Disneyland 3-14 – Our Friend, The Atom
On Sunday, January 23, 1957, a large American audience gathered around their television sets to watch the weekly episode of Disneyland, a popular show created and hosted by Walt Disney in return for an investment from ABC that he used to build Disneyland. On that evening, the audience was treated to a compressed course in atomic physics and science history titled “Our Friend, The Atom.”
The show’s narrator, Heinz Haber, was a knowledgable, respected nuclear scientist. With the help of the professional storytellers and animators who worked for Walt Disney, he wove a fascinating, informative tale that compared the discovery of atomic energy to the fable from The Arabian Nights titled The Fisherman and the Genie (some translations use the title “The Fisherman and the Demon”).
(Time mark 7:00) Heinz Haber – Strangely enough, our story is like that fable [Fisherman and the Genie] come true through science. We are like the fisherman. For centuries, we have been casting our net into the sea of the great unknown in search of knowledge. An finally, we found a vessel, and like the one in the fable, it contains a genie. A genie hidden in the atoms of this metal, uranium. Let me show you. This is a geiger counter. It shows that the genie is here and present in these atoms.
So this is our story. How the vessel was discovered, how the genie was liberated, how it first threatened to kill and how it was finally harnessed to grant us three wishes
Through the magic of YouTube and a channel titled Disneytv4me it is now possible for anyone with an internet connection and a browser to replay that tale and experience the excitement and hopeful sense of discovery that inspired the families of early 1957. The original show aired at a time when newspapers were full of stories about “The Atomic Age.” The first commercial nuclear plant in the free world had begun operating at Calder Hall in Great Britain, the USS Nautilus was conducting its inspiring and well-publicized voyages under the sea, and the first nuclear power station in the United States was nearing completion.
It was a time when people cited science as a tool for human progress, not as a club with which to beat people into fearing the future and restricting their natural desires for a more bountiful, energy-driven existence for everyone.
Please pour yourself a cold beverage, put some popcorn on the table and gather some friends or family around to watch this important program. Share it widely. Think about how to recover the optimism that infused the US and much of the rest of the world in the 1950s.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PwllA-CyJU
Thank you for sharing this, Rod!
Yet today, with all these “educational” and “enlightenment” channels like the Discovery Channel, Science Channel, Inventions Channel, History Channel, nary any series with a good thing to say about nuclear anything outside begrudging cancer treatment. TONS of Solar and Windmills and Tidal and GeoTherm, but atoms?? Ghost town! How far the atom’s image has fallen since Diz!
Of course, a few nuclear-community joint venture nuclear-education Ads wouldn’t hurt, especially when Puppy Rescue’s done a million of ’em! I just can’t knock oil and gas for being so positively received and successful. They know how to FIGHT for survival and gaining public favor. I guess nuclear’s PR plight and bad image is only self-afflicted.
It was interesting that Dr Haber said very directly that our supplies of coal and oil were limited and we shouldn’t be wasting them by burning them. I can’t see that statement being allowed on national television in these days of science denial.
Thanks for posting that link, it was great to reflect on an optimistic time.
Did you read the YouTube comments on that video? I shows the ignorance and fear any talk of Nuclear power and radiation brings.
Us pro-nukes have a tough row to hoe.
I rarely read TouTube comments. The thoughts of a tiny sample of the population writing under the cover of anonymity are not worth my time.
I watched that a while back on the internet. Its really well done. Leaves you with a big “what the heck happened to us?” feeling.
How so specifically. – the science part? The technology ? the promotion if a new technology energy source? Give us more to go on than thinly veiled irrelevant bitterness.
I would love to see how the Disney production pulls the wool over our eyes. Most of the time when I hear a comment like this it deal with Nuclear safety issues. As though radiation is exceptionally dangerous. Nearly all the objections to Nuclear power fall back to this mis-conception. It is that idea that drives costs high by requiring an “N” stamp for every article put into a NPP. As though there is something exceptional about the need for quality in a NPP that is even higher than the need in airplanes. At the same time the “N” stamp does not insure actual quality, it simply insures a TON of paperwork for each part – driving the cost of the part many times that of a normal part.
As a conservative I believe in limited regulations – those are based in principal and take cost / benefit into account. The proper role for government is object and neutral principal based regulation. This allows for free competition. Crony capitalism or rent seeking is a corruption of our system.
Nuclear power should be regulated at the safety levels currently in place for Coal, Natural gas, gasoline, diesel, and other fossil fuels. That is to say, let’s count the bodies. So far, according to your own posts, those are extremely few for Nuclear power.
