Red Atom

In the 1950s Soviet leaders and scientists dreamt of a utopian energy solution.


Paul Josephson

University of Pittsburgh Press: £14.50

In the 1950s Soviet leaders and scientists dreamt of a utopian energy solution where reactors would generate cheap electricity and nuclear engines would power cars, ships and aircraft. Technology was seen as a panacea for the great social, economic and political challenges of the time.

This philosophy, started by Lenin, urged Russia to use capitalist technologies to tread the path to a glorious communist future. Yet the approach to developing a nuclear landscape was built on technological arrogance, and a fundamental desire to compete with the West.

From the outset Russia’s nuclear founders intended that this industry be no different from any other. Mid-level workers with basic understanding of nuclear physics supervising complex systems were taught that the technology was infallible and manipulable, with little or no understanding of its implications on a wider scale.

Josephson’s book explains this was a race that backfired horribly for Russia and, unfortunately, the rest of Europe, with the ramifications felt clearly on 26 April 1986.

The author explores the process from peaceful use of nuclear power to the political, economic and environmental fallout at Chernobyl in a process that he attributes to ‘atomic-powered communism’.

Christopher Sell