Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States, 1940-1980

By Gerard H. Clarfield; William M. Wiecek | Go to book overview

7
"Atoms for Peace"

THE DREAM OF PEACEFUL APPLICATIONS FOR NUCLEAR POWER, 1953-1957

STRATEGIC POLICY WAS NOT THE only area of Eisenhower's innovation. He was also responsible for reviving the languishing interest in nonmilitary applications of nuclear power. Where Truman and the early AEC had seemed obsessed with the arms race and competition with the Soviets, Eisenhower's less rigid approach to arms policy enabled his administration to take a broader view of nuclear power's potential. Responding to ideological and partisan pressures, Eisenhower launched an initiative in foreign affairs, known as "Atoms for Peace," that resulted in the hesitant beginning of the civilian nuclear power industry. By the time Eisenhower left office in 1961, the United States had established a beachhead in the international competition to market power reactors. It had brought the private sector into reactor development by revising the statutory basis of America's entire nuclear power program and by exempting the infant industry from financial responsibility for accidents that it might cause. But this generous exemption did not relieve the industry from the reactor accidents and controversy that dogged it from its earliest days.

Though it is difficult if not impossible to prove, many observers of the nuclear power industry conclude that a principal impetus for the development of civilian nuclear power was a sense of guilt over the role of science in the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by a desire to redeem science itself,

-177-

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