No-one who did not live through the Cold War years can know exactly what a dark shadow the bomb cast. Many people found it difficult, or just pointless, to look ahead or make plans; some went off the rails, some even committed suicide. Feelings of uncertainty, helplessness and apprehension marred relationships, beliefs, and creativity. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT) of the 1970s did little to ease things: after all, nuclear weapons still existed. (And some radiation damage had already been done: between 1945 and 1980 there had been over 1,220 nuclear tests, and those carried out before1962 were above ground, dispersing radioactive fall-out. In the early 1990s it was estimated that by 2001 around 430,000 people would have died from resultant cancers.)
Of course there were many protests, in many countries. In Britain the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was founded in 1958, and to this day provides up-to-date information on the nuclear arsenals' state of play. But public protest from anti-nuclear campaigners and the peace movement was not enough to influence the military policies of the superpowers, by turns paranoid, fearful and assertive. The fear of communism, in particular, powered both home and foreign policies in America - indeed it was the decline of communism in the late 1980s that brought the Cold War to an end.
But the justified fear (and continued existence) of nuclear weapons hasn't ended. The countries which are known to have nuclear arms (the USA, Russia, the UK, France, China, India and Pakistan) are not all or always stable. There are also other countries, such as Israel, which have not admitted to possession of nuclear weapons. There is a risk that small nuclear weapons may be in the hands of terrorist groups. The monster is bigger than the men who made it, and not fully controlled.
So, it seems, is militarism, which still dominates government policies, still costs vast amounts of money in maintenance alone. In the UK, a submarine armed with nuclear warheads patrols the sea depths every moment of every day, using taxpayers' money that could be better spent on health, education and the environment.
In 1947 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (whose compilers are opposed to nuclear warfare) featured on its cover what has come to be known as the Doomsday Clock: a clock face with its hands set at approaching midnight. Midnight is the Apocalypse In 1947 the 'nuclear time' was 7 minutes to midnight. In 1949, when the Soviet Union exploded its first bomb, the hand moved to 3 minutes to midnight, and returned there in 1981 when the superpowers' nuclear arms race accelerated. Now the hand creeps closer to midnight when other powers threaten nuclear conflict.