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Ronald F. Lehman II

Ronald F. Lehman II
Director of the Center for Global Security Research

Rethinking Atoms for Peace and the Future of Nuclear Technology

THE Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) was established in 1996 to bring together diverse expert communities—Laboratory specialists, outside experts, government and military leaders, the business community, and other interested citizens—to help better understand the interaction of policy and technology. The hallmark of CGSR activities is the annual Futures Roundtable. The 2002 Roundtable, which coincided with Livermore’s 50th anniversary, examined the horizons of science. Looking both backward and forward 50 years, the 2002 series brought together many of the Laboratory’s founders with the newest generation of young scientists and engineers.
To build on the enthusiasm generated in 2002, we organized the 2003 Futures Roundtable around President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech, which he presented to the United Nations General Assembly in 1953. The article Rich Legacy from Atoms for Peace discusses the history of this initiative, advances made at Livermore in nuclear technologies over the past 50 years, and the road ahead.
Just four months after the Soviet Union detonated its first H-bomb, President Eisenhower argued in his “Atoms for Peace” speech that mankind “. . . must be armed with the significant facts of today’s existence.” A thermonuclear age had emerged, and nuclear technology would spread widely. Deterrence would not be sufficient. A step-by-step approach would be needed, including “a relationship with the Soviet Union which will eventually bring about a free intermingling of the peoples of the East and the West—the one sure, human way of developing the understanding required for confident and peaceful relations.”
Eisenhower proposed that an “international atomic energy agency” be created to accept surplus fissile material from the weapons programs of the nuclear weapons states and 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.”
Eisenhower’s speech presented a comprehensive vision for both military and civilian nuclear technology, outlining the nuclear dangers and opportunities. In many ways, the young multidisciplinary Laboratory founded by E. O. Lawrence and Edward Teller received a boost in its infancy because of the expansive missions inherent in pursuing atoms for peace. Synergism between weapon applications and “spin-off” and “spin-on” technologies were the natural products of this more integrated approach to nuclear weapon research. For the next 50 years, Lawrence Livermore made contributions in every area highlighted by President Eisenhower.
Today, the Cold War is over, and Laboratory scientists were among those who led the way toward “a free mingling of the peoples of the east and of the west.” Yet many of today’s nuclear challenges parallel those that concerned Eisenhower. The knowledge of nuclear weapons continues to spread, and the benefits from peaceful application of nuclear technology fall well short of their potential, in part because of concerns about security and safety. Thus, the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s speech seemed an appropriate time to examine anew the future of nuclear technology.
For the 2003 Roundtable, CGSR formed working groups of international experts to examine international security, civilian applications, and crosscutting issues such as fissile material, governance, risk assessment and public confidence, and communication. Working group leaders included former Deputy Secretary of Energy Charles Curtis; former Undersecretary of State William Schneider; John Taylor, a former vice president at the Electric Power Research Institute; and former Laboratory Director Michael May. Meetings were held at Livermore and in Washington, DC, Japan, and France.
The 2003 Futures Roundtable report (available at cgsr.llnl.gov) documents agreement and dissent, but consensus emerged on five points. First, security concerns will continue to play a central role in the debate over nuclear futures. In particular, the fundamentals of international security must be strengthened to address regional security and other motivations driving proliferation. Second, the existing nonproliferation regime must be enhanced, particularly enforcement. Third, tighter control of nuclear material is required, followed by minimization of surplus material. Fourth, a better understanding of technological opportunities is needed, and improved risk–benefit analysis must reflect the concerns of the public. Even if all these steps are taken, however, the participants concluded that, fifth, an appropriate nuclear enterprise for our age requires U.S. leadership and a clear vision, something on the scale of the 1953 Eisenhower speech.
Toward that end, the 2003 CGSR Futures Roundtable helped us to be “armed with the significant facts of today’s existence.”

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UCRL-52000-04-3 | March 3, 2004