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Environmental Impacts of the Manhattan Project

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2725 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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In the year 1940, the US government started their own nuclear weapons project that was later named The Manhattan Project. This was due to the fact that some American scientists, who were comprised mostly of European refugees, feared that Nazi Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, was already conducting their own nuclear weapons development (Independence Hall Association, n.d.).

The development of the atomic bomb was then moved to Los Alamos in New Mexico where the project was overlooked by Robert J. Oppenheimer and his team. In the morning of July 6 1945, the first nuclear bomb was successfully detonated. 2 types of nuclear bomb were later developed. The first one was a gun-type fission weapon that used uranium-235 while the second one was a much powerful and efficient but also more complicated implosion-type nuclear weapon using plutonium-239. Both the bomb was given the nickname “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” and was later detonated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. The atomic bomb was initially to be detonated in Nazi Germany. But with the surrender of Nazi Germany after their leader, Adolf Hitler, committed suicide, the attention was then turned on the Japanese who was still fighting in the war.

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The initial plan to force the Japanese to surrender was to launch Operation Downfall (Trueman, n.d.). The plans of the operation were to continue to bomb Japan using the US bombers followed by a massive land invasion. If the invasion were to happen, the US military will lose more than a million personnel. To avoid such tragedy from happening, the US president, Harry S. Truman, insisted to use the atomic bomb on Japan.

On the morning of August 6 1945, the atomic bomb, Little Boy, was dropped over Hiroshima (Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, n.d.). The blast of the atomic bomb is equivalent to 12,000-15,000 tons of TNT and it destroyed about 5 square miles of the cities. Furthermore, some 70,000-80,000 people died as a result of the explosion and around 70,000 people were injured. Similarly, the atomic bomb that blasted in the mid-air of Nagasaki also caused a substantial amount of casualties. The high number of deaths was not the only aftermath of the nuclear explosion, but it also affected the environment and also the people’s health around Hiroshima as well as Nagasaki.

Environmental Impacts

The onset of Japan’s nightmare was marked, as the two atomic bombs that were set in motion by the United States exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. The disastrous impacts of both atomic bombs essentially rest upon the intensity, energy and power liberated at the point of bombing. Nuclear weapons such as the atomic bomb bring about a relentless amount of destruction to the environment and the climate on a scale imitable to any other lethal mankind armament. In retrospect, not only that the use of atomic bombings in the war gave humanity a giant blood stain, but also shows us that an atomic bomb is no mere explosion, it also has the ability to leave numerous impacts on the environment.

There were many environmental effects caused by the atomic bombing. One of them was the emission of the tremendous amount of radiation (Energy and Radioactivity, 2006). Like any other atomic bombing, fallout happened during the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fallout, according to the Oxford dictionary, is defined as the process in which radioactive particles are carried into the atmosphere following a nuclear explosion and falling back onto the ground later as dust or in precipitation. As a result, thick ‘black rain’ that contains radioactive soot and dust started falling from the sky, reaching the ground as hazardous radioactive water. The black rain did not only damage the surroundings and the infrastructures but it also caused radiation poisoning through inhalation and the consumption of contaminated food and water (Energy and Radioactivity, 2006). The radiation emitted lasted for decades where many unfortunate victims who were exposed to intense amount of high radiation had to bear with leukemia and Keloids (Energy and Radioactivity, 2006). Contaminated areas with high levels of residual radiation remained contagious for an extended amount of time, putting thousands in long periods of lethal infirmity. The process of healing is often slow resulting in immense deterioration of the immune system. Since there is no effective treatment, death follows in a matter of days.

Likewise, the explosions of the atomic bomb also led to environmental contamination. The contamination of water is one of the most severe. When living organisms happen to drink the water that is exposed to radiation, be it humans or animals, they are very likely to suffer from serious health problems. Worse still, when rivers in the cities were contaminated, the current brought the radioactive water to other parts of Japan and eventually into the ocean, spreading the radiation beyond Japan itself. This implies that even people who don’t stay in or near Hiroshima and Nagasaki will still be affected by the radiation. The contamination of soil and air is just equally horrible. When the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki exploded in the middle of the air, high degree of radiation was emitted and carried by wind to areas beyond the cities. It then dispersed gradually and led to radioactive air contamination. Similarly, plants and agriculture products further away from the center of explosions were also contaminated along with the soil. The radioactive soil became extremely infertile while the agricultural products that didn’t get burned up could no longer be consumed due to the radiation they contain. The contamination gave Japan a hard time recuperating and it took months before the Japanese citizens could put foot in either of these cities again.

