Atoms for Peace

When I was a child my father gave me a Disney book called Our Friend the Atom. As I recall, we would have radioactive toasters for our bread in the morning.  It was part of the propaganda about Atoms for Peace.   In 1954 Eisenhower gave a speech about Atoms for Peace, in which he proposed that there were peaceful uses for the atom.   “Operation Candor” was to enlighten the American public on the risks and hopes of a nuclear future.  Although Eisenhower may have been advocating for peace, during his time in office the nuclear holdings of the US rose from 1,005 to 20,000 weapons.  Commercial reactors were designed for the production of electricity, but all these reactors also produced plutonium, which was needed for weapons.

In a Congressional Research Service report Anthony Andrews summarizes:

As part of the World War II effort to develop the atomic bomb, reprocessing technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. In the early stage of commercial nuclear power,
reprocessing was thought essential to supplying nuclear fuel….With the development of commercial nuclear power after the war, reprocessing was considered necessary because of a perceived scarcity of uranium. Breeder reactor technology, which transmutes non-fissionable uranium into fissionable plutonium and thus produces more fuel than consumed, was envisioned as a promising solution to extending the nuclear fuel supply. Commercial reprocessing attempts, however, encountered technical, economic, and regulatory  problems. In response to concern that reprocessing contributed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, President Carter terminated federal support for commercial reprocessing.

Although the US is no longer reprocessing its spent fuel, reprocessing from commercial reactors is being done in other countries.

According the Council on Foreign Relations among the beneficiaries of the Atoms for Peace was  Iran.   Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear energy can be  traced to 1957, in connection with a push from the Eisenhower administration to increase its military, economic, and civilian assistance to Iran. On March 5 of that year, the two countries announced a “proposed agreement for cooperation in research in the peaceful uses of atomic energy” under the auspices of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. The deal was intended to open doors for U.S. investment in Iran’s civilian nuclear industries, such as health care and medicine. The plan also called for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to lease Iran up to 13.2 pounds of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for research purposes.

 Several countries that received training and technology transfers through Atoms for Peace eventually used that knowledge platform for illicit weapons programs. India, Pakistan, South Africa and Israel all received direct or indirect support through Atoms for Peace. Each of these countries later built secret nuclear weapons stockpiles.

There seems to be little distinction  between atoms for peace and atoms for war.


5 thoughts on “Atoms for Peace

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