When I had made this working model I showed it to them and they liked my idea because the top of it is like some large mushroom, or a kind of mushroom cloud. Also it has a kind of head shape like the top of the skull but down below is more an architectural cathedral. One might think of the lower part of it being a protective form and constructed for human beings and the top being more like the idea of the destructive side of the atom. So between the two it might express to people in a symbolic way the whole event. ~Henry Moore
From this working model, entitled “Atom Piece,” was born “Nuclear Energy,” a bronze sculpture by acclaimed mid-century British sculptor Henry Moore. The first casting of Nuclear Energy was installed at the University of Chicago in 1967 to mark the 25th anniversary of the location of mankind’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
Embedded in the sculpture and patently manifest even in this working model, located at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto as part of their permanent exhibition, is the duality of the promised Nuclear Age ahead. With Jetsons-like capability and Hiroshima-like terror inextricably intertwined, it was a time of can-do optimism and McCarthyistic fear. Nubile yin atop deformed yang. A melted human visage beneath the steeled helmet of progress. A void crying for help – mutely – like a voiceless apparition. Creation and destruction. The newfound ability to reach higher towards the heavens, never forgetting the explosiveness of new power. Like Icarus with a bomb vest. Soaring towards self-detonation. Because he must. Because we must.
In the air hung a promising nuclear future filled with abundant and nearly free energy,i where even the glowing glories Asimov described in the Foundation Seriesii seemed within reach, but which was undermined, then as now, by cheap oil and natural gas.iii (Lacking any good science fiction promoting the benefits of LNG, we could at least use a bronze sculpture entitled “LNG Energy” installed in West Virginia at the site of the world’s first LNG plant, built in 1912.)iv
With the benefit of time, we can now say that, like many a hyped “alternative energy,” nuclear power never entirely fulfilled on its promise to replace the backbone of our industrial society, oil & gas. Solar, wind, and geothermal will surely be added to the mix in increasing proportions in the century ahead, but none of these “low-carbon” “solutions,” including nuclear, will match the flexibility, transportability, and the unforgiving cheapness of fossil fuels anytime soon.v
If we can learn anything from our tanned friends in the Middle East,vi it’s that a little optimism (in dino juice) goes a long ways (up). If we can learn anything from Moore, it’s that we have plenty to look forward to in the generations ahead.
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- Too cheap to meter!!1!1 ↩
- Certainly the per-city small modular reactors (archived) seemed set to multiply like bunnies from the vantage point of 1950’s America, if not quite the Israeliesque Second Foundation’s pager-sized nuclear drives that clipped onto your belt and powered your personal force field. ↩
- Ironically, the almost absurd abundance of natural gas in places like Qatar have lead to an explosion of optimism there (archived) at the apparent expense of anything resembling a (perception of a) brighter future in the west. This may be justified. Qatar alone has ~25x more natural gas in reserve than Alberta with less than 1/10th the number of citizens, though approximately similar total populations between the two semi-independent states. ↩
- To quote Nietzsche, “We have art so that we may not perish by the truth.” ↩
- Not that cheap FFs are stopping countries like the land of cheese-eating-surrender monkeys from staying diversified with nuclear. ↩
- Ie. “Moors” in the original, if slightly incorrect, usage of the term. ↩