|THE FUROR OVER FISSION|
The Images and Realities of Nuclear Technologies
November 20, 1996
The Nuclear Power and Fear
Other Forum Topics
How has the media impacted the perception of nuclear technology?
How has morality impacted the growth of nuclear technology?
Can nuclear power overcome nuclear fear?
How do we overcome nuclear fear?
Will fear ebb as memory of the Cold War fades?
Is nuclear fear an American phenomena?
A question from Mary Beth Budnyk of Pittsburg, PA
There is much to be said that our fear of nuclear technology is based on several irrational and heightened fears, but is this not a better way to view this technology than to be arrogant and overconfident? I believe that nuclear technology is one of the only scientific discoveries ever to be scrutinized rather than blindly accepted with little regard for its ramifications. We are rightfully skeptical of a technology that has so much promise for good and evil. What is your opinion of this Dr. Weart?
Dr. Spencer Weart responds:
Nuclear energy was indeed the first major scientific technology to provoke strong and persistent opposition--because nuclear energy first came to view as dreadful weaponry, and because scientists insisted on calling it magical and mysterious beyond measure, and because reactors raise very real risks of lasting environmental damage, and for several other reasons. Some of the reasons are rational and some are not. We can't hope to do the sensible thing unless we sort out which is which. De-mystifying nuclear energy will also help us to avoid the opposite extreme of claiming, as some still may, that nuclear energy can be a miraculous solution to all our problems. That kind of arrogant optimism certainly is dangerous (especially when it says building bombs will take care of everything).
Recently genetic engineering has joined nuclear energy as a development that people fear for both rational and irrational reasons. At this point in the development of civilization probably any new technology--even one that holds enormous potential for human benefit--will be subject not only to searching criticism but also to impediments and delays unconnected with genuine problems. I hope that by thinking carefully about nuclear energy we will find ways to distinguish between the very proper concerns that any new technology raises, and the mythical promises or terrors that only throw dust in our eyes.