The Atom: A Love Affair review – changing reactions to nuclear power

This inconclusive documentary charts the scary history and, in the era of climate crisis, revised views about the prospects for nuclear power

Vicki Lesley’s sprightly, inconclusive documentary tackles a perennially controversial subject: nuclear power and its contested ethical status. Like almost all documentaries these days, this begins with a clip of some sonorous 1950s propaganda film – shorthand for the hilariously naive, reactionary stance that we’ve supposedly overcome. It is an amusing gimmick, but in danger of being overused here.

Nuclear power was idealistically embraced after the war as part of our white-hot technological future (a notable partisan was once Labour politician Tony Benn) but then rejected with the news of terrifying accidents, notably the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979. (Lesley perhaps should have mentioned the very real importance of James Bridges’ movie The China Syndrome, a nuclear-disaster drama that came out just before Three Mile Island; praised as prophetic and genuinely instrumental in popularising anti-nuclear attitudes.)

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