The atomic age officially began on 6 August 1945 with the explosion of the first nuclear device for military purposes: the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Of course, everything had begun long before, with the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938 and the development of the first atomic bomb in the United States’ Los Alamos laboratories which was secretly detonated in the 16 July 1945 “Trinity test” at the Alamogordo bombing range in New Mexico. Since then, nuclear power, rather than a resource, has become a nightmare for humanity, what with the development of nuclear armaments and the construction of nuclear plants.
By dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, on Hiroshima on 6 August and on the city of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, the United States besides causing some 250,00 deaths, put an end to the Second World War and marked the start of two historical events: the atomic age and the Cold War.
The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States began immediately following the end of the Second World, around 1947, and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Mikhail Gorbačëv and George H. W. Bush declared the end of a period of tensions at the Malta summit on 3 December 1989. The Cold War years left an indelible mark on the entire world.
During this period the two super powers developed nuclear weapons in order to gain an advantage over the other. The Cold War was waged on the development of nuclear weapons: both parties hoped that their mere existence would be a strong enough deterrent to avoid an outright war.
However, the advancement of nuclear weapons brought with it another horrendous legacy in both countries: the Semipalatinsk bombing range in Kazakhstan, and the Nevada Test Site in the United States where 456 and 1021 nuclear warheads were tested respectively.
As well as contamination caused by the nuclear experiments, another type of contamination evolved at the same time: contamination caused by accidents at civil nuclear power stations. Building atomic warheads required fissionable materials like plutonium, and such materials could only be produced in nuclear plants. On 8 December 1953 the United States president delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly by the title “Atoms for peace”. The speech aimed to convince humanity of the need for nuclear plants, presenting them as “civilian nuclear stations” for the production of energy to be used by mankind. Disregarding the risks and issues that these would quickly cause as well as the nuclear accidents and their consequences, of which Chernobyl was a prime example.
The atomic era had begun, and with it all its terrible consequences.