1948. Living in the nuclear age
Physicist, Professor R E Peierls, describes the benefits and possible dangers of living in the nuclear age.
Few developments since the 1930s have had a greater impact on society than the discovery of atomic energy and its potential for both civilian and military purposes.
Nuclear weapons were used to bring World War 2 to an end when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Immediately following the War there was a plan to make the United Nations responsible for all future nuclear development. However, in 1949 the USSR detonated its own nuclear warhead and the arms race began. The threat that any new war might become a nuclear war has remained ever since.
In Britain, the first nuclear power station opened in 1950 and later in that decade the government committed itself to a rapid expansion of nuclear power generation. On one side, nuclear power has been seen as a relatively efficient and clean source of energy. However, a series of accidents have served to demonstrate the potential dangers of nuclear power. These include Windscale in the UK (1957), Three Mile Island in America (1979) and, most notably, Chernobyl in the Ukraine (1986).
The physicist R E Peierls was born in Germany but settled in England when Hitler came to power. During World War 2 he worked as part of the team that developed the atomic bomb in America, though following the War he campaigned against the use of nuclear weapons. Here he describes the hope that the existence of nuclear weapons might act as a deterrent to future conflicts.
The image shows a US atomic weapon test near Bikini Atoll in 1954.