Cold War: A Brief History
Reagan's Star Wars
On March 23, 1983, President Reagan proposed the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), an ambitious project that would construct a space-based anti-missile system. This program was immediately dubbed "Star Wars. The SDI was intended to defend the United States from attack from Soviet ICBMs by intercepting the missiles at various phases of their flight. For the interception, the SDI would require extremely advanced technological systems, yet to be researched and developed. Among the potential components of the defense system were both space- and earth-based laser battle stations, which, by a combination of methods, would direct their killing beams toward moving Soviet targets. Air-based missile platforms and ground-based missiles using other non-nuclear killing mechanisms would constitute the rear echelon of defense and would be concentrated around such major targets as U.S. ICBM silos. The sensors to detect attacks would be based on the ground, in the air, and in space, and would use radar, optical, and infrared threat-detection systems. This system would tip the nuclear balance toward the United States. The Soviets feared that SDI would enable the United States to launch a first-strike against them. Critics pointed to the vast technological uncertainties of the system, in addition to its enormous cost. Although work was begun on the program, the technology proved to be too complex and much of the research was cancelled by later administrations. The idea of missile defense system would resurface later as the National Missile Defense. old War: A Brief History
On April 26, 1986, the world's worst nuclear-power accident occurred at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. The accident occurred when technicians at reactor Unit 4 attempted a poorly designed experiment. The chain reaction in the core went out of control. Several explosions triggered a large fireball and blew off the heavy steel and concrete lid of the reactor. This and the ensuing fire in the graphite reactor core released large amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere. A partial meltdown of the core also occurred. A cover-up was attempted, but on April 28, Swedish monitoring stations reported abnormally high levels of wind-transported radioactivity and pressed for an explanation. The Soviet Union finally acknowledged that the accident had occurred. An estimated 100 to 150 million curies of radiation escaped into the atmosphere before cleanup crews were able to bring the fires under control and stabilize the situation some two weeks later. The radioactivity was spread by the wind over Belarus, Russia, and the Ukraine and soon reached as far west as France and Italy. Finally, workers erected an enormous concrete-and-steel shell or "sarcophagus" over the damaged reactor to prevent radioactive materials, including gases and dust, from further escaping. Initially, the Chernobyl accident caused the deaths of 32 people. Dozens more contracted serious radiation sickness; some of these people later died. Millions of acres of forest and farmland were contaminated; and although many thousands of people were evacuated, hundreds of thousands more remained in contaminated areas. In addition, in subsequent years many livestock were born deformed, and among humans several thousand radiation-induced illnesses and cancer deaths were expected in the long term. In December 2000 the last of the four reactors at Chernobyl was shut down. The End of the Cold War
With the passing of several Soviet leaders, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed control of the Soviet Union. His rise to power ushered in an era of perestroika (restructuring) and of glasnost (openness). U.S.-Soviet relations improved considerably during the middle 1980s. At a dramatic summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, Gorbachev proposed a 50-percent reduction in the nuclear arsenals of each side, and for a...
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