By D-IAS Assistant Professor, Keith Andrew Meyers
In today’s world nuclear proliferation is accelerating, geopolitical tension between nuclear powers is increasing, and there is a breakdown in nuclear arms control agreements. The Doomsday Clock, which measures how experts view the likelihood of nuclear war, is at closest point to Midnight since the 1950s. We can learn much about the potential social costs of nuclear proliferation and the value of arms control by studying the development of these weapons during the 1950s. In the 1950s the United States conducted scores of atmospheric nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site. Using records measuring annual county level fallout patterns for the continental U.S., I analyze how radioactive fallout affected measures of economic activity and human welfare in regions hundreds and even thousands of kilometers from the site of nuclear testing. My research suggests that nuclear testing had a much broader economic and environmental impact than previously thought.
Key Take Away(s)
In this lecture I briefly cover the history of atmospheric nuclear testing conducted by the United States, with a focus on testing conducted at Nevada Test Site from 1951 to 1958. I will provide an overview of what economists and social scientists have discovered about the unintended consequences of nuclear technology and weapons. I will provide insight about what my research finds regarding the social costs of nuclear testing conducted by the United States. Finally, I will tie the discussion back to contemporary issues of nuclear proliferation and the recent erosion of nuclear arms control agreements.
Keith Meyers is an economic historian and assistant professor at D-IAS and the Historical Economics and Development Group (HEDG) at SDU. His research interests cover the areas of agricultural development, health, and environmental economics. Keith received his PhD in economics from the University of Arizona where he completed his dissertation analyzing the adverse effects of atmospheric nuclear testing and radioactive fallout on the U.S. economy. His research shows that fallout resulting from nuclear testing conducted in Nevada reduced agricultural productivity and substantially influenced mortality patterns throughout the continental United States. These effects manifested in regions far from the site of nuclear testing. His other research includes studies on the development and diffusion of hybrid maize during the 1930s and poliomyelitis outbreaks during the 20th century.