In addition, the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki also brought about thermal radiation that burned the surrounding with extreme heat. The explosions generated powerful shockwaves together with enormous fireballs that killed thousands of people within seconds. This ultimately gave rise to a large firestorm as the individual flames combined, and before long, both cities were covered in thick black smoke. Through the process of combustion, the firestorms used up substantial amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to produce flame (“The Effects of Nuclear Weapons,” n.d.). The smoke released into the atmosphere by the wild fires also produced soot that causes the global temperature to fall. In a recent study, scientists have found out that, a nuclear war that involves 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs would cause the global temperature to fall to Ice Age levels. (“The Environmental Effects of Nuclear Weapons,” n.d.). This would have an overwhelming impact on all of humanity.

Besides, the aftermath of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki further resulted in drastic climate change. As noted earlier, when the atomic bombs were dropped, an enormous amount of heat wave was released into the air. This vast heat wave was later suppressed relatively by the process of rapid cooling. These circumstances were the perfect setting for the mass production of nitric oxides (Chen, 2010). The massive amount of nitric oxides that is transported to the atmosphere weakens the concentration of the protective ozone layer which is essential to block and protect us from the deadly ultraviolet rays from entering the Earth’s surface.

The nitric oxides formed decreased the ozone levels in the Northern Hemisphere and such depletion utter tremendous alteration to the Earth’s climate. A study shows that nuclear battle involving atomic bombs would bring about an enormous hole in the Earth’s ozone layer that would unmask millions of lives to excessive amount of the blazing sunrays (Chen, 2010). It would permit even more ultraviolet rays directly from the sun to penetrate the mere surface of the Earth. With that, if exposed, consequences such as hazardous burns and many other serious ecological effects would emerge. Besides, the increase in excessive amount of ultraviolet rays leads to a steep rise in skin cancer and cataracts among humans. Moreover, like we humans, land and aquatic creatures, who apportion the same living space, would also face the repercussion of the atomic bomb in a direction that it disrupts their regular food chains that would fetch the entire ecosystem to a standstill (Jha, 2006).

Ultimately, all the effects that came about from the explosion of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki shows a clear validation of the Earth’s fragility towards the overwhelming desire of ultimate power, selfishness and the presumptuous nature of humans who ignore the degradation of the environment. This irresponsible and unthoughtful behavior would eventually result in inevitable consequences that bring a sense of regret and suffering that we humans should bear upon ourselves in the final stage. In short, the atomic bombs dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima brought destruction to the environment of the cities, at the same time contributed to global pollution and possibly a lot more post-effects that have yet to be discovered.

Mitigation/Remediation Activities

As if they knew there was no time to grief over their devastated state of their quintessential cities when the war came to an end with detonation of two vicious, powerful atomic bombs. Everything was gone as they came. But yet, they fret not. The Japanese, although have had their morale shattered, stood right back at their feet contemplating solutions to the matter at hands. And today, their efforts are proven success with evidence of both cities recovered almost perfectly from the bombings. So, the question remained on how did the Japanese manage to resuscitate Hiroshima and Nagasaki the cities of ruins into functional metropolises today? (Coping with Chaos, 2006)

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After the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, it was completely vanquished. Buildings destroyed, countless dead and resources were utterly depleted. People started finding ways on how to recover from such impact and to make it whole again. As terrible as it sounded, radiation seemed to be the worst impact for people in Hiroshima as it cannot be fully recovered for those who were affected. The radiation led to diseases that brought death to unimaginable amount of people and that it can hardly be avoided. While victims that are affected were hospitalized in Hiroshima A-bomb Hospital, some were evacuated to countryside without any choice in order to avoid from further affections. On the other hand doctors and nurses were mostly among the victims thus, resulting in failure to perform their duty to help others. There was also a major shortage in medical supplies due to the bombing that destroyed most of it (Coping with Chaos, 2006). From here we can clearly see that there is no specific solution in terms of medical aids for victims that were affected.

