Posts Tagged ‘Resources’


Nuclear history bibliography, 2013

Monday, January 6th, 2014

It's that time again. With the New Year comes new lists, and like I did last year, I've tried to put together a bibliography of nuclear history scholarship that was published over the course of the year. All of the same caveats about completeness and inclusion apply — it has to be something primarily about the past, it has to be more or less a work of "history" relating to nuclear technology (I've left out a lot of quantitative political science because while it can be quite interesting, I'm not sure it is history), and it had to have been published in 2013. I haven't tried to track down chapters in books (sorry) or most web-only content (which means I've omitted the great stuff on Able Archer 83 that the National Security Archive published, but such is life).

"Any books on atomic power?" From the New York Times Book Review, November 18, 1945.

"Any books on atomic power?" New York Times Book Review, November 18, 1945.

Looking at the list, I don't see any obvious trends from the titles alone. Last year was the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, so that was the one obvious trend there. This year, I don't see anything that stands out (other than sampling issues like the fact that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ran an issue on nuclear culture).

I'm sure there is much missing — so please leave me a note below in the comments section, or send me an e-mail, if you know of something that might belong here, and if I think it meets my (somewhat loose) criteria I'll add it to the list.

As an aside, it would be great if other scholars out there would produce similar lists for their own sub-fields! It takes a lot less time than one might imagine (hooray for academic search engines), and is a great way to get a quick survey of all of those things that you didn't know you had missed.

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The year of the disappearing websites

Friday, December 27th, 2013

I'm a big fan of digital historical research. Which is to say, I've benefited a lot from the fact that there are a lot of great online resources for primary source work in nuclear history. These aren't overly-curated, no-surprises resources. The paper I gave at the last History of Science Society meeting, on US interest in 50-100 megaton weapons, was surprising to pretty much everyone I told about it, yet was based almost exclusively on documents I found in online databases. You can do serious research with these, above and beyond merely "augmenting" traditional archival practices.1

One of the most interesting documents I found in an online database — an estimate for the ease of developing a 100 megaton weapon in a letter from Glenn Seaborg to Robert McNamara. Knowing the estimated yield and weight of the bombs in question allows one to divine a lot of information about their comparative sophistication.

One of the most interesting documents I found in an online database — an estimate for the ease of developing a 100 megaton weapon in a letter from Glenn Seaborg to Robert McNamara. Knowing the estimated yield and weight of the bombs in question allows one to divine a lot of information about their comparative sophistication.

Like all things, digital history comes with its pitfalls. The completely obvious one is that not everything is digitized. No surprise there. That doesn't really change the digital archival experience from the physical one, of course, since even physical archives always are missing huge chunks of the documentation. As with "regular" archives, the researcher compensates for this by looking at many such databases, and by looking closely at the materials for references to missing documents (e.g. "In response to your letter of March 5" indicates there ought to be a letter from March 5th somewhere). This doesn't make digital archives less useful, it just means their role cannot usually be absolute. Being able to quickly search said databases usually more than compensates for this problem, of course, since the volume of material that can be looked at quickly is so much higher than with physical paper. And I might note that one of the best part about many of the digital archives for nuclear sources is that the documents often indicate their originating archive — which can point you to sources you might not have considered (like off-the-beaten-trail National Archives facilities).

But perhaps the biggest problem with digital sources, though, is that like so many things in the digital world, they somehow have the ability to vanish completely when you really want or need them. (As opposed to the normal online trend of things sticking around forever when you wish they would go away.) The fall of 2013 was, among other things, the season of the disappearing websites. At least three major web databases of nuclear history resources that I used on a regular basis silently disappeared.

Fallout from the 1952 "Ivy Mike" shot of the first hydrogen bomb. Note that this is actually the "back" of the fallout plume (the wind was blowing it north over open sea), and they didn't have any kind of radiological monitoring set up to see how far it went. As a result, this makes it look far more local than it was in reality. This is from a report I had originally found in the Marshall Islands database.

Fallout from the 1952 "Ivy Mike" shot of the first hydrogen bomb. Note that this is actually the "back" of the fallout plume (the wind was blowing it north over open sea), and they didn't have any kind of radiological monitoring set up to see how far it went. As a result, this makes it look far more local than it was in reality. This is from a report I had originally found in the Marshall Islands database.

