NEW DELHI – One of the great ironies of the twentieth century is that so significant a scientific advance as the ability to split the atom did not bring greater security. While North Korea has grabbed world headlines again with its failed launch of a long-range missile, and its threats to stage an underground nuclear test, Indians are protesting against the construction of nuclear power plants, owing to growing concerns about safety.
The nuclear bomb was the first technological advance to follow from splitting the atom, and countries that could adopt it quickly did so, without fully understanding its destructive power. Today, the complex engineering capacity needed to produce nuclear weapons – skills restricted to a few countries through the 1970’s – is rather commonplace. The number of countries that can build such devices has multiplied, as has the destructive power of these weapons.