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242 Nuclear 1 Matthew Flisfeder Nuclear names not only a prominent form of ENERGY but also myriad ways of being in relation to energy, society, and the world. Nuclear occupied a significant place in postwar politics and culture, as a source of great energy and great destruction. But recent concerns about the development of nuclear capabilities in Iran and North Korea, as well as the 2011 DISASTER at the Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, point to the salience of nuclear technology today. In addition to its political valences, nuclear themes recur throughout postwar and contemporary popular culture. Is “nuclear” still an adequate energy metaphor, or does our continuing enthrallment to the reality and metaphor of belonging to a nuclear world impede thinking about our collective futures? Nuclear technology began with Marie Curie’s discovery of radioactivity in uranium in 1898 (“Marie Curie” 2014). Not until 1933 did Jewish Hungarian-born physicist Leó Szilárd discover the possibility of obtaining large amounts of energy, and explosive capability , from nuclear reactions (L’Annunziata 2007, 240). Szilárd filed for a patent the following year, claiming that he wanted to prevent his discovery from being weaponized. With the rise of fascism in Europe, however, he altered his position and urged his friend, Albert Einstein, to warn President Roosevelt about the growing nuclear research program in Germany. Szilárd thus helped spur the American-led Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons. In 1943, a research laboratory was set up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, under the directorship of J. Robert Oppenheimer, where the first atomic bomb was developed . The only two atomic bombs ever to be used militarily were detonated by the United F6994_TXT.indd 242 F6994_TXT.indd 242 11/10/16 9:56:22 AM 11/10/16 9:56:22 AM Nuclear 1 243 States at the end of World War II, over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The first nuclear power plant went online in the small town of Obninsk , near Moscow, in June 1954, six months after President Eisenhower gave his “Atoms for Peace” speech at the United Nations, advocating the development of peaceful uses of nuclear technology (Eisenhower 1953) and precipitating amendments to the US Atomic Energy Act to allow for commercial development of nuclear power plants (“Atomic Energy Act” 2013). This tension between energy and weaponry is inherent to the history of nuclear technology . In nuclear fission, the nucleus of a particle splits into smaller parts, producing free neutrons or photons and releasing large amounts of energy. In bombs, the fissile material must be capable of sustaining nuclear chain reactions. In nuclear reactors, however, the rate of the chain reaction is controlled by rods of material that absorb the neutrons and slow the fission. Commercial reactors contain only a small percentage of fissile material, bombs approximately 90 percent (Marder 2011). Anxieties about the nuclear arms race and the commercial development of nuclear energy recur throughout global popular culture of the postwar period. In Ishirô Honda’s 1954 film, Godzilla (“Gojira”), a gigantic monster/dinosaur comes to life as the result of FALLOUT from US atomic weapons–testing in the Pacific. Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) depicts American nuclear anxiety after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The film’s sardonic juxtaposition of the “cowboy” riding the nuclear missile with the iconic IMAGE of the mushroom cloud depicts contradictory nuclear impulses—a fear of destruction linked directly to the imperialist, “frontierminded ,” machismo that might well bring destruction about. A parallel development to the commercialization of nuclear technology in the postwar period was the emergence of the term “nuclear family,” what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1983) mockingly dub the “mommy-daddy-me” relationship. The conjugal family of early bourgeois culture spread to the middle strata of the working population in capitalist countries, as the “class compromise” of the postwar period made possible a comfortable , consumerist lifestyle, best encapsulated in the common imagery of the suburban middle-class family. We might consider whether the rise of the nuclear family in the postwar period was one way of managing anxieties about nuclear technologies, quite literally domesticating them. The popular animated series The Simpsons (1989–present) offers a sharp commentary on postwar American society by satirizing both the nuclear family and the nuclear power plant. One episode, “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,” juxtaposes the suburban...


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