My Fav Nuclear Holocaust   Leave a comment

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Though nuclear holocausts are always in vogue with sci-fi, especially in dystopian stories, how does one choose a favorite?  Sure, sure, there’s all sorts of post-bomb, pre-bomb and oh, boy, you’d better get running because here it is, DUCK…AND…COVER!

On a French class trip to, well, France back in the 1970, I sat on a bus, blithely admiring the glorious countryside outside the window  (we also traveled to The Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium, too – in nine days).  My French wasn’t great, but I knew enough to figure out that the story coming across the radio on the bus intercom said something about the nuclear reactor melting down at Three Mile Island.  Hmm, I thought to myself, isn’t that less than 100 miles from my home?  Oh yes, folks, it was.

Back home in science class, we students discovered how cheap and plentiful nuclear energy provides everybody with all that juice needed to keep lights on and TVs glowing.  New Jersey, my state of birth, had two plants and nearby Pennsylvania had one, too – Three Mile Island.  Figuring that I was probably safe in France, although maybe perhaps my parents might share a few concerns about their relative proximity to said nuclear power plant, I worried a little.   A newspaper photo I still remember showed a woman cradling a baby, protectively wrapped in a towel, unaware that a stone building or basement provided far better protection.  Turned out, everyone was fine.  For now.

Ironically, a film that opened shortly before all this occurred, The China Syndrome had a similar plot but nowhere near as nasty as what was going down at said nuclear plant.

I must confess the best film I had seen on the subject is the 1984 British film, Threads.  Shot on a ridiculously cheap budget of less than half a million (dollars and pounds), it created a totally believable, plausible “what-if” story that had me convinced the events depicted in the film were about to occur.  This feature, without dancing around the subject with deep love stories and soupy personal dramas, told the story of two families and others who find themselves literally caught between a nuclear warhead exchange between the United States and Russia.  It might as well as have been a documentary, given the rather factual presentation of the story.  The one scene that has stuck with me to this day: as a woman looks up and sees the contrails of the bombs, we see water coming out of her pant leg, as she pisses herself in terror.  That scene was a perfect example of not needing any words to describe the emotion.

The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) had its own film, pre-Threads, called The Day After.  All sorts of controversy surrounded it.  ABC could barely find any sponsors willing to advertise.  The writers of the film faced guff because their original script was deemed too scary and were forced to slash it from a six-hour, two-night drama a 2 1/2 hour Sunday night film.  It’s basically the same story in different packaging, with the Soviets and Americans at it once again, although a slightly different scenario.  I’d love to see the original, six-hour version planned, because although The Day After was compelling, it couldn’t measure up to Threads.  

I was in university at the time and we all gathered around my cheap B&W TV to watch it, beers and cigarettes in hand (we were students, after all).  I was suitably disturbed as I got caught up in its very fine cast searching for ways to live without dying.  I remember liking it, and probably still would if I have an opportunity to watch it again, but given the far worse stories and video games that have come out since, it’d barely raise an eyebrow if shown today.

My modern-day fright is these nuclear power plants continue to churn out all of the electricity necessary these days to supply us with all those objects we own that need to be plugged in.  Unfortunately, like many energy sourced plucked out of the earth, there’s waste products to contend with.  Once those fuel rods are spent, there’s all that plutonium 239 hanging about.  Sure, it gets buried someplace, deep within the ground, but it’s still there, for pretty much ever.

And yet, we largely ignore the ultimate energy source: the sun.  Maybe once it blows up, it’ll command our attention.

Need a reason to smile and cheer yourself up?  Here’s a list of popular nuclear holocaust fiction, drama and such from the good folks at Wikipedia.  Enjoy!

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