Atoms for Peace

The Peaceful Atom is a Bomb

In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced “Atoms for Peace," an effort to reshape the image of nuclear energy away from nuclear weapons to its allegedly peaceful, beneficial applications. This was in part an attempt to atone for the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, but more important, it provided a positive association of nuclear fission to a public fearful of the tremendous potential for destruction which had been unleashed. Atoms for Peace, started at the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism, also served as an effective public relations shield for the nuclear weapons program, which was undergoing a tremendous increase in size. In fact, part of the plan called for the AEC to subsidize the development of nuclear power with offers to give spare fissionable materials created by the bomb program for use in commercial reactors.

Peter Pringle and James Spigelman noted in "The Nuclear Barons" that "there was so much excess [nuclear material] that … Eisenhower was able to offer material equivalent to more than 5,000 bombs' worth in support of his plan for 'Atoms for Peace.'" ("The Nuclear Barons," p. 102)

At the time, the U.S. had just opened a second nuclear materials production center--the Savannah River Plant (SRP) in South Carolina. Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons was underway by the U.S. and U.S.S.R., and radioactive fallout was raining down on the entire planet. Thus, the image of peaceful nuclear energy was eagerly sought to persuade the public that this force could be harnessed for the benefit of mankind, and not just its destruction (even while simultaneously accelerating the nuclear arms race).

Pringle and Spigelman add that

"Atoms for Peace" was swiftly turned into a "buzz phrase," in the best traditions of Madison Avenue, firing the imaginations of leaders of nations seeking the magic of the atom. America, eager to capitalize on this public relations success, unlocked the secrets of nuclear technology and, in an expansive gesture, offered them free to anyone interested in pursuing the atom's power to make peaceful things like electricity. … The original aim … a first step to disarmament, was quickly, and conveniently, forgotten. Most important, the long-term effects of the spread of atomic knowledge and of giving other countries the materials to build a bomb were simply ignored."
-- The Nuclear Barons, p. 122

The 1954 Atomic Energy Act legalized the commercial ownership of nuclear materials, paving the way for the development of the commercial nuclear industry.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 originally established the AEC., created to be an ostensibly civilian agency after members of Congress and concerned physicists voiced objections to placing nuclear production under the sole control of the military. Section 1 states that “Atomic energy is capable of application for peaceful as well as military purposes. It is therefore declared to be the policy of the United States that

“a. the development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to make the maximum contribution to the general welfare, subject at all times to the paramount objective of making the maximum contribution to the common defense and security; and
“b. the development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise."
Section 2 declares the processing and utilization of source, by-product [waste], and special nuclear material [fissionable materials] must be regulated in the national interest and in order to provide for the common defense and security and to protect the health and safety of the public. (If this section is ever amended to “the common defense requires that nuclear materials must be regulated in order to protect the health and safety," it would it possible to wean the U.S. government from its nuclear programs.)
Section 3 (d) adds that one purpose of the Act was to develop “a program to encourage widespread participation in the development and utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes to the maximum extent consistent with the common defense and security and with the health and safety of the public."
Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2011), reprinted in “Nuclear Proliferation Factbook," pp. 90-91

Nuclear physicist Michio Kaku, who studied under Edward Teller (the father of the hydrogen bomb), states that

The Eisenhower Administration was fearful that the "Ban the Bomb" movement would abridge their ability to deploy [nuclear] warheads around the world. That's when they began to create the deliberate deception of atomic radiation victims, and began the research on irradiated foods. The irradiation of foods had a deliberate political purpose … to calm peoples' fears. Atoms for Peace was not just because the military thought that we should have peaceful atoms, they knew that it wasn't under control … They wanted to quell the image of Hiroshima that every American had seared into their memories. Edward Teller [one of the inventors of the hydrogen bomb and a tireless proponent for his creations] was very explicit about this. "We must erase the memory of Hiroshima._ That's when the study of food irradiation was begun."

Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass, a radiation physicist who initially believed in the possibilities of atoms for peace (he worked for Westinghouse) even as he campaigned against nuclear weapons testing, says that

Ironically, the need to believe that peaceful applications of the atom were possible played into the hands of those in the military who wanted to use nuclear weapons in limited wars, since both required the assumption that low-level radiation from distant, worldwide fallout or from nuclear plants was essentially harmless. Thus, the most concerned and idealistic scientists who had worked on the bomb and who later dedicated themselves to the realization of the peaceful benefits of the atom, because they were willing to believe the harmlessness of very small amounts of radiation and the negligible magnitude of the doses from nuclear reactor operations, were in effect contributing to the increased likelihood of nuclear war.
Sternglass, p. 274

The program was not just a psychological campaign aimed at public opinion; it built a huge empire to perpetuate its continued existence. Anna Gyorgy noted in “No Nukes: Everyone's Guide to Nuclear Power," that

the continued existence of vast amounts of nuclear hardware and factories and trained personnel had created an atomic establishment that wanted to ensure its continued existence. Building more bombs was one way, meeting future power needs atomically was surely another. Another reason was that the U.S wanted to keep its edge militarily. The atomic arms race was underway. The commercial program helped justify the huge military expenditures.
-- Anna Gyorgy, “No Nukes: Everyone's Guide to Nuclear Power," Boston: South End Press (1979, 4th edition, 1980), p. 9

The public was urged early on to support the development of "peaceful" nuclear technologies as a means of reducing the risk of atomic war, which was on the minds of nearly everybody after World War II. This soporific doled out by the government lulled people from thinking about the prospects of a nuclear war while allowing the establishment of an atomic infrastructure with minimal public criticism.

David Lilienthal, the first Commissioner of the AEC, addressed this desire for new justifications of nuclear energy when he stated

"The basic cause, I think, was a conviction, and one that I shared fully and tried to inculcate in others, that somehow or other the discovery that had produced so terrible a weapon simply had to have an important peaceful use."
quoted in Kaku, Michio and Jennifer Trainer, Eds., “Nuclear Power: Both Sides," New York: W.W. Norton (1982) pp. 247-248

The Chairman of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission admitted in 1969 that

“By developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes you reach the nuclear [weapons] option. There are no two atomic energies."
Leonard Beaton, “Israel's Nuclear Policy Under Scrutiny, The London Times, January 16, 1969, quoted in “Dimona" p. 122

Nuclear power and weapons were joined together at birth as atomic siamese twins, despite their governmental and corporate parents' attempts to persuade the public that they are somehow separate.

Disarmament activist David Dellinger recalls that "In 1948 I took part in a sit-in in Washington, D.C., that urged the government to proceed with the commercial development of nuclear power. .... We urged discontinuance of all development, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons. We called instead for the peaceful uses of atomic fission. In succumbing to the lure of nuclear power we were influenced by our belief in the possibilities for human betterment through scientific discovery, and by our desire to see the burdens of poverty lifted from the destitute and hard-pressed, as the early advocates of nuclear power announced they would be." But peace advocates soon realized that the peaceful use of atomic energy was a delusion. Dellinger later realized that "Development of the Atoms for Peace program provided a front for the massive crash program in nuclear technology that was coveted by the Pentagon at a time when the public was both sobered by the 'unthinkable' implications of nuclear warfare and insisting on post-war reductions in the military budget. For the utilities it provided billions of dollars worth of free research in government laboratories at taxpayers' expense."
David Dellinger, "The Antinuclear Movement," in “Nuclear Power: Both Sides," pp. 233-234


Nonproliferation requires the end of nuclear power

The spread of nuclear weapons tcchnology by Pakistan to other countries - including Libya, North Korea and Iran - shows beyond any doubt that there is no such thing as "peaceful nuclear power." Preventing nuclear proliferation would require abandoning the myth of the peaceful atom, and shifting energy generation toward non-toxic renewable sources (especially in sunny south Asia). The wealthy countries of North America and Europe need to help finance and facilitate this transition as a partial apology for imperialism - and it is in everyone's interest, even those who oppose decentralized solar power since they cannot control or sell sunlight.

