Atomic age

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Nuclear Age (English: Atomic Age ) is the historical era known that the discovery of nuclear fission of uranium atom by Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner and (1938) to the first use of a nuclear bomb followed (1945). The atomic age is characterized by the possibility of using nuclear fission for military purposes ( nuclear war or nuclear deterrence ) or for civil purposes ( nuclear power ). The desire for an end to the nuclear age has taken shape in some countries, particularly with the phase out of nuclear power. At the same time, the "old nuclear powers" still have sufficient nuclear weapons arsenals for a nuclear deterrent, and the number of nuclear powers is increasing. Many countries do not respond to reactor disasters and the long-term risks of nuclear radiation by closing their nuclear power plants or by replacing old, fault-prone plants with new, safer ones. An “end of the atomic age” is therefore not in sight.

Nuclear weapons and their function

Atomic bombs release energy to an extent unknown before the atomic age. This takes effect in the form of heat , pressure and radioactive radiation . In a global thermonuclear war, entire continents would be covered with wildfires, which would lead to a global nuclear winter with clouds of smoke impervious to the sun and temperatures below freezing point. Food rations of any survivors could not be (sufficiently) replaced by new harvests after they were consumed, and the survivors would be constantly exposed to high radiation doses on the earth's surface, which would make them sick and damage their genetic makeup. Long-term survival of mankind would be excluded. The statement that a global nuclear war would lead to the "annihilation of humanity" ( nuclear holocaust ) is therefore not an exaggerated fear.

Era of east-west conflict

Hopes were also attached to the “balance of horror” that had existed since 1949 (when a Soviet atomic bomb was first detonated ). The political scientist and peace researcher Klaus Jürgen Gantzel draws on the teaching of the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz , who firstly saw war as “a mere continuation of politics by other means” and secondly remarked that in wars it is about the stronger in a “ extended duel “defeat the weaker, after which the latter can impose his will on him. In the atomic age, however, under the conditions of the nuclear arms race of the superpowers during the second half of the 20th century, the overkill potential had become so great that humanity would have been destroyed before the arsenal of both sides was exhausted. In this way the category of victory lost its meaning; there would be no more war winners and therefore no incentive to start a war. "The fact that no policy can be made with such weapons of mass destruction could have been a deeper insight behind the agreements between Reagan and Gorbachev on October 10, 1986 in Reykjavik , with which they ushered in the end of the East-West conflict and the first real steps towards disarmament, whatever the immediate interests of the two superpower leaders and their advisors may have been ... "

The new dimension of the atomic age consists in the fact that two states, which both possess atomic weapons, can no longer fall back on the instrument of measuring their strengths in war against each other without the risk of the rapid and complete annihilation of their own population, if not all of humanity to take. The division of the world decided on at the Yalta conference , the so-called “ bipolar ” world (oriented towards the “Poles” Washington and Moscow as centers of power), essentially survived the Cold War , which some consider to be a success of nuclear deterrence, rate others as a lucky coincidence.

“Atomwaffen a–” points out that since 1953 the “nuclear taboo” has been questioned by politicians and military strategists, according to which nuclear weapons are not intended to be used, but merely to have a deterrent effect.

Not only emissions from nuclear power plants, but also the numerous nuclear weapons tests carried out by the nuclear powers contributed to a release of radioactivity into the environment (particularly in the case of above-ground tests).

The end of the Cold War was heralded by the conclusion of the INF Treaty (the Washington Treaty on Intermediate Range Nuclear Systems). This treaty was signed on December 8, 1987 by the US President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev , General Secretary of the CPSU ; it came into force on June 1, 1988. The treaty agreed to disarm all medium-range missiles in the USA and the Soviet Union with a range of 1000 to 5500 kilometers and all short-range missiles with a range of 500 to 1000 kilometers.

Development since 1990

With the end of the East-West conflict and the accompanying nuclear disarmament initiatives of the superpowers at the time, hopes of avoiding the nuclear holocaust initially increased. They were also stimulated immediately after the US President Barack Obama took office , who made the “goal of a world without nuclear weapons” his program. Among all international security problems, nuclear terrorism ranked number one for Obama on the international list of threats in 2009 . However, in 2014 the disarmament process that began after the Cold War came to a virtually complete standstill. Instead, the nuclear powers have begun extensive modernization programs to develop new, better nuclear weapons and ensure operational readiness for decades. In the context of the Ukraine crisis , Egon Bahr affirmed on May 8, 2014 with reference to Russia what he believed to be the continuing validity of the knowledge that no nuclear power could "win" in the nuclear age and that this was clear to all nuclear powers.

