I don’t like nuclear weapons much. They’re the grim opposite of the other grand and inspiring engineering achievements of the last century: dams, the space programme, particle accelerators, skyscrapers: science and technology in the service of annihilation. We need to be objective, though, and stop recycling the late Twentieth Century’s pro- and anti-nuclear debate if we’re to decide what to do when the current generation of H-bombs wears out.
To begin with, they seem to work. Nuclear weapons have been used twice, on the same day, against one beligerant over sixty years ago. Even the peaceniks would concede there’s a reasonable chance they’ll never be used again. The bomb is a remarkable thing: a ‘use once’ weapon. Maybe we should acknowledge that this mess is exactly what the planet needs: a rather imperfect but, in practice, 100% effective deterrent for conflict between big nations that depends on the operation of messy and contingent global politics, lots of tricky (and expensive) science and the universal dread of the consequences of use. Perfect. Here’s to another sixty years.