A non-nuclear, solar powered future would make it very easy to track nuclear weapons proliferation. Future generations are unlikely to be able to babysit the nuclear excrement in perpetuity, so creating more ultrahazardous wastes incompatible with life forms using DNA is a crime against everything (even if it keeps various distractions powered, albeit temporarily). The energy invested into the nuclear fuel cycle would be better spent on hyper efficiency, relocalization of production, voluntary simplicity in the wealthy countries, and transfer of renewable energy technology to the poor countries. This alternative scenario would even benefit the paranoid elites who think that they need absolute control over everything and everyone, since uncontrolled nuclear proliferation is an unfolding nightmare that leads to the worst case "Olduvai Scenario" - the collapse of civilization.
Nuclear bomb blueprints for sale on world black market, experts fear
· Warning as Swiss destroy documents to prevent leak
· Copies may remain with data smuggling network
Ian Traynor, Europe editor
The Guardian, Saturday May 31 2008

Nuclear bomb blueprints and manuals on how to manufacture weapons-grade uranium for warheads are feared to be circulating on the international black market, according to investigators tracking the world's most infamous nuclear smuggling racket.

"the most worrying question is how much of the previously secret, tightly held knowledge on nuclear technology may now be circulating on the market. Khan would sometimes claim that he had passed on only old, used parts to countries like Iran. Even if that were true, which it isn't, the real damage Khan inflicted was the release of designs and technical information into the marketplace and into the hands of customers. It was this knowledge that allowed countries like Iran to go about building their own program with a high degree of confidence and eliminated the need for a huge swath of difficult and time consuming research. How much further the information may have spread is a concern that keeps those trying to prevent prolieration awake at night.
Technology has greatly facilitated the spread of highly sensitive information. From 2002 the Khan network in Dubai began transferring material from paper to electronic formats. The process began slowly but picked up pace toward the end of the network's life. Eventually, investigators found the entire plan for an enrichment program in electronic form on a set of disks in Libya. On one single disk was the complete set of drawings for the P-1 centrifuge, including how to manufacture, test, and assemble every component. Another disc held data for the P-2. The material was in German, Dutch, and English and clearly originated in URENCO in the 1970s. In this form, the highly sensitive mateiral that Khan stole so long ago and based his career around can be copied in a few seconds and passed around or even emailed. This makes it far easier for anyone who has hold of the plans to build their own network, without having to undergo the kind of atomic espionage with which Khan began his career. A number of copies were thought to have been made in Dubai but only the Libyan copy has emerged. "One of our jobs is to find who got this," explains Olli Heinonen of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. "We are talking to people who made copies and ... trying to get from them a list of who got it." There's no concrete evidence, but the suspicion is that the same could have happened to the nuclear weapons design and this could now be on the market. Khan certainly passed some material on different parts of the weapons design around the network in order to help with the procurement and development process, but no one is sure how much of the design is now readily available out on the open market. The combination of the availability of dual-use machines, the globalization of production capacity, and the availability of computerized designs means that any future netowrk may find it far easier than Khan did to set up for business by piggybacking on his pioneering work."
-- Gordon Corera, "Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network," Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 242-243
Beyond Nuclear Bulletin
July 31, 2008
U.S. State Department Acknowledges Spread of Nuclear Power Increases Risk of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation Worldwide
Background: A U. S. State Department report, “Proliferation Implications of the Global Expansion of Civil Nuclear Power,” has concluded that the expansion of nuclear energy is inevitable but poses proliferation risks. A key concern expressed in the report is that the two principal ways of making nuclear fuel – the enrichment of uranium and the reprocessing of spent fuel into plutonium – can too easily be used to make weapons-grade material for nuclear bombs. However, among other recommendations, the panel suggests the United States – in partnership with countries that already have the capacity to make fuel, the "supplier nations" – volunteer to "provide reliable, economical supplies of fuel to nations undertaking new or additional nuclear energy plants" with tough safeguards to prevent them developing their own capacities.
Our View: By promoting an atomic supplier nations’ global expansion agenda, the State Department will likely increase the current danger of nuclear weapons proliferation. The committee’s self-titled “Attractive Offer” for non-nuclear weapons states to acquire reactors, nuclear fuel supplies and services in exchange for “written agreements” not to undertake uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing for weapons programs reinforces the existing “haves and have-nots’ agenda that already angers countries like Iran. Furthermore, civilian nuclear development in the Middle East (including Egypt, Israel, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen) will most certainly load up the region with nuclear weapons materials and accelerate a future arms race. A more obvious, safer and simpler solution is to recognize that nuclear energy expansion is not “inevitable” as the report suggests, but eminently avoidable. International energy solutions should focus instead on helping countries to develop sustainable and renewable energy.