What’s in a word?

One of the more intriguing paragraphs about the 1950s I noticed was this one from historian Spencer Weart:

The nuclear industry urgently wanted to dissociate civilian products from bombs. Publicists encouraged everyone to speak not of “atomic” but of “nuclear” power; aside from being scientifically more accurate, they hoped that would disentangle reactors from atomic bombs. Usage began to shift, with the London Times, for example, adopting “nu­clear” in 1957. However, the replacement word was immediately ap­plied to bombs as well as reactors, and the word “nuclear” in turn soon had a frightening tinge.

Weart, Spencer R. 1988. Nuclear Fear: A History of Images. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 177.

The author does not really provide references to support the claim about the Times, so it has proven impossible to check (without wading through newspaper archives, a thankless task). And my own reading across countries and years never highlighted a conspicuous, one-time shift of terminology from “atomic” to “nuclear.” It is true that what I call nuclear power, namely nuclear-generated electricity, was, back in the 1940s, terms “atomic energy,” and that there was a shift to “nuclear power” or “nuclear energy” sometime in the 1950s, but I did not spot any “urgent” move by “publicists” to generate that shift. Perhaps Weart is correct but I was not, when drafting the book, confident enough to make such an assertion.

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