A is for Atom: Vintage PR Film for Nuclear Energy

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.

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Comments (3)
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  • Yogibb says:

    Interesting that the music over the closing credits should be so…ominous.

  • Barry Woods says:

    What a biased and unprofessional review of the film “A is For Atom.” This educational film was created in the early 1950’s when about the only education one received on nuclear power was from low budget scifi and horror movies. The film is a classic because of its factual presentation of the science and physics behind nuclear power.

    Most of the time the media was (and still is) feeding on people’s fears of the unknown.

    Fukishima had a problem only because the back up generators were not built far enough inland to prevent water damage during a water surge event. The reactors are a tried and true model (called the Boiling Water Reactor, or BWR) from GE which have been generating power without incident since 1960, over 50 years. The Fukismina design showed how safe these reactors are in that even as devastating an event as an earthquake and tsumani could not cause injury or death. The reactors shut themselves down automatically when they detected the first microtremors, even before felt by any of the population.

    Neither the earthquake, nor the tsunami damaged the reactors in any way as they were designed to withstand events to a much greater factor than what occurred.

    Had the back up generators, to provide cooling water circulation been located out of harms way. Nothing would have happened and the reactors would have been put back one line.

    Due to the extensive safety systems, even total loss of cooling power, an earthquake and tsunami could not create a situation where even one individual at the plants, nor one member of the population where hurt or put into danger.

    Normal fossil fueled plants are not designed to withstand such forces of nature, and if the Fukishima plants had been conventional fossil fueled, there would have been the death of many of the operating personnel and staff.

    The media loves to denigrate nuclear power as it sells newspaper, magazines and gets people to watch the news. In other words, they make money off of it. Look at the credentials of most of the reporters in the media. They wouldn’t know an atom from a neutron, from a proton. Odds are they probably barely passed high school physical science, and yet the public relies on them for information about nuclear power. No wonder people are sometimes fearful of it as they are totally misinformed by biased, ill informed reporters.

    A little research and you will see that a nuclear power plant is the only emission free way to generate power on a large scale without creation of Carbon Dioxide, which causes global warming and acid rain.

    Fossil fuels, such as oil and coal release a witch’s brew of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere and soil which we breathe in and ingest.

    The radiation released by a coal fired power plant, is actually 3 to 10 times (depending on the plant size and scrubbers) greater than that of a nuclear plant because of the radon gas that is naturally present in coal. This is released to the air when the coal is burned.

    Populations living near a coal fired power plant have increased rates of lung cancer and emphysema.

    Nuclear power is known to be, by the experts, as the cleanest and most green way we currently have to produce electricity.

    Baseload nuclear plants combined with smaller satellite solar and wind power generation plants is the only way we can continue to provide power to our exponentially increasing population without permanently damaging our environment.

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