The first of these, I believe (it is hard to know exactly when things vanished as opposed to when I became aware of them — in this case, September 2013) was the DOE's Marshall Islands Document Collection. This was an impressive collection of military and civilian reports and correspondence relating primarily to US nuclear testing in the Pacific. Its provenance isn't completely clear, but it probably came out of the work done in the mid-1990s to compensate victims of US atmospheric testing.

I found this database incredibly useful for my creation of NUKEMAP's fallout coding. It also had lots of information on high yield testing in general, and lots of miscellaneous documents that touched on all matter of US nuclear developments through the 1960s. It used to be at this URL, which now re-directs you to a generic DOE page. I e-mailed the webmaster and was told that it isn't really gone per se, it's just that "Access to the HSS website has been disabled for individuals trying to access our website from the public facing side of the internet. We are working to put mitigation in place that will allow us to enable public access to our web site." Which was several months ago, right before the government shutdown. What I fear, here, is that a temporary technical disabling of the site — because they are re-shuffling around things on their web domains, as government agencies often do — will lead to nobody ever getting it back up again.

A photograph of an early Hanford reactor that used to be in the Hanford DDRS — one of my favorites, both because of its impressive communication of activity and scale.

A photograph of an early Hanford reactor that used to be in the Hanford DDRS — one of my favorites, both because of its impressive communication of activity and scale.

Next was the Hanford Declassified Document Retrieval System which in November 2013 (or so) went offline. It used to be here, which now gives a generic "not found" message. It used to have thousands of documents and photographs relating to the Hanford Site spanning the entire history of its operation. In my research, I used it extensively for its collection of Manhattan Project security records, as well as its amazing photographs. Again, I suspect it was a creation of the mid-to-late 1990s, when "Openness" was still a thing at DOE.

I'd be the first to admit that its technical setup seemed a little shaky. It required a clunky Java applet to view the files, and its search capabilities left a little to be desired. Still, it worked, and could be actively used for research. I got in contact with someone over there, who said it had to be taken down because it had security vulnerabilities, and that eventually they planned to get it back up again, but that "we don't have a timeline for accomplishing that right now." They offered to search the database for me, through queries sent via e-mail, but obviously that doesn't quite cut it in terms of accessibility (especially since my database process involves many, many queries and glancing at many, many documents, most of which are irrelevant to what I'm looking for).

Will it get back up? The guy I talked to at Hanford said they were trying to resurrect it. But I have to admit, I'm a little skeptical. It's not at the top of their agenda, and clearly hasn't been for over a decade. If they do get it up, I'll be thrilled.

d: Exploratory tunnel dug by a 25-foot-diameter tunnel boring machine at the proposed  Yucca Mountain, Nevada, repository for spent nuclear fuel. From the DOE Digital Archive.

Exploratory tunnel dug by a 25-foot-diameter tunnel boring machine at the proposed
Yucca Mountain, Nevada, repository for spent nuclear fuel. From the DOE Digital Photo Archive.

Lastly, there is the DOE Digital Photo Archive, which was a publicly-accessible database of DOE photographs, from the Manhattan Project through the present. Some of these were quite stunning, and quite rare. One of my all-time favorite photographs of the nuclear age came from this database. The archive used to be here, it now redirects to a generic page about e-mailing the DOE for photographs. Not the same thing. I got in touch with someone who worked there, who said that the database site "has been closed down," and that instead I could trawl through their Flickr feed. They, too, offered to help me find anything I couldn't — but that doesn't actually help me too much, given how much serendipity and judgment play in archival practice.

As an extra "bonus" lost website, Los Alamos' pretty-good-but-not-perfect history website was also taken down very recently, and replaced with a single, corporate-ish page that skips from World War II to the present in one impressive leap and gives nothing but a feel-good account of the first atomic bombs. The site it replaced was more nuanced, had a reasonably good collection of documents and photographs, and covered Los Alamos' history through the Cold War pretty well. It had its issues, to be sure, including some technical bugs. But even a buggy site is better than a dead one, in my opinion. A new site is supposedly in the works, but it seems to not be a high priority and no short-term changes are expected.

