Early Days, 1954 Part Four – More about the Nuclear Arms Race and TV News


“As you can see Mr Bond, I am about to inaugurate a little war. In a matter of hours after America and Russia have annihilated each other, we shall see a new power dominating the world.” – Ernst Stavros Blofeld (You Only Live Twice)

Last time I took a look at nuclear weapons testing and finished with the bikini swimsuit.  Swimsuit stuff is great but back now to the serious stuff of destroying the World!

Nuclear testing was big business in the 1950s as the United States and the Soviet Union prepared with stubborn enthusiasm for wiping each other permanently off the face of the earth.  The fact that a major explosion even on the opposite side of the World might have serious consequences for both protagonists and pretty much everyone else in between just didn’t seem to occur to them.

What were these people thinking?  The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the deaths of almost 250,000 people which is killing on a scale that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot could only have dreamed about.


What also seems foolish to me is that both the US and the Soviet Union carried out nuclear testing within the boundaries of their own countries which is rather like setting the chip pan on fire in the kitchen of blocking up your own WC – dumb!

Compare this with the strategy of Great Britain which was much more sensible in this regard and who carried out its own modest nuclear bomb experiments on the other side of the World, in Australia, and Australians continue to complain about this alongside the introduction of the fox and the rabbit.

Years after all this nuclear testing stuff, in 1996, I visited the United States and although I didn’t know this at the time travelled along a road that was only sixty miles or so southwest of the Nevada Test Site.  This was a United States Department of Energy reservation which was established in January 1951 for the sole purpose of testing of nuclear weapons and analysing just how much damage that they could do.

Forget Bikini Atoll, this location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in all of North America.

I’ll say that again.  Forget Bikini Atoll, this location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in all of North America.  Not satisfied with dropping nuclear bombs on other countries they detonated them within their own – dumb!

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices during the Cold War and began here with a one kiloton bomb in January 1951.  From then until 1992, there were nine hundred and twenty eight announced nuclear tests at the site, which is far more than at any other test site in the World and seismic data has indicated there may have been many unannounced and more secretive underground tests as well.

During the 1950s the familiar deadly mushroom cloud from these experiments could be seen for almost a hundred miles in all directions, including the city of Las Vegas, where they instantly became tourist attractions as Americans headed for the City to witness the spectacle that could be seen from the downtown hotels.  Even more recklessly many others would thoughtlessly drive the family to the boundary of the test site for a day out and a picnic to view the free entertainment.  In doing so they unsuspectingly acquired an instant suntan and their own personal lethal dose of radioactive iodine 131, which the American National Cancer Institute, in a report released in 1997, estimated was responsible for thousands of subsequent cases of thyroid cancer.

Continuing the nuclear theme, the world’s first atomic power station was opened near Moscow in Russia and knowing now how careless the Russians were with anything nuclear this was probably something that the World needed to seriously worry about.

Fast forward to the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine in 1986 when a reactor accident at a nuclear power plant resulted in the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.  They incident was the only one to ever to record level seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale which might not sound too bad but on a scale of zero to seven, believe me, that’s pretty serious!

The accident resulted in a severe nuclear meltdown and a plume of highly radioactive fallout released into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area to the extent that (except for a handful of foolish people and some wild animals) it remains virtually uninhabitable today and almost certainly for many more years to come as well.


Mind you, we British could also arrange a nasty little nuclear disaster of our own and on 10th October 1957 the graphite core of a nuclear reactor at Windscale in Cumberland caught fire, releasing substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding area. For twenty years, the event, known as the Windscale fire, was considered the world’s worst reactor accident until Three Mile Island in 1979, before both incidents were dwarfed by the Chernobyl incident.

Here are the results of the Cold War: The West 3 (Bikini Atoll, Three Mile Island, Windscale) – USSR 1 (Chernobyl)  – four own goals by the way!

I leave 1954 with some thoughts about news coverage, which is what has stimulated these posts in the first place.  It is significant that the very first television news first bulletin in the UK was shown in 1954 on BBC TV, which is obvious of course because there was no ITV until 1955, and presented by Richard Baker, who was also by coincidence born on the same day as me, 15th June but a few years earlier in 1925.

He was required to give off screen narration while still pictures were put in front of the camera, this was because, and I really find this hard to believe, television producers were concerned that a newsreader with facial expressions would distract the viewer from the story.

On screen newsreaders were only introduced a year later, in 1955, and Kenneth Kendall was the first to appear on screen.  Kenneth Kendall , it has to be said, was unlikely to distract viewers from the important stories of the day but on the other hand even today some viewers in the UK find it difficult to concentrate on the weather forecast when the lovely Carol Kirkwood is presenting…



26 responses to “Early Days, 1954 Part Four – More about the Nuclear Arms Race and TV News

  1. Wikipedia says 70K for Hiroshima and 35K for Nagasaki (“because of Nagasaki’s more uneven terrain, there was less damage”) Huge numbers were killed by conventional bombing, using essentially napalm. Wikipedia says between 241,000 and 900,000 people.
    Lemay, the commander, would have used more bombs on one famous occasion,. but the factories couldn’t make them fast enough. This was Tokyo when 100,000 people were killed and the towns around it.


