Full Program Description

Nuclear energy is unleashed
Original broadcast: Tuesday, June 15, 1999 at 9pm
(check local listings for re-broadcast dates)

"After the bomb had gone off, I lay on my stomach, unable to move, for a year and nine months, waiting for my wounds to heal. . . . Nobody thought I would survive."
-- Sumiteru Taniguchi, Japan

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the end of World War II -- and heralded the beginning of the atomic age. Fearful of the United States's new power, Joseph Stalin set out to acquire the Bomb at any cost. By 1949, the Soviets had what they wanted and the atomic race had begun in earnest. The US military began the practice of test blasts, with the Army and Marine Corps competing to see how close they could get their men to ground zero. And the Atomic Energy Commission assured the public that fallout from nuclear testing was quite safe.

The US developed the vastly more powerful hydrogen bomb soon after -- and the Soviets followed suit a year later. As both sides built more warheads, each realized that they now had the ability to destroy the other -- retaliation was guaranteed. As both superpowers prepared for Armageddon, citizens of the Soviet Union, Western Europe, and the US lived in a heightened state of nuclear terror and governments scrambled to make preparations for doomsday.

Still, the peaceful potential of nuclear energy was held out as the hope of the future, offering cheap, clean, and unlimited energy. But early optimism and enthusiasm evaporated as the dangers of radiation and nuclear accidents became evident. In 1954, Japanese fishermen on the Lucky Dragon were hospitalized with radiation sickness after being exposed to fallout from a US bomb test in the Pacific. Victims from Hiroshima and Nagasaki stepped forward after decades of silence to recount their sickness and suffering. The near-disaster at Three Mile Island in 1979 put a halt to the American nuclear power program, and the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl exposed 600,000 people to lethal radiation.

While many governments ignored widespread popular challenges to nuclear energy programs, many leaders began to weigh the growing costs of dependence on nuclear energy.

The people remember: Atomic bomb, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, nuclear testing, protest movements, H-bomb, arms race, effects of radiation poisoning, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), Arms Reduction Treaty (Reagan/Gorbachev), Chernobyl.

Fallout is produced and directed by Charles Furneaux. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

Alfre Woodard narrates.

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