None of these sites were taken down because of anything objectionable about their content, so far as I know. The issues cited have been a mixture of technical and financial (which are, of course, intertwined). Websites require maintenance. They require upkeep. They require keeping technically-inclined people on staff, with part of their day devoted to putting out the little fires that inevitably come up over the years with a long-lasting website. Databases and interactive sites in particular require considerable effort to put together, and a lot of time over the years to keep up to date in terms of security practices.

I work on web development, so I get all that. Still, it's a terrible thing when these things just vanish. Aside from that fact that some people (I imagine more than just myself) find them useful, the amount of resources essentially wasted when such a long-term investment (think of the man-hours that went into populating those databases!) is simply turned off.

What should scholars do about it? We can complain, and sometimes that works. A better solution, perhaps, is to keep better mirrors of the sites in question. This is particularly true of sites with any potential "national security implications." When Los Alamos took their declassified reports offline after 9/11, the Federation of American Scientists managed to cobble together a fairly complete mirror. (The Los Alamos reports have since been quietly reinstated for public access through the Los Alamos library site.)

Los Alamos Technical Reports

I wish, in retrospect, that in the past I had considered the possibility that the Hanford and Marshall Islands databases might go down. Making a mirror of a database is harder than making a mirror of a static website, but it's not impossible. ( does not do it, before you offer that possibility up.) For the specific reports, documents, and photographs that I actually use in my work, I always have a local copy saved. But there is so much out there that was yet to be found. I might try filing a FOIA request for the underlying data (it would be trivial for me to turn them into a useful database hosted on my own servers), but I'm not sure how well that will work out (it seems to go a bit beyond a normal FOIA).

After the Hanford database went down, I thought, what are the other public databases that my work depends on? The most important is DOE's OpenNet database, which contains an incredibly rich (if somewhat idiosyncratic) collection of documents related to nuclear weapons development. Huge chunks of my dissertation were based on records found through it, as are most of the talks I give. If it went down tomorrow, I'd be pretty sunk. For that reason, while the government was going through its shutdown last October (I figured no one would be around to object), I made a reasonably complete duplicate of everything in OpenNet using what is known as a "scraper" script.2 Obviously as OpenNet gets updated, my database will fall out of sync, but it's a start, and it's better than nothing if it gets unplugged tomorrow.

The amazing thing about digital databases it that they take the archive everywhere at once, instantly. The terrible thing about them is that it only takes the pull of one plug to shut it down everywhere at once, instantly. Anyone who does research on nuclear history issues should be deeply disturbed by this rash of site closures, and should start thinking seriously about how to make copies of government databases they rely on. (Private databases are more complicated, for copyright reasons.) The government gave, and the government has taken away.

  1. Which databases, you ask? 1. The CIA's online FOIA database; 2. Gale's DDRS database; 3. the DOD's online FOIA database; 4. DTIC; 5. ProQuest's Congressional hearing database; 6. the JFK Library's online files; 7. the National Security Archive's online database; 8. the Nuclear Testing Archive (DOE OpenNet); 9. the OHP Marshall Islands Database; 10. the ProQuest Historical Newspaper database; 11. the UN's website; 12. the searchable Foreign Relations of the United States. The only other significant non-online archival sources were the Hansen papers at the National Security Archive and some files from the JFK Library that they provided me over e-mail. []
  2. I whipped something together using Snoopy for PHP, which allows you to do all sorts of clever database queries very easily. []

Nuclear history bibliography, 2012

Friday, December 28th, 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought it might be useful to try and draw together a bibliography of nuclear history scholarship that was published over the course of the year.

Some TOP SECRET stamps from the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy files. Just inserted here so there is something to look at other than text!

This list is unlikely to be complete — I've made something of a preliminary survey, but I don't claim to have checked everywhere — and if there are things I'm missing, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail. I'll update this as new information comes in. One obvious thing missing are chapters in edited volumes; those are harder to find using traditional academic search engines.