As early as 2008, Frank Sauer considered the non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945 by no means to be taken for granted, but in need of explanation. In particular, the consequences of the fact that the world has not been bipolar since 1990 (aligned with the “Poles” Washington and Moscow) must be clarified . It is likely that in a world with more and more nuclear powers, these weapons will eventually be used. More nuclear-weapon states lead to a greater risk of unauthorized access to weapons and weapons-grade material. Terrorist groups with nuclear weapons would probably not be deterred from using them. In 2009, Andreas Herberg-Rothe stated: “Since the end of the Cold War, preventing nuclear war has once again been the top priority in international politics.” According to Herberg-Rothe, the risk of nuclear war comes primarily from small nuclear powers that fear the Loss of their second strike capacity (if there is any) could lead to a first strike .

In 2015, the science magazine “ Spectrum of Science ” reported on Chinese model calculations in the event of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan . "Only" 0.3 percent of the world's nuclear weapons would be used. Nevertheless, in China, which was not directly affected by the war, "rice production would decline by almost a third, that of maize by a fifth and that of wheat by more than half". At least one billion people around the world would be at acute risk of starvation. In 2019, such “mind games” will gain in importance as the Kashmir conflict , which has been smoldering for decades , has worsened significantly. Pakistan and India could each use 140 to 150 nuclear warheads in the context of the conflict.

In spring 2016, Spiegel Online stated: “The US President [Obama] wants to renew his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It has long since failed. ”Obama was unable to prevent North Korea from becoming the youngest nuclear power at the time, although he succeeded in doing so in the case of Iran . However, in the Trump era, the Iran conflict appears to be the most dangerous confrontation with a high probability of the use of nuclear weapons alongside the Kashmir conflict.

In the 2016 presidential election campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump is said to have asked the ( rhetorical? ) Question: “If we have nuclear weapons, why don't we use them?” In 2016, Donald Trump suggested that Japan and South Korea should build their own nuclear weapons (which makes it bigger the number of nuclear powers). As president, he terminated the INF treaty; it expired on August 2, 2019.

A 49 line long article in "Spiegel" begins in February 2020 with the words: "Imagine a nuclear war threatens and nobody cares." According to the article, employees of the Stevens Institute of Communication interviewed 1,500 Americans. The respondents estimated the probability that they would experience a nuclear war in their lifetime at an average of 50 percent. But that worried only a few. Political scientist Kristyn Karl says that "[y] young Americans [...] heard almost nothing about the risks of nuclear weapons". They lack the experience of the Cold War. In August 2020, the “Spiegel” generalized the findings. He quoted Nikolai Sokov from the “Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP)” with the words: “We have forgotten how to fear nuclear war. […] And the worst thing is: if you don't fear it, it becomes inevitable. ”The article also raises doubts that no nuclear power, including the established nuclear powers, really intends to carry out a first strike.

Civilian use of atomic fission

Another aspect of the atomic age can be seen in the fact that the principle of nuclear fission enables a new form of energy use outside of military applications, in particular in the form of electricity generation in nuclear power plants. In the first few years, this new type of energy source was mainly assessed as a symptom of technical progress . The GAU in Three Mile Island (1979) as well as the super-GAUs in Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) increased skepticism towards this positive view.

The phrase "peaceful use of nuclear energy", which is still widespread among supporters of nuclear power plants, is viewed by critics as a euphemism in which a "shining accord [...] of robust energy, usefulness and peace" sounds.

The problem with industrially operated nuclear fission is that new radioactive substances are constantly being created that have to be safely shielded from the environment and the end products of which sometimes have a very long half-life . This makes safe repositories necessary, but these do not yet exist.

