Saturday, January 3, 2009: 9:50 AM
Madison Suite (Hilton New York)
This paper analyses the presentation of nuclear power, in its military and civilian forms, in a very widely read Dutch illustrated magazine, Panorama (comparable to Stern in Germany and Paris Match in France). Nuclear power was a complicated and many-sided subject, provoking strong feelings. The spectacular character of bomb tests and projected uses (nuclear airplanes, melting the arctic seas) made it an attractive subject for a commercial magazine. Its complicated nature, involving nuclear physics, the organisation and interests connected with ‘big science’, and implications for the future, led to very selective reporting, making specific aspects of the nuclear complex stand for the whole. The goal of the paper is to describe and explain the overall picture of nuclear power as it developed from the late 1940s to the early sixties. This overall picture (derived from a quantitative and qualitative content analysis of all issues 1946-1962) is one of confusion about the facts of nuclear power – both regarding the underlying physical principles and the military industrial context – and a growing mood of fear and suspicion vis-à-vis nuclear physicists and politicians, which anticipates the more explicit protest movements of the sixties.
In explaining the images and stories in the magazine, readership, editorial strategies (based on market research and editorial statements) and the role of interest groups in the Netherlands (the strong community of nuclear physicists with close connections to the government; worries about future energy needs) are taken into account. In the second half of the fifties the Dutch government, like governments elsewhere, strongly propagated nuclear energy. Panorama was instrumental to that propaganda, but also undermined it. Having no clear ideological course but being a purely commercial medium, it mainly reflected and reinforced the public mood, which was increasingly skeptical.