As a devastated Japan continues to struggle with the damage to its nuclear facilities, several other nations have begun reconsidering their nuclear policies. Germany, for example, has temporarily closed down seven aging nuclear reactors, and other countries (including Russia, China, and the US) have announced checks of their own safety standards.
Cynics might suggest that these announcements are calculated less to make substantive changes than to calm a frightened public, and attempts to manage perceptions of the atom’s volatile powers are nothing new. They began immediately after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The video above, produced by General Electric in 1952, was one of many Atomic Energy “PR films” designed to sway public opinion in favor of this profitable and powerful new energy resource. (Coincidentally, GE built the Fukushima reactor that’s now in deep trouble.)
A is for Atom was a huge hit — it won several honors, including a special prize at the Venice Film Festival and a Merit Award from Scholastic Teacher. In some ways those honors were deserved. The movie is a sprightly cartoon with cheerful narration and explanations of some difficult physics, even as it avoids any engagement with the dark sides of nuclear energy. In fact, the whole message boils down to a reassurance that the atom’s massive potential is all “within man’s command.”
(For more Atomic/Nuclear PR films, check out this YouTube channel dedicated to Vintage Atomic Nuclear Films.)
Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Variety, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.