Besides that, due to radiation released from nuclear reactions, the environment of the drop site was contaminated. In the advent of nuclear war, it is clear that no one knew the destructive power these nuclear bombs could impose moreover the effects. Hence, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred, there was no solution to the problem until they analyze the consequences the bombs had caused after the incident. Without an unravelment at that moment of time, the only way to repel these radiations is to rely on the elements’ natural ability to decay over time which is 700 million years, for Uranium-235 that detonated at Hiroshima, and 24,000 years, for Plutonium-239 at Nagasaki respectively (Takahashi, 2011). The evidence of human existence today is due to the fact that when the bombs were dropped, it detonated in the air, ergo reducing the actual damage of the radiation to the surrounding at ground zero. This is because with an air burst, a detonated explosive weapon in the air, the fission products rise into stratosphere where they disperse hence reducing the effect of nuclear fallout as the radiation released from the fireball of the bomb is kept from touching ground (Glasstone & Dolan, 1977).

As time passes, people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki needed a way to rise again and they needed it desperately but they knew it was impossible to recover immediately. It was really hard for them to cope with the aftermath of the whole bombing but their hope never died. Hiroshima today is indeed in a good and peaceful condition surrounded by roughly one million people with self-awareness just like any other city around the globe (Powell & Hiroshima, 2005). Buildings were destroyed, massive diseases took place but a wiped out city has to be rebuilt in every aspect especially in terms of physical, emotional and psychological. Not long after the strike, Hiroshima came up with an idea on constructing a peace memorial but it somehow turned out to be a peace memorial park. Powell and Hiroshima (2005) asserts that the centerpiece was transformed into a peace museum as remembrance of the tragic event of nuclear strike. At this point, we knew that any city would have given up at this very stage but Hiroshima took its recovery step by step to rise again and the only thing they needed was time. Today, Hiroshima and Nagasaki left a mark in the history of turning the impossible to possible by rebuilding what was destroyed into modern cities that bear the regalia of hope for all humanity.


Coming to a conclusion to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, we as a team do believe that such a tragedy has left a permanent scar not just to the people of Japan, but also to the whole world. The two bombs that were dropped upon these two locations were the first and last usage of nuclear weaponry in warfare up-to-date. The people of the world bear witness to one of the most catastrophic man-made disaster which causes tremendous damage to innocent lives and the environment.

The large Area of Effect (AOE) caused by this incident has caused a huge damage to the environment on a very large scale. The environmental damage varies from land, sea, and air. Radiation emission was the biggest environmental impact caused by these atomic bombs. The water was polluted with high cloudiness, coloured, hazardous taste, odour, unsuitable pH level and much more. The land and air are both badly polluted which results in contaminated and damaged soil for crops and soil, which affects food source. The two areas became a nuclear wasteland for a period of time and people are starting to think that such a thing is irrecoverable. But Japan has proven them wrong.

Despite facing such a dreadful situation, Japan managed to recover from the incident. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki is now even livelier than before which serves as a reminder of the human ability to recover and regenerate. The mitigation and remediation process took years for them to get back on their feet. Nevertheless, they succeeded in the end, turning the tables from a polluted environment in every direction, to a suitable place and habitat of the living, may it be humans, animals or plants. The people of Japan did not rely on the environment’s natural ability to decay the radiation completely over hundred millions of years and put things into their own hands.

Atomic bombing has caused nothing but trouble to the world, and we believe that it is nothing less than an inexcusable act of mass murder. We also strongly believe that the continuous usage of such is inhumane and would result in a more terrifying destruction considering the condition of the planet now is even worse than before in environmental terms. No matter what the reason may be, destruction as such to the environment is unforgivable as it creates a channelling chain reaction which brings harm to those around it.


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