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  • Published: 28 November 2023
  • ISBN: 9780141997179
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $30.00

Atoms and Ashes

From Bikini Atoll to Fukushima

Baillie-Gifford award-winner Serhii Plokhy's illuminating exploration of the atomic age through the history of six nuclear disasters

In 2011, a 43-foot-high tsunami crashed into a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. In the following days, explosions would rip buildings apart, three reactors would go into nuclear meltdown, and the surrounding area would be swamped in radioactive water. It is now considered one of the costliest nuclear disasters ever. But Fukushima was not the first, and it was not the worst. . .

In Atoms and Ashes, acclaimed historian Serhii Plokhy tells the tale of the six nuclear disasters that shook the world: Bikini Atoll, Kyshtym, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Based on wide-ranging research and witness testimony, Plokhy traces the arc of each crisis, exploring in depth the confused decision-making on the ground and the panicked responses of governments to contain the crises and often cover up the scale of the catastrophe.

As the world increasingly looks to renewable and alternative sources of energy, Plokhy lucidly argues that the atomic risk must be understood in explicit terms, but also that these calamities reveal a fundamental truth about our relationship with nuclear technology: that the thirst for power and energy has always trumped safety and the cost for future generations.

  • Published: 28 November 2023
  • ISBN: 9780141997179
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $30.00

About the author

Serhii Plokhy

Serhii Plokhy is Professor of History at Harvard University and a leading authority on the Cold War and nuclear history. His books include the Baillie Gifford award-winner Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy, Nuclear Folly, The Gates of Europe and The Last Empire.

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Praise for Atoms and Ashes

A timely and enthralling study of the atomic age and its perils . . . a meticulously researched history

Lawrence Freedman, Financial Times

A superbly crafted but enormously frightening history of nuclear disasters . . . without ever preaching, Plokhy constructs a formidable case for consigning nuclear power to the past

Gerard DeGroot, The Times

Plokhy's gripping, measured accounts of human error and staggering heroism in the face of the terrifying forces of nuclear power get under the skin

Simon Ings, The Telegraph

Frightening . . . With catastrophic climate change bearing down on us, nuclear power has been promoted by some as an obvious solution, but this sobering history urges us to look hard at that bargain for what it is

Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

A revealing tour of some of the most terrifying experiences involving nuclear power. Plokhy excels in unpacking the human and systemic factors that contribute to nuclear disasters


Gripping . . . Plokhy combines newspaper interviews, memoirs, government reports and secondary sources to give a vivid account of the perils of nuclear power


Expertly concise. . . this account of the downhill slide of atomic power since its heyday in the 1950s illustrates why it can never be the solution to global heating

Robin McKie, Observer

Absolutely stunning. A formidable achievement. Plokhy has written a six-part historical thriller that is essential reading for both our politicians and the ordinary citizen. We have survived the Nuclear Age for three-quarters of a century, but this book calmly reminds us that accidents happen?and will surely happen again. His stories of nuclear accidents are riveting and frightening

Kai Bird, co-author of American Prometheus