By Steve Hansen
Former QCS Managing Editor
I was born about four years after the bombing of Hiroshima marked the start of the nuclear age.
The bombing was a ghastly horror, shocking even the flight crew that dropped the weapon, but it shortened the war.
Like most people, I have spent my life in its shadow as we commemorate its 70th anniversary.
I have childhood memories of fallout shelters and nuclear war drills. I remember my mother looking very worried as she stared at Navy ships shot from above on our TV screen during the Cuban missile crisis, in which the U.S. and the Soviet Union played nuclear chicken with the fate of the world for a tense two days.
We endured “brinksmanship,” the prolonged version of the chicken game the U.S. and U.S.S.R. played in Cuba, for a decade or more.
Today, the U.S. and Russia continue to flex nuclear muscle while trying to keep atomic weapons out of the hands of even our friends.
My attitude about nuclear energy continues to alternate between awe at its destructive power and amazement at some of its benefits, like x-rays and cancer cures.
Nuclear power: It started out as one of our great hopes but ended up a stalemate between arrogance and ignorance.
Utilities arrogantly continued nuclear construction even as costs rose to 10 times original estimates, and utility rates never recovered.
Ignorance fueled hysteria over the mostly imagined effects of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, in which nothing really happened.
Politicians and regulators responded to resulting public fears by piling new rules onto existing nuclear construction while interest rates kept climbing well into double-digits. “Power too cheap to meter” thus became an expensive embarrassment.
Meanwhile, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 demonstrated the destructive power of the atom in careless hands, and more recently, Japan’s Fukushima plant showed what can still go wrong after the earthquake and tsunamis of March 2011.
Luckily, nuclear weapons have not been used in my lifetime, and we have seen the worst peacetime consequences of nuclear energy only once, at Chernobyl.
The somber thoughtfulness of last week’s Hiroshima observances set the right mood as we contemplate the future of the nuclear age and continue to debate whether its dangers outweigh its benefits.
Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at: