Nuclear Fallout: Science and Society in Eurasia


In 1991, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock was a historic seventeen minutes to midnight. According to the Bulletin, the world had entered a “new era,” the Cold War was “over,” and the illusion of nuclear weapons as security had been “stripped away.” Twenty-five years later, the Doomsday Clock stands at two minutes to midnight. The Bulletin pointed to “perilous and chaotic” a year of “reckless language” with nuclear powers on “the cusp of a new arms race.” We’ve come a long way since 1991.

But have we? Nuclear weapons have been with us now for 75 years. The existential threat of mutual destruction has shaped science, technology, foreign relations and culture. The legacies of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima still haunt us. Given that we’re back on the precipice of doomsday, perhaps it’s time to revisit the nuclear fallout over the last several decades?

This series explores the idea of the nuclear through five live interviews on the science, experience, culture, and politics of nuclear science and weapons in Eurasia over the last half-century.


September 12, 4-5:30 pm, Alcoa Room, Barco Law Building
Producing Power: The History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry
A live interview with Sonja D. Schmid, Virginia Tech.

The Chernobyl disaster immediately comes to mind when we think of the Soviet nuclear industry. What about the history of Soviet nuclear power in the four decades prior? This live interview with Sonja Schmid will explore the development of the Soviet nuclear industry from the 1950s to Chernobyl to shed light on its institutional, technological, social, and political development. 


October 10, 4-5:30 pm, Posvar 4130
Everyday Radioactive Life in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan
A live interview with Magdalena Edyta Stawkowski, North Carolina State University
From 1949 to 1989, the Soviet Union conducted 456 nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan. Despite decades of nuclear fallout, Kazakh rural communities inhabit the area around the site. How has living around a nuclear test site shaped those communities and their post-Soviet experience? This live interview with Magdalena Stawkowski will discuss her ethnographic work and the ways the Semipalatinsk test site still shapes economy, environment and subjectivities.


October 17, 4-5:30 pm, Posvar 4217
Atoms and Aliens in Eurasian Science Fiction
A live interview with Anindita Banerjee, Cornell University
Since the mid-20th century, science fiction has shaped our view of the nuclear. The possibilities and horrors of the nuclear has had a comparable impact on utopian and dystopian science fiction. American science fiction fans are well versed in the tropes. What was the relationship between the atom and Soviet/Post-Soviet science fiction? In this live interview, Anindita Banerjee will discuss the imagination of the nuclear in Soviet and post-Soviet science fiction.


November 7, 4-5:30 pm, Posvar 4130
Soviet and American Plans to Survive Nuclear Armageddon
A live interview with Ed Geist, RAND Corporation
The United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a decades long nuclear race. Though the Cold War rivals achieved “Mutual assured destruction” in the 1960s, both powers made plans for their respective societies to survive nuclear holocaust. This live interview with Ed Geist will examine the American and Soviet political and cultural context influenced their civil defense efforts to withstand the ultimate catastrophe.


January 30, 4-5:30 pm, Posvar 4130
Exposing Chernobyl
A live interview with Kate Brown, MIT
The hit HBO miniseries Chernobyl thrust the nuclear disaster back into public consciousness. What are its legacies in and around the “Exclusion zone”? This live interview with award winning historian Kate Brown will discuss her book Chernobyl: A Manual for Survival and the role of international agencies in actively suppressing the magnitude of this human and ecological catastrophe.