As for the "rules for inclusion," they are both boring and common-sensical. Must have a publication date of 2012. Must look like "scholarship" of some sort. Must be something that is primarily in the genre of the history of nuclear weapons or nuclear power. I'm just trying to make a useful list here (for myself as well as others) and some inclusions/exclusions are going to be necessarily arbitrary. I have not read all of these — not even most of these — I do not endorse any of them. This is just a list. The citations might not be complete; it is just a guide. I thought about including book reviews, which are often quite useful and insightful (and hey, I wrote a few), but decided it would make this list completely ungainly and my task disproportionately difficult. 

Looking this over, the obvious trend is that 2012 was the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which meant a lot of monographs on the subject came out this year. Without further ado...


Barrett, David M. and Max Holland. Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile CrisisCollege Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012.

Blight, James G. The armageddon letters: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro in the Cuban missile crisis. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.

Brown, Andrew. Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience: The Life and Work of Joseph Rotblat. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Burke, David Allen. Atomic testing in Mississippi: Project Dribble and the quest for nuclear weapons treaty verification in the Cold War era. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012.

Burtch, Andrew. Give Me Shelter: The Failure of Canada'’s Cold War Civil Defence. University of British Columbia Press, 2012.

Coleman, David G. The fourteenth day: JFK and the aftermath of the Cuban Missile CrisisNew York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2012.

Fraser, Gordon. The quantum exodus: Jewish fugitives, the atomic bomb, and the Holocaust. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fuhrmann, Matthew. Atomic assistance: how "atoms for peace" programs cause nuclear insecurity. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012.

Gavin, Francis J. Nuclear statecraft: history and strategy in America's atomic age. Cornell University Press, 2012.

Gibson, David R. Talk at the brink: deliberation and decision during the Cuban Missile CrisisPrinceton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Hecht, Gabrielle. Being nuclear: Africans and the global uranium trade. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012.1.

Heefner, Gretchen. The missile next door: the Minuteman in the American heartland. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Hosaka, Masayasu. [Japan's Atomic Bomb : Its Development and Procedural Setbacks] Nihon no genbaku: sono kaihatsu to zasetsu no dōtei / 日本の原爆: その開発と挫折の道程 . Tōkyō: Shinchōsha, 2012.

Hymans, Jacques E. C. Achieving Nuclear Ambitions: Scientists, Politicians, and Proliferation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Iversen, Kristen. Full body burden: growing up in the nuclear shadow of Rocky Flats. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012.2

Johnson, Robert R. Romancing the atom: nuclear infatuation from the radium girls to Fukushima. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2012.

Kaufman, Scott. Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

Khalatnikov, Isaak M. From the Atomic Bomb to the Landau Institute: Autobiography. Top Non-Secret. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012.

Khan, Feroz Hassan. Eating grass: the making of the Pakistani bomb. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Larsen, Jeffrey Arthur. Rearming at the dawn of the Cold War: Louis Johnson, George Marshall, and Robert Lovett, 1949-1952. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press for the Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2012.

Matthews, Melvin E. Duck and cover: civil defense images in film and television from the Cold War to 9/11. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2012.

Mikoyan, Sergo, and Svetalana Savranskaya, ed. The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the missiles of November. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Miyamoto, Yuki. Beyond the mushroom cloud: commemoration, religion, and responsibility after Hiroshima. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.

Monk, Ray. Inside the centre: the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer. London, Jonathan Cape, 2012.

Munton, Don. The Cuban Missile Crisis: a concise history. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012

Priestley, Rebecca. Mad on radium: New Zealand in the atomic age. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland University Press, 2012.

Schweber, S. S. Nuclear forces: the making of the physicist Hans Bethe. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Stern, Sheldon M. The Cuban Missile Crisis in American memory: myths versus reality. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Stoddart, Kristan. Losing an empire and finding a role: Britain, the USA, NATO and nuclear weapons, 1964-70. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ;New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Szasz, Ferenc M. Atomic Comics: Cartoonists Confront the Nuclear World. Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 2012.

Takahashi, Hiroko. [Closing Hiroshima & Nagasaki: The American Nuclear Experiment and Civil Defense Planning] Fūinsareta Hiroshima, Nagasaki: Bei kakujikken to minkan bōei keikaku / 封印されたヒロシマ・ナガサキ: 米核実験と民間防衛計画. Tōkyō: Gaifūsha, 2012.

