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From Saul's atomic bomb to Paul's nuclear power plant

Written by  Urs Fitze

In 1953, the US president Dwight D. Eisenhower called for the peaceful use of nuclear energy in front of the UN General Assembly. The country had built up an enormous industrial complex for nuclear armament, and it should now reap not only military benefits but economic ones, too. The floodgates were opened two years later at the Geneva Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, which was actually a scientific event at the United Nations with participants from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The participating states turned the event into a exhibition on nuclear reactors, and everyone pinned their hopes on a big business. Critics, such as the geneticist and Nobel laureate Hermann J. Muller, were unwelcome, and Muller's invitation was revoked shortly before the event began. In the manuscript of his speech, which has survived, he demanded that "the primary concern of humankind in terms of the radiation problem must be its own protection." This wasn't to be the case: the entire political spectrum from right to left was now enthusiastic about atomic energy, agreeing that three quarters of the world's energy needs should be met by nuclear energy by 2000. Radiation should be used to eradicate cancer, while targeted radiation against pests could be used to achieve massive agriculture gains. The construction of nuclear power plants was declared a key technology in many countries, without which one would become economically marginalised. But the seeds were not sown widely enough: in 2014, nuclear energy made up only 4.4 per cent of global energy consumption. Since 1945, there have been major accidents at civil and military production facilities: Mayak (USSR) 1957, Windscale (today Sellafield, UK) 1957, Three Mile Island (US) 1979, Chernobyl (USSR) 1986, and Fukushima (Japan) 2011.

Robert Spaemann, Philosopher, Germany: “Technology and democracy are growing apart”: “Technology and democracy are growing apart”

Horst-Michael Prasser, professor of nuclear energy systems, Zurich: „Don’t be afraid of nuclear energy “ 

Ortwin Renn, Professor of Environmental and Technology Studies, Germany: “It’s about acceptance”