America Enters the Age of Nuclear Power
When the United States tapped into the very essence of matter—the atom—and loosed its energy against Japan in 1945, it created a paradox that has colored the life of the world ever since. For if the power that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to what Winston Churchill called “the peace of mutual terror,” it also seemed to promise limitless possibilities for the material betterment of mankind; the energy that destroyed also could create. The atomic age, William L. Lawrence wrote in 1957, just a little over a month before the first nuclear power reactor in the United States came on line, “offers mankind all the power needed to equalize the maldistribution of nature’s bounty among the nations of the world. Thus it makes universal peace inevitable.…” By 1980, some estimates had it, nuclear power would be producing more energy than coal, oil, natural gas, and hydraulic power combined. We have not found universal peace, of course; and as of 1980, nuclear power still accounted for less than 13 per cent of the energy produced in the United States. On the following pages we offer a composite portrait of an age in which the promise of nuclear power seemed to counterbalance the peril into which the world had been thrust when the Enola Gay caught the city of Hiroshima in its bomb sight.