Taubman, Philip. The Partnership: Five Cold War Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2012.

Touze, Vincent. Missiles et décisions: Castro, Kennedy et Khrouchtchev et la crise de Cuba d'octobre 1962. Bruxelles: Versaille, 2012.

Walker, John R. Britain and disarmament: the UK and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons arms control and programmes, 1956-1975. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012.

Van Lente, Dick, ed. The nuclear age in popular media: a transnational history, 1945-1965. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Weart, Spencer R. The rise of nuclear fear. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Wilson, Jim. Britain on the brink: the Cold War's most dangerous weekend, 27-28 October 1962. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2012.

Yamamoto, Akihiro. [A Discourse on the Postwar History of Nuclear Energy, 1945-1960 : "Memories of the Bomb" and "Dreams of Nuclear PowerKaku enerugī gensetsu no sengoshi, 1945-1960: "hibaku no kioku" to "genshiryoku no yume" / 核エネルギー言說の戦後史, 1945-1960: 「被爆の記憶」と「原子力の夢」. Kyōto-shi: Jinbun Shoin, 2012.

Zellen, Barry Scott. State of doom: Bernard Brodie, the bomb, and the birth of the bipolar world. London: Continuum, 2012.


Børresen, Hans Christofer. “Flawed Nuclear Physics and Atomic Intelligence in the Campaign to deny Norwegian Heavy Water to Germany, 1942–1944.” Physics in Perspective 14, no. 4 (2012).

Connelly, Matthew, Matt Fay, Giulia Ferrini, Micki Kaufman, Will Leonard, Harrison Monsky, Ryan Musto, Taunton Paine, Nicholas Standish, and Lydia Walker. "'General, I Have Fought Just as Many Nuclear Wars as You Have': Forecasts, Future Scenarios, and the Politics of Armageddon." The American Historical Review 117, no. 5 (2012).3

Dvorak, Darrell F. "The Other Atomic Bomb Commander: Col. Cliff Heflin and his 'Special' 216th AAF Base Unit." Air Power History 59, no. 4 (Winter 2012).

Dorn, A. Walter, and Robert Pauk. "The closest brush: How a UN secretary-general averted doomsday." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 6 (November/December 2012).

Edwards, Paul N. "Entangled histories: Climate science and nuclear weapons research." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 4 (July/August 2012).

Fischer, Benjamin B. "Anglo-American Intelligence and the Soviet War Scare: The Untold Story." Intelligence and National Security 27, no. 1 (February 2012).

Geist, Edward. "Was There a Real 'Mineshaft Gap'?: Bomb Shelters in the USSR, 1945–1962." Journal of Cold War Studies 14, no. 2 (Spring 2012).

Goodson, Donald L. R. "Catalytic Deterrence? Apartheid South Africa's Nuclear Weapons Strategy." Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 32, no. 2 (2012).

Grant, Matthew. "British nuclear weapons and the test ban, 1954–73: Britain, the United States weapons policies and nuclear testing: tensions and contradictions." Journal of Transatlantic Studies 10, no. 3 (September 2012).

Hamblin, Jacob Darwin. "Fukushima and the Motifs of Nuclear History." Environmental History 17, no. 2 (2012).

Hastings, Justin V. "The geography of nuclear proliferation networks: the case of A.Q. Khan." Nonproliferation Review 19, no. 3 (2012).

Hecht, Gabrielle. "An elemental force: Uranium production in Africa, and what it means to be nuclear." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 2 (March/April 2012).

Higuchi, Toshihiro. “‘Genshi maguro’ no tanjō: Dai go Fukuryū maru jiken go no kankyō hōshanō sokutei jō no hantei kijun no hensen” [The Birth of “Atomic Tuna”: Changes in the Administrative Criteria for Environmental Radiation Monitoring in Japan after the Lucky Dragon Incident of 1954], Seibutsugakushi kenkyū [Japanese Journal of the History of Biology] 87 (2012).

