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Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  2,143 ratings  ·  227 reviews
A gripping narrative of nuclear mishaps and meltdowns around the globe, all of which have proven pivotal to the advancement of nuclear science

From the moment radiation was discovered in the late nineteenth century, nuclear science has had a rich history of innovative scientific exploration and discovery, coupled with mistakes, accidents, and downright disasters. Mahaffey,
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Published February 15th 2014 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 4.22  · 
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 ·  2,143 ratings  ·  227 reviews

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Start your review of Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
Nick Black
marvelous! each year brings a new body of pop-nuke printed material, most of it rehashed and a good deal of it wrong. the discerning criticality fetishist is lucky to find a single good book among the dreck. last year's was Schlosser's Command and Control. this year we get Atomic Accidents. too much alliteration.

i knew the basic facts about most of the events in this book (though the history of arranged train collisions was news to me, and delightful), but only because i'm a freak who's familiar
Peter Tillman
This one suffers a bit in comparison to his excellent "Atomic Adventures", which I read not long ago:

So I'll probably get back to it, unless the library calls it back first.....

Nope, someone else wants it.

Looking at my notes: Mahaffey says keeping accidents secret always makes things worse. This was particularly evident in the old USSR, where admitting a mistake could cost you (literally) your life. Or your job, and a free trip to Siberia! Lots of gory det
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's been a long time since I've read non-fiction that kept drawing me back to see "what happens next" but Atomic is totally that book.

The subject matter helps - nearly every recorded radiological mishap and disaster, both famous and little-known. There are caves of death in the Ozark Mountains circa 1880, radium paint that killed dozens, World War II, Three Mile Island, and of course Fukushima Daiichi. Mahaffey leads us through each, carefully explaining isotopes and reactions in ways that neit
Hiawatha Bray
Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At once highly technical and highly entertaining, this history of nuclear accidents comes from a guy who, like me, is a fan of nuclear power. But he's not blind to its flaws or to the inevitable failings of the humans who operate nuke plants. Fans of technology history books will love this one. ...more
 Reading Reindeer 2021 On Proxima Centauri
I totally loved this book, which sounds odd considering the topic; but it is so educational, 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 of intrigue for me. The author's research has been exceptionally 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. ...more
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book was fascinating, thorough, and a keeper. Read this with "Command and Control" if you want a complete look at accidents involving nuclear technology on both civilian and military sides. The recounting of early work and experiments with radioactivity was compelling in a gruesome, morbid way. ...more
Conor Cook
Oct 18, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crap
Could not even finish this book!

It was too dull and boring. I was only on the fourth chapter and didn't know how I got there or what had happened in between. I had high hopes for this book since it had a 4.2 rating out of 1000+ ratings but it was worse than an old high school text book.
Lis Carey
This is a highly readable account of the history of atomic power as seen through its accidents and safety failures. That might sound like it's anti-nuclear power, but in fact Mahaffey is a long-time advocate. His major point is that in fact significant accidents are fairly rare, and that with a few notable exceptions, serious casualties are even rarer.

His account starts with a bizarre episode in the Ozarks in the late 19th century, with the accidental discovery of what eventually proved to be a
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book didn't really work for me. I was not interested in the details of just how different kinds of nuclear reactors and such work, and so for large sections, I couldn't concentrate on the descriptions. Since I was listening to an audiobook, I'd just kind of mentally drift until the accident actually happened. I was also really hoping for more descriptions of the aftermaths of the accidents, but Mahaffey usually ended the story once there was no more meltdown happening. I did enjoy the stori ...more
Greg Williams
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For me, this was an interesting book. It can be a bit technical and repetitive. But that was kind of the point. It is amazing how reckless we have been when researching nuclear fission. And this book shows that we often have made the same mistakes over and over again when trying to perfect nuclear reactors. It turns out that there have been a lot more accidents than Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. And that's what made it the most interesting to me.

BTW if you are dealing with nuclear reactive ma
Mar 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very informative book by an engineer who knows his stuff. Goes through all major (and some minor) screw-ups in painful detail. I consider myself to be fairly well informed on these things, but this book taught me a lot.
Bryan Brown
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: misc-books
This book was a lot of fun to read. I studied nuclear physics in college and it is the emphasis of my engineering degree. Reading this book reminded me of all the times when a professor went off and told a story instead of what ever was in the syllabus for that day.

Mahaffrey does an excellent job of explaining complicated nuclear physics in a simple and clear form. Obviously, this is not a text book and wouldn't be a good way to say you have learned but it is an excellent way of gaining a solid
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was in school some 100km away from Pripyat' when Chernobyl blew up, and I vividly remember the sense of panic that seemed to just permeate the fabric of being for months afterwards. Chernobyl had been a part of life for many years since then, and I've been reading lots of accounts and official documents about the accident. After a while you start to notice that really bad ones just pump the doom and gloom and throw sciency words around without really explaining anything, or even worth - propag ...more
Alexander Temerev
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and entertaining journey through history of nuclear accidents, both civilian and military. I especially appreciate the optimistic tone, and the fact that this book has been written by a nuclear engineering professional, as opposed to an investigative journalist.
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I rarely can consider a non-fiction book as five stars (though many get to 4.5, GR does not allow that classification so I round-down).