Couldn’t agree more, with everything you’ve said in this spot on post.
The question is what we can do to correct the incredible double standard. The public will implacably resist, given their tremendous prejudice against nuclear (and even the thought of any nuclear pollution, ever, while having little problem with continuous pollution from other sources). Politicians will not cooperate, given the influence of far more powerful (pro fossil, pro renewable) political interests.
Court remedies may be our only option. May have to sue… Isn’t that the history/tradition; courts delivering justice to individuals or groups who are unpopular and outnumbered, and therefore would otherwide be victims of the democratic/economic system? Haven’t courts been a remedy to false (and harmful) beliefs that are nonetheless widely and persistently held by the public?
I really liked this short film. For the time, they did an excellent job of explaining the basics. I think if something like this would be done today, it would definitely have to be in a different style and address a different kind of audience.
Walt Disney even had ideas of building a nuclear plant for Disney World in Florida. With his vision for the city of the future, EPCOT, it would have fit right in. Perhaps if reliable small scale nuclear plants like mpower or nuscale were available at the time, it would have been a more feasible plan.
I share Disney’s fascination for cities of the future. This is an idea that seemed to blossom in post-war America but it seems to have been lost in the minds of Americans where big box stores and strip malls have erased the idea of town squares and planning a civic center around a central park plaza.
One might ask what do cities of the future have anything to do with nuclear power? If we can do some imagineering, nuclear plants that are designed to be attractive facilities with reactors underground, they could be made to seamlessly blend into a business park setting and people might not even realize they just past a nuclear plant unless you told them. A city like this with a very clean business/industrial district opens up more civic design possibilities because rails could be for passengers, not coal freight and waterfronts can have parks and trails, not smokestacks. In my vision, this city would provide everyone with free electricity and water.
There are some places in the world where people still have grand visions of future communities with nuclear power as the backbone infrastructure. If there was one thing I wish we could bring back from 1957, it would be this spirit of how America had a spirit of creating a new exciting future based on optimism in science and engineering.
@Jason C : What you describe is in many ways similar to Clinton Lake State Recreation Area : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinton_Lake_%28Illinois%29
There is some validity to your commentary and questioning, but I’m not reflexively anti-corporate, anti-progress, anti-technology or anti-marketing. I’m not even anti-wealth.
To me, Disney and the other corporations you describe were engaged in major contributions to strength of the American experience I grew up enjoying. Yes, they were working to attract consumer dollars, but they were also providing many consumers with good jobs and rewarding career paths. They were not forcing anyone to purchase anything or creating concentrated wealth by market manipulation to achieve actual or perceived scarcity. Their business model was abundance – if we make more, we sell more. If we work hard to find out what customers like and produce better products, more attractive products, more entertaining products, or more thrilling products, then we will increase our sales.
“Our Friend the Atom” is partially about marketing and reassurance. I suspect it was created partially to counter the fear of radiation and the “Atomic Age” that had begun to emerge as the result of a focused propaganda campaign that included the June 1956 release of the Rockefeller Foundation-funded National Academy of Sciences report on the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation.
With the aid of digital archives of publications like Time Magazine and the New York Times I’ve been able to observe the results of that propaganda effort and to recognize their roots. Nearly every article about “radiation risks” and “radiation peril” can be traced to a scientist, laboratory or institution funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, both before and after joining the campaign to spread fear of radiation based on Hermann Muller’s target theory, no-threshold dose response assumption, and “no safe dose” mantra.
(Even the root of that falsified, but still officially accepted hypothesis, Muller’s trail-blazing fruit fly experiments reported in 1927, were conducted at the University of Texas with grants provided by the Rockefeller Foundation.)
Maybe now that Rockefeller Foundation announced divestment of Fossil Fuels, in the New York Times on September 21, 2014, an updated conspiracy theory will be needed.
Actions taken in the past are not altered by a 2014 announcement.
Besides, soon after that announcement there was a rather quick clarification issued.
Wasn’t that about the same time frame that Rocketdyne’s reactor was melting down, about ten miles away from my elementary school? Funny, how quiet they kept that, eh?
You know Rod, the public mistrust of the technology might be unwarranted, but the public mistrust of the industry certainly isn’t. Even if the Rocketdyne event was harmless, the hundreds of thousands of people living in the San Fernando Valley, as well as Semi Valley, had a right to know what was occurring in their backyard. Most didn’t even know the Rocketdyne facility had a reactor, much less one that was experiencing major problems.
Actually, it was 1959. I was seven years old, being raised in the shadow of the Santa Susana Rocketdyne facility, with my three siblings. So, in 1959, over a half a century ago, what was known about exposure limits, health effects, half lives, etc.??
