In August 1945, the first nuclear weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, killing an estimated 210,000 people. Approximately 80 percent of the deaths in these bombings were the result of burns or other injuries caused by the blasts. However, 20 percent of the fatalities were the result of radiation sickness. While the majority of deaths took place at the time of the bombings or by the end of 1945, atomic bomb survivors continued to die from atomic bomb related injuries or illnesses for decades afterward. Since World War II, nine countries have developed and detonated nuclear weapons. In that time, the use of nuclear power has also expanded beyond a military focus. Today, nuclear power is used for civilian purposes such as generating electricity. Accidents in nuclear power plants have shown that nuclear power is not without risk. Such accidents can release radiation, which can have harmful consequences on human health, the environment, and the society as a whole. As in the cases of the Japanese atomic bomb survivors, victims of nuclear accidents can be exposed to a substantial dose of radiation that can result in leukemia and other forms of cancer, or other negative side effects. The 1986 Chernobyl accident in modern day Ukraine was the worst nuclear disaster in history. It is estimated that nearly 4,000 people will eventually die from exposure to radiation released by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Examining Long-Term Radiation Effects: Case Studies of the Atomic Bombings of Japan and the Chernobyl Power Plant Thermal Explosion explores issues pertaining to nuclear power and the long-term medical, psychological, and social effects of radiation. The unit consists of four lessons.
Lesson One introduces students to a brief history of how and why nuclear power was developed.
Lesson Two introduces students to the long-term effects of radiation on the atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Lesson Three explores the widespread and lasting consequences of the 1986 thermal explosion at the Chernobyl power plant.
Lesson Four concludes the unit with activities on present-day issues related to the survivors of the atomic bombings and nuclear power plants in the United States.