Hogg, Jonathan and Christoph Laucht. "Introduction: British Nuclear Culture." British Journal for the History of Science 45, no. 4 (December 2012).

Jasper, Ursula. "The ambivalent neutral: rereading Switzerland's nuclear history." Nonproliferation Review 19, no. 2 (2012).

Johnston, Sean F. “Making the invisible engineer visible: DuPont and the recognition of nuclear expertise.” Technology and Culture 53, no. 3 (2012).

Jolivette, Catherine. "Science, Art and Landscape in the Nuclear Age." Art History 35, no. 2 (April 2012).

Kemp, R. Scott. “The end of Manhattan: How the gas centrifuge changed the quest for nuclear weapons.” Technology and Culture 53, no. 2 (2012).4

Kinney, D.J. "The otters of Amchitka: Alaskan nuclear testing and the birth of the environmental movement." The Polar Journal 2, no. 2 (December 2012).

Kirk, Andrew. "Rereading the Nature of Atomic Doom Towns." Environmental History 17, no. 3 (2012).

Krige, John. “Hybrid knowledge: the transnational co-production of the gas centrifuge for uranium enrichment in the 1960s.” British Journal for the History of Science 45, no. 3 (2012).

Krige, John. "The proliferation risks of gas centrifuge enrichment at the dawn of the NPT: Shedding light on the negotiating history." Nonproliferation Review 19, no. 2 (2012).5

Lewis, John W. and Xue Litai. "Making China’s nuclear war plan." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  68, no. 5 (September/October 2012).

Malloy, Sean L. “‘A very pleasant way to die’: Radiation effects and the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan." Diplomatic History 36, no. 3 (2012).6

Mundey, Lisa M. “The Civilianization of a Nuclear Weapon Effects Test: Operation ARGUS.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42, no. 4 (2012).

Norris, Robert S. and Hans M. Kristensen. "The Cuban Missile Crisis: A nuclear order of battle, October and November 1962." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 6 (November/December 2012).7))

Overpeck, Deron. "‘Remember! it's Only a Movie!’ Expectations and Receptions of The Day After (1983)." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 32, no. 2 (June 2012).

Robb, Thomas. "Nuclear Illusion, Nuclear Reality: Britain, the United States and Nuclear Weapons, 1958–64." The International History Review 34, no. 2 (2012).

Sethi, Megan Barnhart. "Information, Education, and Indoctrination: The Federation of American Scientists and Public Communication Strategies in the Atomic Age." Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42, no. 1 (2012).

Sime, Ruth Lewin. “The Politics of Forgetting: Otto Hahn and the German Nuclear-Fission Project in World War II.” Physics in Perspective 14, no. 1 (2012).

Slaney, Patrick David. “Eugene Rabinowitch, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the Nature of Scientific Internationalism in the Early Cold War.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42, no. 2 (2012).

Sobek, David, Dennis M. Foster, and Samuel B. Robison. "Conventional Wisdom? The Effect of Nuclear Proliferation on Armed Conflict, 1945-2001." International Studies Quarterly 56, no. 1 (March 2012).

Theaker, Martin. "Elemental Germans: Klaus Fuchs, Rudolf Peierls and the Making of British Nuclear Culture 1939–59." Contemporary British History 26, no. 4 (December 2012).

Tobey, William. "Nuclear scientists as assassination targets." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 1 (January/February 2012).8

Walker, John R. "Potential Proliferation Pointers from the Past: Lessons from the British Nuclear Weapons Program, 1952–69." Nonproliferation Review 19, no. 1 (2012).9

Weisiger, Marsha. "Happy Cly and the Unhappy History of Uranium Mining on the Navajo Reservation." Environmental History 17, no. 1 (2012).

Wellerstein, Alex. “A tale of openness and secrecy: The Philadelphia Story.” Physics Today 65, no. 5 (2012).10

Wellock, Thomas R. “Engineering Uncertainty and Bureaucratic Crisis at the Atomic Energy Commission, 1964–1973.” Technology and Culture 53, no. 4 (2012).

Wilson, Richard. "The Development of Risk Analysis: A Personal Perspective." Risk Analysis 32, Issue 12 (December 2012).


