Mick Broderick, Nuclear Movies (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1991).
A critical analysis and filmography of over 850 feature-length dramas concerning nuclear issues from 1914-1989 and from over 30 countries.
Chapter: From Atoms to Apocalypse
Foreword by Dr. Helen Caldicott (1988) © Mick Broderick
The history of nuclear films since the dawning of the atomic age is quite extraordinary. These films closely follow the development of nuclear science, but in a curious fashion many movies predate the actual event in history, almost as if the filmmakers were subject to the influence of messages from the collective unconscious.
On a larger scale, nations act in a similar manner, described in a fascinating account of American history by Lloyd De Mause, who documents the psychohistory of the US in a book titled Reagan's America Ý. This phenomenon was also often revealed via Time Magazine's Ý cover which would frequently reflect the deep, dark side of US psychology predating an event, such as the sabotage of the SALT II treaty in the name of US-Soviet paranoia. A menacing Russian bear or a similar symbol would be used to mobilize the collective unconscious of the American people. Jung describes the function of the collective unconscious in his classic book, Man and His Symbols Ý where the collapse of reality at the dawn of the nuclear age was mirrored in the work of abstract painters. People hated this art, but were drawn almost against their will to look at it. Besides the dark side of the unconscious, there is obvious a collective wisdom in the human race which we seem assiduously to deny or block out of our conscious mind.
Nuclear films have likewise an almost creepy quality of premonition about them, for instance 'Star Wars' films were made in the Fifties. Similarly, nuclear reactor meltdowns were predicted at a time when these reactors were first being constructed and fears of mutated organisms and humans abounded long before evidence of radiation-induced mutant humans or foetuses was evident (although we have known since Muller's classical experiments with the fruit fly early this century that radiation induces genetic mutation in insects). The mysterious and fascinating power of radiation pervades many of these films. It is ascribed wondrous, magical or evil powers. It is little wonder that the nuclear scientists call themselves the "nuclear priesthood".
There is even a film from the Fifties describing the attempted murder of a nuclear scientist which closely parallels the mysterious deaths of more than 20 men working on SDI in England! Also, the battle management computer which will control the 'Star Wars' scenario was described in Gog as early as 1954!
Children's fears of the future, which have recently been documented in Australia (75% believe they will experience nuclear war in their lifetime), were played out in The Atomic City . The Gamma People  prefaces the dreadful experiment on Israeli children whose heads were irradiated to treat tinea capitus and dermatitis - many of these children subsequently died of cancer secondary to the radiation.
The overwhelming ignorance of the general population when faced with the complexities of the nuclear age has been illustrated in movies from Li'l Abner  to When The Wind BlowsÝ. It has been my experience that the general population only vaguely understands the medical implications of radiation, mutation, isotopes, latent period of carcinogenesis, and the full medical realities of nuclear war. Hence it is the social responsibility of doctors and scientists in the nuclear age to come out of their ivory towers to translate the wondrous and terrible impact of their science to the general public. The world is on the brink of disaster, yet scientists seem strangely removed from the inevitable consequences of their actions.
Several films in the Sixties demonstrated the contemporary theory of Carl Sagan that it is doubtful if other civilizations survived beyond our stage of knowledge unless they had developed sufficient emotional maturity to handle and control the demonic results of their left brain intellect. In Shock Corridor , the guilt of nuclear scientists was played out. Robert Oppenheimer, the "father" of the atomic bomb, said after Hiroshima and Nagasaki "for the first time physicists have known sin". The reason nuclear scientists developed nuclear power reactors was to assuage their collective guilt. They imagined the electricity to be "too cheap to meter" and the reactors would be radiologically clean and easy to manage. This theory evolved long before Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and before the epidemics of cancer and leukemia developed in the guinea pig population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (i.e. before they truly understood the medical ramifications of radiation exposure).
Another fascinating aspect of this movie chronology is the political evaluation of US films - the development of the cold war, America's hatred of China following Mao's revolution, the threat to use nuclear weapons in Korea and the Cuban missile crisis. The US dominates these film productions overall, but other countries have consistently been producing nuclear movies since the 1950s - particularly Britain, France (both nuclear nations) and Japan (a nuclear victim). Doomwatch  from England discusses the radioactivity of the oceans - the Irish Sea is now the most radioactive sea in the world, contaminated by over 100 kg of plutonium and other isotopes discharged from the British reactor, Sellafield. It was previously called Windscale but as it developed such a bad reputation from accidental and purposeful radioactive releases they changed the name to alleviate anxiety. Indeed, most nuclear emergencies and engineering deficiencies have been "managed" by the nuclear industry via public relations and propaganda, thus often replacing responsible engineering solutions.
British plutonium contamination of Maralinga is described in The Chain ReactionÝ(1979). During the Sixties, Britain scattered more than 40 lbs of plutonium over a large surface area at Maralinga and it has yet to be removed. Dust storms blow from there towards Port Pirie, Whyalla, Adelaide and Melbourne (1 lb of plutonium, if adequately distributed, hypothetically could kill every human being on Earth with lung cancer).
Late in the Seventies and Eighties other countries join the nuclear film producers, illustrating worldwide concern of global holocaust - Sweden, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and West Germany. Now the Greenhouse Effect has become a boon to the nuclear power industry and its apologists say it will be the dream of the future. That is, until the next meltdown. The US government predicts the risk of such an event (larger than Chernobyl) in the States over the next 10-20 years to be greater than 50 percent.
Last, but not least, to round off this extraordinary nuclear film history, it has been reported that Ronald Reagan, President of the United States for eight years, lived half in his film history and half in reality. He often dozed during Cabinet meetings and woke up to quote a line from a film as an answer to a contemporary problem. He was so removed from reality during the Iran-Contra affair, watching films in his private residence and inaccessible to his decision makers, that several of his aides called privately for his dismissal. He often quoted "one for the Gipper" and lines from Bedtime For Bonzo . Journalists have tracked many of his public statements related to the US military to be lines from his old films.
Never underestimate the subliminal and overt power of film and television!