventures with radioactive elixirs (“The radium water worked fine until his jaw came off,” reads a 1932 headline) and long-forgotten accidents at enrichment plants…The compelling tales unravel like slow-motion horror stories, spiraling towards disasters we know are coming.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (Starred Review) – January 13, 2014.
Mahaffey, a former senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, employs his extensive knowledge of nuclear engineering to produce a volume that is by turns alarming, thought-provoking, humorous, and always fascinating.

KIRKUS (Starred Review) – February 6, 2014.
The most comprehensive and certainly one of the most entertaining accounts of atomic accidents.

NUCLEAR STREET NEWS – Randy Brich, February 5, 2014.
Part detective story, part documentary, part diabolical murder mystery, James Mahaffey’s latest non-fiction thriller details the mistakes associated with all sorts of atomic devices, designs and decisions gone awry. (The book is)essential reading for anyone curious about the inherent intricacies involved with unstable atomic reactors, how they got that way and what should be done about them.

More About the Author

Dr. James Mahaffey (Jim) holds a bachelor of science in physics and master of science and doctoral degrees in nuclear engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. During a 25-year career at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), he directed or worked on projects for the U. S. Defense Nuclear Agency, the U. S. National Ground Intelligence Center, the U. S. Air Force Air Logistics Center, Georgia Power Company, and other government and private industrial organizations, in such areas as nuclear power, non-linear analysis, digital systems design, and cold fusion. He directed a multi-million-dollar project at Georgia Power's Plant Hatch to design and install a safety system after TMI. He left Georgia Tech to work in nanotechnology as Head of Advanced Research at Nanoventions Inc. in Roswell, Georgia, and later as Director of Technology for AIR2, a company with headquarters in Maryland. He is now a full-time writer and consultant. He has appeared on PBS NewsHour, on Georgia Public Broadcasting's "Georgia Weekly," and on numerous radio talk shows. Having lectured in Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, and Ireland on various scientific topics related to his research, he is considered to be a skilled public speaker and is easy to understand, as well as entertaining.

Dr. Mahaffey's first book, ATOMIC AWAKENING: A NEW LOOK AT THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF NUCLEAR POWER (Pegasus Books, New York, July 2009), received wide critical acclaim. It has enjoyed worldwide sales, and is also available in Chinese translation (Shanghai Science and Technology Literature Publishing House, 2011). In 2011, Facts on File published Dr. Mahaffey's six-volume reference set for high schools and colleges, on nuclear energy. His latest book, ATOMIC ACCIDENTS (Pegasus Books, New York) was released in February 2014, and has received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, positive reviews from Booklist and Nuclear Street, and was the lead book in a feature review in Nature. Both Scientific American Book Club and The History Book Club have purchased rights to include the book as one of their selections.

Customer Reviews

Well written, very informative and entertaining.
Charles T. LaGoy
Throughout this chapter, and, in fact, the rest of the book, the author points out the many mistakes made, as we stumbled to a better understanding of radioactivity.
John P. Rooney
A book which I will definitely read again later.
Oddbjørn Strand

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By C. E. J. MD on February 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book, a gift from its author, was much more interesting than I expected it to be. It's a fascinating account of the many things that have gone wrong in our quest for development of atomic power. Written in an entertaining and often humorous style, it reveals what we have learned from our mistakes, only to find new mistakes to make. Unexpectedly exciting, but perhaps unavoidably including much technical detail, one is left with a great appreciation of the pioneers of nuclear energy. We are also left with a cautious optimism for the future of nuclear power. I was very surprised that much of this information is public knowledge. Also, one is left with a profound respect for neutrons.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on May 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
One would think that a book detailing the history of nuclear/atomic accidents, with lots of technical detail, would likely be of interest only to the most devoted nuclear/reactor physicists/engineers. Not so in this case! Certainly there are a lot technical descriptions of how reactors and other apparatus are made and how they operate, as well as play-by-play descriptions of how the various accidents occurred and their aftermaths. The descriptions are clear, most specialized terms are explained and the events leading to the various disasters are told in a most captivating way. But in my view, what makes this book so special is the author’s writing style, particularly his careful choice of words when describing the events that transpired: wittiness, tongue-in-cheek narratives, subtle sarcasm, etc. I often found myself laughing out loud at the way the author presents some of his material. Because of all of this, at least in part, I believe that this book can be enjoyed by a fairly broad readership.

One might expect that a tome like such as this one would contain a number of mistakes – editorial or otherwise. I must admit that I found very few. Other than a couple of misprints, i.e., on page 12, radium-266 should be radium 226 and on page 283, cesium-167 should be cesium-137, I did find one error of greater significance which may of interest to nit-pickers like me: footnote 82 at the bottom of page 99 is incorrect. In particular, the roentgen (R) and the rem are entirely different quantities. Very briefly, the roentgen applies only to X-ray and gamma-ray photons and is defined in terms of the ionization of air, i.e., the absolute value of the total charge of the ions of one sign produced per unit mass of air.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mallory Anne-Marie Forbes Haws on February 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I totally loved this book, which sounds odd considering the topic; but it is so educational, so diligently researched, and well-written that it is actually entertaining. As a child of the Korean Conflict and Cold War, anything atomic has always been a hot topic for me. The author's research has been exceptionally deep and wide-ranging, and I feel as if I've just finished a year's university course in the topic; that's how much I've learned.

I reviewed an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley.com
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By High Words on February 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding book - exactly what I like: not just how things work, but how Murphy gets in there and messes it up.

I love how author James Mahaffey mixes nuclear physics and subtle wit. He might be the only nuclear physicist to describe the British Windscale Nuclear plant's graphite core as crumbling like a tea biscuit. This keeps the story line going from both a technical and a very readable, entertaining angle.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Crom on June 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Last week I finally finished reading “Atomic Accidents” by Jams Mahafey. The book was a gift. I am a slow reader, but I did read the entire book including the informative footnotes. This is an excellent book for anyone who is interested in nuclear science or nuclear energy. . Mahafey not only discusses many Atomic accidents that most of us have never heard about, but he also provides tutorials on the nuclear science behind the accidents. He discusses detail designs of various nuclear reactors and bombs. Dangerous mistakes have been made, but several accidents were the result of smart, reckless, maverick scientists doing something stupid that they knew was dangerous and likely to get them and others killed.

One of the big mistakes discussed was with the Castle Bravo (Shrimp) program at Bikini in the Marshal Islands in 1954 which was a test of the first practical H-Bomb. The H-Bomb proof of concept had been demonstrated earlier in 1952. The proof of concept bomb weighed about 82 ton which included the cryogenic system necessary to keep Deuterium and I believe Tritium liquefied until detonation. The bomb used Tritium-Deuterium fusion for fuel and produced about 11 M ton equivalent of TNT. The Castle Bravo was much smaller using a solid fuel H-bomb designed to yield about 5 M ton, with the greatest possible yield of 6 M ton. Instead it yielded somewhere around 21 M tons. The explosion sent radioactivity fall out around the world.

The bomb used Lithium deuteride (Li D) for the fusion fuel. Natural lithium contains both Li 6 and Li 7. Li 6 has a very large neutron absorption cross section, but Li 7 has a very small cross section so it was ignored as being important. They enriched the Lithium to have about 40% Li 6 and 60% Li 7.
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