Oh, for Those Halcyon Days When Nuclear Weapons Were Scarier Than Reactors

Since nuclear weapons were invented, this is only the third time that nuclear reactors have stolen the spotlight as an existential threat from nuclear weapons, their brother in alarms. In 1957 Windscale (when the core of a nuclear reactor in England caught fire), in 1979 Three Mile Island in 1979, in 1986 Chernobyl. Now Fukushima.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, here’s a reminder of how frightening nuclear weapons are, from Ron Rosenbaum’s new book How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (emphasis added).

One disturbing result of recent nuclear historiography . . . has been the revelation that even the purportedly more stable nuclear deterrence system of the Cold War produced a far greater number of close calls during the first nuclear era than we imagined. It turns out we weren’t scared enough, or as much as we should have been.

Just because Fukushima will be (presumably) brought under control doesn’t mean we’re safe. For those who believe a meltdown is unlikely, there’s always all those spent fuel rods laying around and the threat of a terrorist attack. While, of course, nuclear weapons are the much greater threat to humanity, we can’t let it eclipse the danger that nuclear energy also poses.