In particular after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima on March 11, 2011, the “end of the nuclear age” was proclaimed in Germany and other countries; in some other countries, however, new nuclear power plants are being designed and are already being built. However, the number of nuclear power plants in operation is falling worldwide. The share of nuclear power in the energy mix fell worldwide from around 17.5 percent in 1996 to around 10 percent in 2019. According to the nuclear analyst Mycle Schneider, new nuclear power plants are unprofitable without permanent state subsidies . Less than half of the 417 nuclear power plants in operation worldwide are less than thirty years old.


Web links

Wiktionary: atomic age  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Carl von Clausewitz: Vom Kriege ( Memento from June 30, 2012 in the Internet Archive ). 1819. ( First book: On the nature of war. First chapter: What is war? Thesis 24).
  2. Clausewitz, thesis 2.
  3. Klaus Jürgen Gantzel: The unheard of Clausewitz. To correct dangerous errors - a necessary polemic (PDF; 134 kB). University of Hamburg, IPW working paper 5/2001.
  4. ^ Günter Gaus: The relationship problems between the two German states - practical problems and perspectives . In: GDR today (Ed .: Gerd Meyer / Jürgen Schröder). Tübingen 1988. p. 181.
  5. Theo Sommer: The nuclear taboo is more important than ever . In: The time . 11th August 2015
  6. Xanthe Hall ( IPPNW ): Preventing war and ensuring peace through nuclear deterrence? ( Memento of March 10, 2012 in the Internet Archive ).
  7. ↑ The deterrent effect of nuclear weapons is doubted . Swiss info . May 11, 2010.
  8. atomwaffen a– Nuclear taboo . June 2012
  9. Oliver Hoischen: After Obama's Inauguration: The End of the Atomic Age? . Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . January 25, 2009.
  10. Walther Stützle: Preferably none at all . Cicero , March 22, 2010.
  11. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW): 155 states warn of the danger of nuclear war. Nuclear powers arm - a new disarmament treaty required . October 21, 2014.
  12. "Putin is a rational person" . Frankfurter Rundschau . May 8, 2014.
  13. Frank Sauer: The return of the bomb ?: Disuse of nuclear weapons and international terrorism . Section: The Disuse of Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century: Need to Explain . 2008, pp. 88-93
  14. Oliver Thränert: The nuclear non-proliferation policy in the crisis . Federal Agency for Political Education . October 13, 2006
  15. Andreas Herber-Rothe: Wars with nuclear weapons? ( Memento of December 5, 2014 in the Internet Archive ). In: Memories. Journal of the Politico-Military Society . No. 57. 2009, p. 8f.
  16. Daniel Lingenhöhl: What consequences would a regional nuclear war have for world food? . May 22, 2015
  17. Kashmir conflict: Researchers have calculated the devastating effects if India and Pakistan use nuclear weapons ( Memento from March 6, 2019 in the Internet Archive ). . 1st March 2019
  18. Veit Medick / Wieland Wagner: First visit by a US president - Obama's delicate Hiroshima mission . Spiegel Online , May 26, 2016
  19. Erich Follath / Georg Mascolo / Holger Stark : "If someone gets up to kill you, kill him first" . The time . Edition 37/2019. September 4, 2019. Online:
  20. Konstantin Hofmann: "If we have nuclear weapons, why do not we use them?" . 3rd August 2016
  21. ^ After the US has left: INF treaty with Russia officially ends . 2nd August 2019
  22. Don't be afraid of nuclear war . In: "Der Spiegel". Edition 8/2020. February 15, 2020, p. 95
  23. Playing with the bomb . In: "Der Spiegel". Edition 32/2020. August 1, 2020, p. 80
  24. z. B. Klaus Möbius: The peaceful use of nuclear energy in Germany - problems of energy policy . “Citizens for Technology eV”, April 2, 2011.
  25. Hartmut Gründler: Nuclear Energy Advertising. The linguistic packaging of atomic energy. From the dictionary of thought . In: literary magazine 8. The language of the big brother . Rowohlt 1977. p. 73.
  26. z. B. Cover story Fukushima March 12, 2011, 3:36 pm - The end of the nuclear age . Der Spiegel edition 11/2011.
  27. Nuclear Power Plants - The fourth nuclear age is approaching . June 15, 2010.
  28. Stefan Schultz: Energiewende: The importance of nuclear power is falling worldwide . Spiegel Online . September 21, 2019