Curtis, Adam. 1992. A is for Atom, Google video, 45:51 min, accessed Apr 24, 2011, from

The British 45-minute documentary A Is For Atom was named after the 1953 animated short of the ‘Atoms for peace’ campaign with the same title. The final installment of a BBC-2 series about politics and science, called Pandora’s Box, the film tells the story of the development of peaceful nuclear technologies in the United States, Britain and Russia, and how political and business forces of the time contributed to these transformation. In order to make the production of nuclear power plants profitable, for example, private corporations like Westinghouse and General Electric pushed for the construction of bigger plants in order to utilize economies of scale. However, with growing reactor sizes, safe operation could no longer be fully guaranteed. The film shows that despite repeated warnings by senior scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission  and the industry itself, the corporations succeeded in avoiding costly changes to the plant design. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, political pressure for a rapid electrification of the country coupled with an insufficient budget resulted in inferior reactor designs, which ultimately culminated in the Chernobyl disaster. One of the most unsettling scenes of the film unfurls as AEC scientists state as early as 1964 that “we have found in our present study nothing. . . which guarantees either that major reactor accidents will not occur or that protective safeguard systems will not fail. Should such accidents occur very large damages could result.”  What they refer to are evocative of the problematic design issues of the very type of nuclear reactor that would be used later in the Fukushima No.1 plant that came into operation in 1971.
Christian Dimmer


A 10 minutes longer version of this documentary is available on the blog of director Adam Curtis

FILM: A Is For Atom (1992)
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