Saturday, August 6, 2016

1955 stamp: "Atoms for Peace"

This bluish, three-cent stamp puts forth the idea of "Atoms for Peace," which is kind of odd. Atoms are not sentient — to the best of our knowledge — and therefore cannot take sides in the peace vs. war debate.1

The stamp, which was issued on July 28, 1955, in a quantity of about 133 million, commemorates President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in December 1953, which was titled "Atoms for Peace." In an attempt to ratchet down Cold War fears and also, partly, to assuage Oppenheimer's guilty conscience, it laid out Eisenhower's vision of using nuclear power for peace, rather than warfare and destruction.

Following Eisenhower's speech, the new "Atoms for Peace" program supplied equipment and information to schools, hospitals, and research institutions worldwide. America also helped with the construction of the first nuclear reactors in Iran, Israel and Pakistan. An interesting analysis by Peter R. Lavoy on the Arms Control Association website mentions the mixed legacy of Eisenhower's mostly well-intentioned agenda. Here's an excerpt:
"Critics correctly point out that the road to nuclear weapons production would have been much rockier for India and Pakistan had the United States not launched Atoms for Peace. The liberal nuclear export policies initiated by the United States and other Western suppliers in the mid-1950s dramatically reduced the costs of undertaking serious nuclear research and development for dozens of nations around the world. Proponents of nuclear energy in countries without a nuclear program before Atoms for Peace, or other countries with foundering programs, were now able to convince national leaders of the technical and economic feasibility of operating nuclear reactors, uranium-enrichment plants, and plutonium reprocessing facilities. In a handful of cases, highly determined governments succeeded in producing nuclear weapons from so-called peaceful nuclear technologies."
Despite this proliferation, we have survived the Cold War and the worldwide nuclear arms buildup. Our atomic and nuclear concerns these days tend to be more along the lines of black-market fissile material, dirty bombs, terrorists and rogue states. We need to keep those atoms at peace.

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Speaking of peace, my favorite Tweet regarding last night's opening ceremonies of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, came from Samara Brito, a physics teacher living in Brazil...

That translates to: "The inclusion of #RefugeeOlympicTeam is a lesson for all of us, that we sometimes forget, our house is the planet Earth."

1. I was also going to mention that atoms are never truly at rest, but I don't think that's true and, as I dipped my toe into a discussion of invariant mass, I realized I was way, way out of my league.

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