In our current reality, you may have a Masters in Project
Management and an interest in building new plants that produce
energy or you may have a Masters
in Public Administration and a desire to regulate energy production;
either way, on any given day, prepare to be either Saviour or Pariah.
What a difference sixty odd years can make. When we think of
nuclear energy or atomic power or however you want to refer to it, we
think of a political football. It's either a dangerous, failed
technology that has an unjustified survival; or it's an imperfect but
invaluable energy resource that has been unjustly ignored and
Every attempt build a new plant is a bugle call for
renewed controversy. If it's in the West, it's a battle between
an energy-hungry community and the environmentalists. If it's in
certain unsavoury countries, it attracts the jaundiced eye of the great
powers suspicious of clandestine nuclear weapons programmes. If
it's in my back garden, then there's clearly been a
screw up somewhere.
course, it wasn't always like that. Before the Second World War, atomic power was just a theory–and one that even the greatest experts
in the world knew almost nothing about. What was known is that
Albert Einstein's famous equation of E=MC˛ demonstrated that if you
could convert matter into energy, there would be a helluva lot of it.
You could make an ocean liner circle the world on a glass of water.
You could move a mountain with a piece of coal the size of a cricket
ball. You could run an electric toothbrush until the end of time
on a ton of pasta, but that would be silly.
With that sort of
potential, it's no wonder that atomic power became the thing of dreams
even though the best minds that the Nobel Committee could fork out
prizes to weren't even sure that splitting the atom was any more possible
than squaring the circle.
you, when atomic energy did show up, it was something of a mixed bag.
It was revealed to the general public with a literal bang.
It was the weapon that won the war.
It was a
tremendous power that would turn deserts into gardens
and provide man
with limitless wealth and leisure. Or it was a a threat to the very
existence of life on Earth that would lead to nuclear meltdowns and
phenomenally bad Jane Fonda movies. In the depths of the Cold War, the
optimistic and pessimistic views mingled like the lion lying down with
the lamb, but, to paraphrase Woody Allen, the lamb didn't get much