So really, the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of the San Fernando Valley, and Simi Valley, were just human experiments, pawns. And whats worse, we had no choice in the matter.What you don’t know won’t hurt you, right? The scientists really didn’t know what damage might result from that meltdown, so they chose to conceal it.
Trust?? Uh huh. Right. At least the Bikini Atoll human experiments were conducted on soldiers that had least a very slight inkling of what they were being exposed to. And that was at the behest of the military complex. Rocketdyne wasn’t developing a bomb, they were developing reactors for civilian energy needs. So, pfffft, there goes this argument that the civilian atomic energy complex was somehow more “ethical” than the military atomic weaponry programs.
So, in 1959, over a half a century ago, what was known about exposure limits, health effects, half lives, etc.??
In 1959, we had more than 60 years worth of experience and knowledge about the health effects of radiation. There was no concern on the part of the scientists and engineers working at Santa Susana because there was little or nothing to worry about, especially compared to the materials used in chemical rocket propulsion and other manufacturing enterprises in the same general area.
And their concern about wind direction during the reactor problems?? Look, Rod, advocacy is one thing, but unrealistic sugar coating of history doesn’t compliment credibility. The fact that the Rocketdyne event was concealed tends to vacate your contention that the scientists were “unconcerned” about the health effects resulting from the event.
Truth is, you guys are winning me over. But then you throw these curveballs, that seem , at least to me, to be your own version of FUD. You might want to ask yourself if the public distrust of the industry, and the technology, is just as much a result of the industry’s actions as it is the result of FUD and the actions of the antis.
There have been industry mistakes. There have been actions taken by the industry that in hindsight seem almost purposely devised to create distrust and even animosity. In some cases, some pretty unsavory or immoral people have taken such a strong pronuclear position that the effect has been to create an almost automatic negative response. For example, Edward Teller, the prototype for Dr. Strangelove, often cast himself as a promoter of nuclear energy. So did Richard Nixon, especially during the energy crisis of 1973, after the Watergate revelations had already been made public.
I’m no expert when it comes to Santa Susana, but I do know that nuclear professionals have always been concerned about wind direction during a release of radioactive material of any kind. The material is detectable at tiny levels and there have always been people willing to exaggerate the effects of contamination that they could measure, even if the doses were well below those received from natural sources.
With all of your concern about the event, can you give me any estimates for doses to the most exposed person in the public? Was there any harm or was the event simply one more “close call” that antinuclear activists like to use to tar any event with even a hint of relationship to radiation?
You are asking a question that even the scientists cannot, or will not, answer. But you knew that. So why ask?
Excerpt from the link, above….
On July 26, the reactor again surged out of control, causing 13 of its 43 uranium fuel rods to rupture or melt. Radioactive gases spewed from the building. “It is incomprehensible to me that the radiation that was released stopped at the site boundary,” says Hirsch. “The meltdown occurred in a reactor that had no containment structure. When we think of reactors, we think of Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, with these huge concrete domes to protect against radioactivity being released. But the sodium-reactor experiment and all the other reactors that were on the property had no containment dome, so the radioactivity in the accident was released into the atmosphere and settled on the communities below the site. The question we cannot answer is how much that was and how much it affected people.”
“Over the course of the following year, radioactive xenon and krypton gases were released as technicians struggled to clean up the reactor. “The radiation monitors went off the scale during the accident, so we have a very poor idea of how much stuff got out,” says Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Parfrey. “The company says that 10,000 curies of radioactive iodine were re¬leased.”
Xenon and krypton are noble gases. They don’t “settle” anywhere.
Oops….meant “Simi Valley”.
I loved 20,000, even though Disney kind of ran fast and loose by giving his Nautilus am “unnamed” power source that wasn’t in Verne’s book. In fact, Verne’s Nautilus essentially ran on Coal products! The irony!
What really cracks me up about all these wails and squeals over nuclear dangers and hazards, real and perceved, is if you took a scorecard of every industrial energy health impact and accident and mortality incident since 1945, guess where nuclear would rank in the health and environmental impact list! This is one major public positive media Ace card that the nuclear community seldom if ever plays, which totally flips me out! Talk about boxing oil and gas with both gloves tied behind your back!!
I just watched the film & one bit of disappointment with it was that Lise Meitner wasn’t mentioned in connection with the discovery of fission. How well known was her contribution at the time the film was made? Since Meitner was a Jew on the run from the Nazi’s, might anyone involved with making the film have wilfully ignored her contribution?
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