This is a five-star book. With sincerely-hefty credentials and a vast bibliography of reference material, Mahaffey lays down an absolute page-turner for anyone interested in atomic accidents, failure mode analysis, design analysis, cold-war psychology, and the human proclivity to "Foxtrot Unicorn". His command of radiological chemistry is impeccable, and he write
May 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, kindle
5.0 out of 5 - Well researched and captivating. A must read for physics aficionados.

If you have an interest in atomic energy, you will probably have a hard time putting this book down. Filled with numerous detailed accounts of the development of atomic technology, accidents involving nuclear energy, and beginning with staged train wrecks (yes, non-atomic train wrecks), Dr. Mahaffey has done an outstanding job weaving a narrative for the non-technical person filled with lots and lots of technica
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not pro-nuclear energy, but I found the information presented here to be extremely interesting and engaging. This book left me with as clear and detailed an understanding of nuclear physics, engineering, and history of civilian and military applications of nuclear technology as you can get outside a classroom.

I rarely learn this much from a single book. A must-read, whether you are pro-nuclear energy or against it.
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyable and informative, though still a challenge that only complicates my understanding and opinions about nuclear energy. The footnotes were often the best part.
Ken Hammond (kenzaz)
interesting book, loved the train crashes for entertainment.
Chelsey Langland
This is the second book I’ve read from this author. I enjoy his sense of humor and how he makes nuclear engineering concepts accessible without being condescending. These are really enjoyable reads.
Ursula Johnson
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible, disasters
Disasters and Blunders with Nuclear Power Plants

This was a comprehensive and exhaustive account of some well known and little known atomic accidents around the world. Physics students will enjoy the extensive explanations of the nuclear fission process. For regular readers like me, this is where the book, bogs down with numerous pages on technical treaties on the varying reactor issues.
The book is at its best, when describing the events themselves. The accounts are interesting and the clear exp
This is a solid set of anecdotes about atomic accidents. Because nuclear power and nuclear bombs are so fantastical and have a semi-mystical quality to them, these sorts of anecdotes tend to be told over and over again in popular culture. This book digs deeper and contains a bunch of nuclear-related accidents I had never heard of before. For example, I've heard the story of the Demon core many times before, but apparently there were parallel safety incidents that occurred in Russia that basicall ...more
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is a great read to dispel superstitions and misplaced fears about nuclear energy. The author accomplishes this by relating the details of just about every nuclear mishap known to mankind.

While there are real dangers associated with nuclear energy and radiation, the general populace tends to blow these dangers way out of proportion and as a result, we rely much more on hydrocarbon based energy. By contrast, coal has resulted in many more deaths and is much worse for the environment, but
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was dense and took effort to get through but was nonetheless quite fascinating. My main takeaways were: 1) yeah when nuclear accidents go bad people can die in horrific ways, but honestly they don't have a higher death rate than other power options and are insanely efficient and eco-friendly 2) when things go bad in a nuclear plant, it's usually due to human error trying to override the systems set in place 3) America might lead the way in nuclear study but we are falling behind in our ...more
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An outstanding look at the history of nuclear weapons and reactors with a particular eye towards both the well- and lesser-known incidents when things go sideways. You'll learn about reactor types, the physics of fission (and fusion), and power plant design.

The author's voice comes through the text, as he refers to humans as "organic neutron-reflecting moderators" at one point, and personifies objects such as reactors and fires.
Susan Gallagher
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nuclear
Could be subtitled "Plutonium is crazy stuff, and people do dumb things with it."
The physics was a bit hard to grasp at times, but the stories were fascinating. It ended on a high note, with hope for major advances in the safety and efficiency of nuclear energy production.
Jan 30, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can’t even with this. I’m not a scientist, but I could probably qualify now after listening to this shit for hours on end.
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating look into nuclear power throughout the modern era. I very much enjoyed it even though the science was moderately over my head.
Steve Rochford
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book!

This book is a thrilling journey through the history of nuclear accidents. Great pace, great content, and amazing events in history to reflect on. The technical content is laid out efficiently and explained with enough concern for the layman that anyone with a decent attention span can understand it.

I would read this book again and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the fascinating story of nuclear power.

If I could wish for one more chapter it would be a certain dep
Chris Haak
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My son read this book first, having found it at the library on display and being intrigued by it. After he finished it, I began to page through it and decided to read it as well. For such a technical topic (much of which, admittedly, went over my head as I have a business degree and not a nuclear engineering degree), the author does a good job of keeping the book flowing. I liked how the chapters were organized into things such as the initial bomb development, early nuclear power plants, etc. Th ...more
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Dr. James Mahaffey was senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute and has worked at the Defense Nuclear Agency, the National Ground Intelligence Center, and the Air Force Air Logistics Center, focusing on nuclear power, nano-technology, and cold fusion.
(Bio from publisher)

Some of the author's works are published under the James A. Mahaffey or Jim Mahaffey names.

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28 likes · 6 comments
“As long as nuclear engineering can strive for new innovations and learn from its history of accidents and mistakes, the benefits that nuclear power can yield for our economy, society, and yes, environment, will come.” 1 likes
“Every unmeasured system is assumed to be critical. It is the same as finding a pistol sitting on a table. Assume that it is cocked and loaded.” 1 likes
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