  2. Even though the world is probably much more dangerous now, there isn’t that sense of fear hanging over us as the used to be when we wee growing up; I think because the was was not that long over, because Hiroshima was fresh in our minds, as small children there definitely was a sense of alertness to catastrophe, and even in the ’60’s I remember how alarmed we all were at the Six Day War – friends in my class were crying in the classroom!


  3. I do remember the Windscale incident of course, I was only 12 bloody miles away from it! No school milk for ages, no beef, because of contamination in the Cumbrian fields ….. as if that was the important issue! I wrote a couple of blog posts about it, one called A Nuclear Poem, and the other one about the very brave men who put the Windscale fire out. https://wp.me/p3R1tV-1fs To this day it is still a bit of a cover up of how close the whole of the Lake District was to just vanishing and how much fallout actually occurred cause the wind direction was deliberately misreported! I actually remember more the later years after we were married and we both joined CND! Waste of time that was, a bit like referendums I suppose😂


  4. I remember getting up in the wee hours in Diamond Springs to watch the blast form the Nevada Desert which took place across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Andrew. The whole eastern sky was lit up. As you may recall, a Man in Black in a black SUV stopped Peggy and I venturing onto the sight where the bombs were blown up in the 50s and 60s. AEC is still operating monitoring devices downwind from the sight to determine how much radiation continues to blanket the area.
    Reading your comments on how insane (and I think that is a good word for it) the US and Russia were as they forged ahead building enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world over several times, I can’t help but stop and think what the world is up to now jumping back into the nuclear morass and quickly building an arsenal of AI operated robotic machines that have all kinds of potential for running amok and taking out civilian populations. Good post. Thanks. –Curt


  5. Governments have never cared about the effects of their goings on, on the ordinary citizen.. USA wants others to thwart their nuclear programs while they continue and always will..


  6. Well, I think people might complain if I wanted to burn my rubbish in other people’s back yard.

    And, I think it’s not so much that Great Britain was all that much more sensible about their tests as much as they don’t have a whole lot of room. Plus, you know, it’s not all that nice testing dangerous stuff in other people’s countries so it’s not like they deserve any praise.

    Seriously, one of the dangers of hindsight is that anyone can recognize “mistakes”. That’s why hindsight is also known as “looking out of one’s rear orifice”.

    Care to guess what common practice we don’t think anything about now will be found “dumb” by people with the advantage of 80 years of additional accumulated of knowledge? What will people in the year 2100 think of us poor idiots who didn’t know any better?

    Note, I’m not condoning past actions, especially not past actions by governments, but 1950 was just five years after the end of WW II.

    We can’t even begin to understand the frame of mind from people who held rifles and were shot at or even the frame of mind of the families of people who served and died.

    Again, not that we can’t look back and recognize “mistakes” but we should be more charitable (perhaps) toward people of the times.

    . . . especially because the final chapter of history has yet to be written . . . Heck, we’re still feeling the ripples of empires that have ceased to exist 1,000 years ago; do we really have the hubris to say — in balance and considering what came after and what has yet to come — whether they were good or bad?


    • The main point that I was trying to make is that the development of weapons that could not just destroy our enemies but wipe out the entire planet was (is) seriously dumb.

      What is even harder to believe is that people were allowed to get that close to watch it and they did. It especially confounds me that the States of Nevada and New Mexico had celebratory postcards!

      What dumb thing do we do now. It might be what we don’t do by ignoring climate change, but that is a whole different can of worms.

      Thank you as ever for your contribution, I appreciate it!


    • . . . you should see what we’re doing with biological weapons . . .

      And, I don’t mean governments; as we learn more about the genome and develop tools for making genetic modifications we’re approaching the point where there are not that many necessary tools required to develop weaponized viruses and stuff that can wipe out large segments of the population.

      Those scare me more than nuclear weapons which — despite their destructiveness — have a limited range and effective area.

      Sure, if they are deployed in mass, not good. But even a small deployment of a biological weapon has far-reaching and potentially global consequences.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think Andrew was being humorously sarcastic when he described Britain as being more sensible to use someone else’s backyard! It’s our English humour you see!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. If treated with respect nuclear power iMNSHO is the right way to go.It’s just that damned fools and maniacs just see it as a way of annihalating those that annoy them.


  8. I beg to differ; the finest has to be the Cockney, after all we have to put up with the rest of you.
    Our Humour? It’s over the top for anyone else.


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