Nuclear technologies have long evoked grand images—from billowing mushroom clouds to massive concrete cooling towers looming above nuclear power plants. This bigness has been engrained in our very language. A person can, for example, take the “nuclear option” – the most extreme course of action – when making a difficult decision. In anger, a person might “go nuclear,” exploding into rage.

In many ways, nuclear technologies earned their reputations for their huge scale. Since the 1950s, the size of nuclear power reactors has grown from sixty megawatts to more than 1,600 megawatts. The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were detonated with a force equal to a whopping fifteen to twenty estimated kilotons of TNT. By 1961 the Soviet Union was already testing hydrogen bomb Tsar Bomba—equivalent to fifty megatons of TNT. That’s 50,000 kilotons. Continue Reading.