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July 24 - 30, 1957
Founding of the
International Atomic Energy Agency

July 2011

Dwight David Eisenhower..

This week we turn our attention to an event which began on July 29, 1957, the founding conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria. What this history confronts us with, is the dramatic shift, from scientific and technological optimism, to niggardly pessimism, which has occurred between that time, and today.

Today, the IAEA is constantly in the news, as the United Nations agency which supervises nuclear power operations internationally, monitors non-proliferation, and issues reports on the control, and containment, of any operations which might possibly be used for weapons-oriented nuclear activity. But when the IAEA was founded, at the instigation of American President Dwight D. Eisenhower, it had a much broader, more positive purpose: not only to move toward nuclear disarmament, but also to promote the development of peaceful nuclear energy, especially for the Third World.

The concept of the IAEA came under the name of "Atoms for Peace," a plan for which was first put forward at the United Nations General Assembly by President Eisenhower on Dec. 8, 1953.

President Eisenhower's speech did, of course, begin by directing attention to the danger of nuclear war, in light of the balance of terror which was being developed between the United States and Soviet Union at that time. He also took up the topic of a recent UN resolution on the matter of disarmament, and upcoming talks scheduled on this matter, and then dropped this conceptual bomb:

U.S. postage stamp, year 1955 .

"We shall carry into these private or diplomatic talks a new conception. The United States would seek more than the mere reduction or elimination of atomic materials for military purposes. It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace.

"The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind. The United States knows that peaceful power from atomic energy is no dream of the future. The capability, already proved, is here today. Who can doubt that, if the entire body of the world's scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material with which to test and develop their ideas, this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient, and economic usage?"

President Eisenhower then proposed that governments with nuclear materials begin to make contributions from their stockpiles to an international atomic energy agency, under the aegis of the UN, and that this agency be responsible for impounding, storing, and protecting the materials. Then he continued:

"The more important responsibility of this atomic energy agency would be to devise methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind. Experts would be mobilized to apply atomic energy to the needs of agriculture, medicine, and other peaceful activities. A special purpose would be to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world.

"Thus the contributing Powers would be dedicating some of their strength to serve the needs, rather than the fears of mankind."

All over the world, nuclear energy's benefits captured the imagination of those who were striving to transform society. Indian nuclear pioneer Homi Bhabha, who launched that country's nuclear program, said at the time: "For the full industrialization of the underdeveloped areas, for the continuation of our civilization and its further development, atomic energy is not merely an aid: It is an absolute necessity. The acquisition by man of the knowledge of how to release and use atomic energy must be recognized as the third great epoch in human history."

Two years after Eisenhower's speech, there were 28 research reactors in operation: five in the Soviet Union, four in England, two in Canada, one in France, one in Norway, and the rest in the United States. Fifteen years later, there were 375 research reactors in 50 countries, including 41 in developing nations.

The slogan in the young nuclear industry was "2,000 by 2000"—building 2,000 nuclear plants by 2000. The United States led the way, pioneering in every aspect of the nuclear cycle—fuel enrichment, fuel fabrication, reactor design, power production, breeder reactors, fuel reprocessing, and advanced reactor research. The first nuclear reactor to produce power was a 25-kilowatt-thermal breeder reactor called Clementine at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1946. A few years later, in 1951, the nation brought online the world's first breeder reactor to produce usable amounts of electricity, the Experimental Breeder Reactor, or EBR-1 which produced 200 kilowatts of electricity at its peak.

The first power-producing reactor was that of the Nuclear Navy, under the direction of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, sending the Nautilus submarine on its first journey in 1954. Rickover demonstrated that nuclear reactors could be built quickly and operate safely. Three years later, in 1957, the first U.S. civilian power reactor came on line, in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. This reactor took just 32 months from construction to power generation. By the early 1960s, other commercial nuclear plants were on line, and many were in construction. Commonwealth Edison of Illinois, for example, put the 207-megawatt Dresden 1 on line in September 1959—built in less than three years at a cost of $51 million.

Most exciting, plans were on the drawing boards for nuplexes, large agroindustrial complexes that would become centers for urbanizing and industrializing the developing sector. One site, centered on a nuclear power plant, would provide sufficient power to desalinate water for mechanized irrigated agriculture, produce steel for infrastructure construction (with fertilizer as a byproduct), and supply electricity for new communities.

The expectation was that the nuclear industry would continue to expand, to power a growing world and growing economies, in every corner of the globe. In 1962, the U.S. Atomic Energy Agency made projections for the growth of civilian nuclear power to the year 1980. The AEC forecast that the United States would have 40,000 megawatts nuclear in 1980; by 1967, the AEC revised its forecast upwards, to 145,000 MW, and by 1970, the AEC forecast was for 150,000 MW in 1980.

The unfortunate reality is that Eisenhower's objective was never really fulfilled. The financial oligarchy, through its control of credit and of the rabidly anti-growth, anti-population "environmentalist" movement, killed the nuclear dream. By 1978, the entire concept was gutted, as the "non-proliferation" regime took over from that of promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

In fact, as the Iranian government has pointed out recently again, the mission statement of the IAEA still does commit it to assist "its Member States, in the context of social and economic goals, in planning for and using nuclear science and technology for various peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity, and facilitates the transfer of such technology and knowledge in a sustainable manner to developing Member States." But this noble goal has been virtually replaced by those in the industrialized nations who instead are committed to "technological apartheid," the withholding of the benefits of nuclear energy from nations of the Third World.

This is the paradigm shift to be reflected on, and to be reversed.


The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy. 

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