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May 8, 2009

Panel Discussion on “Building the Bomb” At Library of Congress, May 27

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress will hold a panel discussion on "Building the Bomb, Fearing Its Use: Nuclear Scientists, Social Responsibility and Arms Control, 1946-1996."

The discussion will take place at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27, in Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Library’s Kluge Center, the event is free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are needed.

Mary Palevsky, a Black Mountain Institute fellow at the Kluge Center, will moderate the panel discussion. Palevsky, author of "Atomic Fragments: A Daughter’s Questions," is pursuing research at the Library for a book that examines the ways in which Cold War nuclear testing transformed lives and landscapes in the Mojave Desert. From 2003 to 2008, Palevsky directed the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

Panelists will include Hugh Gusterson, William Lanouette and Martin J. Sherwin.

Gusterson is an anthropologist at George Mason University, whose interests include the cultures of nuclear-weapons scientists and antinuclear activists. He is the author of "Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War" and "People of the Bomb." Gusterson writes a monthly online column for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Lanouette is a writer and public-policy analyst who has covered nuclear issues since 1969. He is the author of "Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb." He served as a senior analyst for science and energy issues at the U.S. General Accounting Office from 1991 to 2006.

Sherwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor of history and public policy at George Mason University. Also, he is professor emeritus of history at Tufts University. In 2006, he and co-author Kai Bird won the Pulitzer Prize in biography for "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer." He also wrote "A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies." His current book project is "Gambling with Armageddon: The Military, the Hawks and the Long Straight Road to the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1945-1963."

After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, statesmen and scientists confronted the unprecedented destructive power of nuclear weapons, according to Palevsky. Early postwar efforts for international control of atomic energy failed, and by the mid-1950s both American and Soviet scientists had invented the hydrogen bomb, a weapon of greater destructive potential than the atomic bomb. Yet arms-control efforts were ongoing even during the Cold War’s darkest days. Within a year of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in outer space.

International treaty negotiations directly affected the daily lives of thousands of American scientists, engineers and support personnel who designed, built and conducted the tests of new weapon designs. According to Palevsky, some of the questions that these scientists and statesmen encountered still exist today, and those questions will be the basis for the panel discussion.

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PR 09-100
05/08/09
ISSN 0731-3527

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