Some of the citations I got from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues; others were found from keyword searches against the Harvard Library catalog (old habits die hard) and some publisher-specific searches. Google Scholar proved to be no help whatsoever — too much noise, too little signal, too hard to filter by discipline. Thanks to my old friend Anthony Walker for helping me with the Japanese translations. Thanks to Will Thomas and Michael Gordin for giving this a look-see before I put it up. If I've missed something or screwed something up — highly likely — please get in touch.

  1. I wrote an essay-review of this for Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences under the title "Nuclear others," available here. []
  2. Iversen's biographical account of Rocky Flats was discussed by me in part here. []
  3. Winner of the 2012 "Wow That's a Lot of Co-Authors Award." []
  4. I discussed Kemp's article on the development of the centrifuge here. []
  5. I discussed these Krige articles on US-UK centrifuge history in this post. []
  6. For a discussion (and review) of Malloy's article on radiation effects, see my post here. []
  7. For a discussion of Norris and Kristensen's accounting of those nukes in Cuba and elsewhere, see my post here. []
  8. A little discussion of Tobey's article on nuclear assassination is here, along with my own thoughts. []
  9. Winner of the 2012 "Most Alliterative Article Award." []
  10. My article on the "Philadelphia Story" is discussed and linked-to here. []

More “Fun” with NUKEMAP

Monday, February 6th, 2012

I've been chuffed by the reception of NUKEMAP. Since I posted it last Friday morning, nearly 700 people have nuked themselves, or others, using it. There have been over 1,500 individual "detonations." Shockingly, this impressive number is still 500 fewer than the number of actual nuclear detonations that have been performed by nuclear states as part of their nuclear testing regimes.

Who got nuked? I started keeping statistics as to where people were nuking a few hours after posting the original NUKEMAP. Here's an image of the 1,500 detonations plotted onto their respective locations (the circle sizes are just icons, they don't correspond with actual detonation sizes, some of which are ridiculous):

"We Will All Go Together When We Go," unless you live in central Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa, western Australia, or Canada north of the border. Or Spain, for whatever reason. (They've had it bad enough as it is, I think.) Here's a detail of the United States:

I don't want to give out deeper granularity than the above image, just for privacy reasons (you know, in case you nuked your own house). (There is an "opt-out" checkbox on the NUKEMAP page, if you don't want me seeing where you've nuked.) I will say, though, that my boss owned up to nuking Punxsutawney Phil back to the stone age.

I've been having fun with this myself on the technical side. I keep tinkering with the code — optimizing it, making it more flexible, adding features, and so on. Here are some interesting things for you to try out  which I added over the last weekend:

  • Try nuking Hiroshima, Japan, with the Little Boy bomb.
  • Try nuking the Trinity test site with the Fat Man bomb.
  • Try nuking the Bikini Atoll with the Castle Bravo bomb.

For all of these, you need fairly precise targeting, so use the preset menu. I've got a few other things I'm planning to add to it, over time. (If nothing "special" happens, make sure you have reloaded the page a few time, in case your browser is caching it. And pay attention to your options on the right-hand menu, as some of the special bits don't enable automatically.) None of these additions are scientifically accurate — they involve some rough transitioning as they get adapted from still photographs to Google Earth coordinates — but they're probably not too wrong.

You can also now plot multiple nuclear blasts if you are so inclined. If you click the "detach" button, the existing detonation circles will be "locked" wherever you have put them, and you will be given a new marker to target with. Use the "clear" button to clear all plotted effects.

I'm an historian, so I'm constantly curious about whether these scaling codes work well with "real world" nuclear landmarks. In a few places, you can see exactly how close they are. Here's the crater from the Sedan test at the Nevada Test Site, which was a purposeful attempt to make a big hole in the ground. It matches up pretty exactly with a 104kt model fireball, which one would expect, given how the point of the Sedan test was to make maximal use of the explosion:

Also check-able is the massive crater caused by the detonation of Ivy Mike, the first hydrogen bomb (10.4 Mt):

Pretty cool, no? Well, I thought it was.

I have a few more mapping projects in the works (at least two), and a few more goodies I'm planning to add to the existing NUKEMAP. I've also got a few ideas about adding fallout approximations to NUKEMAP, which could be interesting.

