Nuclear energy has always engendered both hope and fear in people. Depending on one’s viewpoint, the power of the atom is the key to either Utopia or Armageddon. In Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Harvard University Press, 1988) physicist-historian Spencer Weart examines the images that have influenced discussion of nuclear energy since the latter part of the 19th century. In this excerpt from the book, Weart offers his views on the next steps in the debate over nuclear power plants and weapons.

Billions of words have been written about nuclear affairs; nobody could read more than a tiny fraction. But the writings are staggeringly redundant, offering only a handful of useful ideas. In all that I have read I am most impressed by ideas that David Lilienthal offered in the 1960s and later. As head of the Atomic Energy Commission and afterward he struggled with nuclear energy fantasies, finally,...

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