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The Nuclear Age: Global Nuclear Threats from Hiroshima to Today

Course unit fact file
Unit code UCIL31712
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Fears surrounding nuclear weapons remain prominent today and have been so ever since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two. This unit offers you a unique opportunity to learn about these fears, the global history and politics of nuclear weapons, and the cultural expressions of the nuclear age.

Nuclear weapons have shaped world politics in decisive ways through proliferation and testing, accidents, and global events such the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In the unit, you'll study how global nuclear threats have been a critical feature of recent history up to today's nuclear terrorism and the emergence of new nuclear powers such as North Korea. You will also develop an understanding of nuclear culture through film, literature, poetry, television, music, art, cartoons and more, while exploring how nuclear weapons have transformed our society at large and human affairs.


UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

This unit is also available with a different course unit code. To take a UCIL unit you must choose the unit with a UCIL prefix.



The unit aims to:

  • Provide an introduction to the history and politics of nuclear weapons from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, to nuclear proliferation and testing, and up to modern times
  • Develop an understanding of the culture of the nuclear age (films, literature, music, art) over the second half of the 20th century and beyond
  • Assess the impact of the nuclear age on human affairs


Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able to:

  • Identify the origins of nuclear weapons and the debates surrounding their use from 1945 onwards
  • Describe the reasons underlying the proliferation and control of nuclear weapons and their effect on international politics and military strategy
  • Assess the roles and relationships of nuclear science and states during and after the Cold War
  • Analyse cultural expressions of the nuclear age including film, literature, poetry, television, music, art, cartoons, video-games and architecture
  • Evaluate the broader impacts of nuclear weapons on society through education, gender relations, protest movements and more
  • Prepare written reviews/essays aimed at different audiences

In addition, for 20 credits:

  • Research and write a literature-based, independently-conceived review, drawing on your interests and integrating historical, technical and cultural contexts


  • Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the end of the Second World War
  • Nuclear proliferation: the USSR and the arms race, 1945-1955
  • The Hydrogen Bomb and Nuclear Fear, 1950-1965
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
  • Civil Defence, CND and anti-nuclear protest. The War Game (film)
  • Nuclear test bans and nuclear intelligence, 1963-1996
  • Broken arrows: nuclear weapons and reactor accidents. Windscale 1957
  • Nuclear smuggling and nuclear terrorism: current threats
  • Nuclear Britain: history and future of Britain's military and civil nuclear programmes
  • Dr Strangelove and nuclear culture (film)

Assessment methods

10 Credits

Students will select TWO out of the following THREE coursework assignments:

  1. 2000 word book review
  2. 2000 word mini-research project
  3. 2000 word essay

Each one of the selected assignments will contribute 50% towards the final mark.

20 Credits

Students will select TWO out of the following THREE coursework assignments as below:

  1. 2000 word book review
  2. 2000 word mini-research project
  3. 2000 word essay

Each one of the selected assignments will contribute 25% towards the final mark. Plus a 3000-word project report (50%)

Feedback methods

Via Blackboard

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Tutorials 38
Independent study hours
Independent study 162

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Simone Turchetti Unit coordinator