If you think up something clever that NUKEMAP might be able to do, please feel free to post it as a comment here or to send me an e-mail. I'm finding the Google Maps API much improved over the last time I played with it, a few years ago, and it's letting me translate these ideas into "realities" much more quickly than I imagined.


Presenting NUKEMAP

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Update: NUKEMAP has had well over a million "detonations" since it was first made public. I'm both agog and aghast. Click here for a FAQ of sorts.

This Friday, instead of giving you an image like I normally do, I'm giving you a little application to make your own images.

There are lots of nuclear effects calculators out there on the web.1 But I was never fully satisfied with how these looked, or with their interfaces. (Of course, purists don't require apps.)

So over the last few days, I put together my own nuclear effects calculator, which I am calling NUKEMAP, only because "Alex's Nuclear Effects Calculator" was deemed by a colleague as "unsexy."

What makes this one so great? Check out these features:

  • Easily draggable target marker (which has an adorable little atom on it)!
  • Bright, stomach-churning colors indicating major negative effects of atomic detonations!
  • Effects described include zones of 500 rem exposure, major overpressures, and fire! Plus, the legend breaks these down into easy-to-understand descriptions of what they mean for your average person caught inside of them.
  • Lots of pre-sets for both places to drop them (I didn't want to discriminate) and yields of historical weapons! It has never been easier to put a 50Mt H-bomb on the Eiffel Tower.
  • Automatically tries to drop the bomb on wherever Google thinks you are accessing the Internet from (based on your IP address)!
  • You can link to specific detonations and send them to your friends to enjoy forever!
  • Automatic zooming to make sure that all of a given nuke's effects fit within the view window! (This can be disabled.)
  • More historically contextualized than your average web app!

I have in the past made maps of this sort for use in teaching, when I want to emphasize how "impressive" the first hydrogen bomb was when compared to the first atomic bombs. If you dropped a Fat Man-style bomb onto downtown Boston, the results wouldn't be pretty, but the effects would be limited to the immediate area surrounding the peninsula, primarily. (In other words, I would tell the students, Harvard is probably not too bad off, fallout excepting, but MIT is completely fried.) Do the same thing with an Ivy Mike-sized bomb and you've set houses on fire all the way out to Concord (a visual argument, when done with appropriate build-up and theatricality, that never failed to result in a horrified gasp from the auditorium of undergrads). It becomes quite clear why many of the atomic scientists of the day considered H-bombs to be exclusively genocidal weapons.

Of course, all such mappers fail to take into account terrain and building differences. Someday, I have no doubt, the Google Maps API will evolve to a level where that will be possible, but not today. It would also be wonderful to have it automatically guess as to the level of megadeaths (which wouldn't be to hard if you could automatically find population sizes within a given circle radius) but this also is not something easily done with Google Maps (though again, someday I bet it will be possible). It also doesn't do anything to gauge fallout — this is in part because calculating fallout paths is hard if you are not just being hand-wavy about it, and that even being hand-wavy about it is hard to depict in Google Maps because it doesn't natively support drawing ellipses as opposed to circles. But there are work-arounds to this, and maybe someday this mapper will support basic fallout trajectories.

Technical credit and caveat: the scaling equations are all adapted from the wonderful Nuclear Weapons FAQ by Carey Sublette. They are approximate scaling equations and they assume optimum burst height. So they are not going to be perfect for estimating ground bursts, and they are probably a little hand-wavy when you talk about bombs at the margins (very tiny or very huge yields).

NUKEMAP should be more or less compatible with any browsers that support the latest Google Maps API (v.3).

Wish this did something that it doesn't? Let me know. I'm all ears for good suggestions and I find this stuff more fun than is probably healthy.

And maybe you do, too. As one of my AIP colleagues wrote to me: "It’s weird to say that it’s fun…  but I just blew up Chicago!"

  1. The two most prominent via Google are one written in Java at FAS and one called the HYDESim which only shows overpressures. There is also this one that does thermal damage only. And this one from Graham Allison that I wasn't aware of until after writing NUKEMAP. And this one which also does thermal effects. []