Abstract The successful test of a US thermonuclear weapon in 1954 raised a compelling question as to the worldwide dispersion of radioactive fallout. This article reexamines the Eisenhower administration's test-ban policy in the context of global radioactive contamination. To explain the shifting public discourse of the global fallout hazards and its impact on the test-ban debate, the article focuses on epistemic frictions, seeking to demonstrate how a variety of expert bodies evaluated scientific uncertainty and moral ambiguity concerning the biological effects of fallout from different sets of concerns, and how the resulting incongruence both within and between the scientific advisory committees fueled the fallout controversy and affected the Eisenhower administration’s test-ban policy leading toward the test moratorium in 1958. The United States during the Eisenhower years confronted an increasingly radioactive planet. Estimates show that the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union conducted 223 nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, on the ground, or underwater during the period from 1953 to 1958, with the total yield equivalent to ∼140 megatons of TNT (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, 2000). While some of the radioactive debris quickly fell to the ground close to the test site, most remained suspended in the atmosphere, traveling great distances before descending to Earth’s surface. Historian John McCormack has suggested that the worldwide dispersion of radioactive fallout after the Second World War, both in scale and intensity, became ‘the first truly global environmental issue of the postwar era—and perhaps the first ever’ (McCormick, 1989, p. 51). Global fallout emissions eventually came to a halt in November 1958, when the three nuclear rivals entered test-ban negotiations and temporarily suspended all nuclear testing. Although a more permanent solution awaited the conclusion of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the moratorium, lasting until August 1961, provided the anxious world with some respite from the Cold War as well as from radioactive pollution. The literature on the Eisenhower administration’s nuclear policies is rich, but it tends to overlook their global environmental context. Historians have demonstrated that the President and his advisers, despite their bellicose rhetoric of nuclear brinkmanship in public, acted rather prudently during international crises and ultimately came to terms with an emerging nuclear stalemate with the Soviet Union (Gaddis, 1987; Erdmann, 1999; Holloway, 2010; Gavin, 2012). In the meantime, however, the Eisenhower administration aggressively pursued nuclear technological superiority, conducting >120 weapon tests in the Pacific and Nevada. And each nuclear device detonated aboveground introduced a massive amount of radioactive debris into the atmosphere, slowly but steadily raising levels of ionizing radiation all over the world. In this sense, the Cold War differed from other major conflicts in that it was a war in the Anthropocene, a term recently proposed to describe the latest geological era where human activities became a major driver of planetary changes (Crutzen, 2002; McNeill and Engelke, 2014). While historians have acknowledged the significance of radioactive fallout in the nuclear-test ban debate, their main concerns have remained focused on aspects of nuclear disarmament, such as verification (Divine, 1978; Smith-Norris, 2003; Greene, 2007; Maddock, 2010). Building upon the latest scholarship seeking to illuminate the natural environment as a significant factor in the Cold War, this study will reexamine the Eisenhower administration’s test-ban policy in the context of radioactive contamination on a global scale (McNeill and Unger, 2010; McNeill and Engelke, 2014). The nuclear arms race made our planet more radioactive, but whether or not this global environmental change was harmful to humans has proved to be a highly contentious issue. While the worldwide dispersion of radioactive fallout reduced its radiation levels to a low range, this paradoxically made our knowledge of its biological effects deeply uncertain. Equally ambiguous was the moral import of global radioactive contamination. If the health effects of radiation exposure were directly proportional to doses, the fallout scattered all over the world would only slightly increase the chance of harm to any particular individual living on the planet, and yet its total impact would be enormous in absolute terms because the fallout was to affect the world’s population over many generations. Most importantly, political stakes were extremely high because any conclusion drawn on the global fallout hazards was bound to strengthen or undermine the case for the prohibition of nuclear weapons testing on health grounds. The question of global fallout contamination, then, belonged not to the traditional realm of scientific knowledge, but rather to what sociologists Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz have called ‘post-normal science’, where ‘facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent’ (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993, p. 744). Not surprisingly, test-ban opponents within the Eisenhower administration, most importantly the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), repeatedly denied, dismissed, and belittled the alleged dangers of fallout to humans. The AEC, however, was not the only expert body with the political mandate to assess the biological effects of radiation. It critically depended on the knowledge and practice of radiation protection developed by a pair of nongovernmental organizations: the National Committee on Radiation Protection (NCRP) in the United States and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). Moreover, as fallout aroused much controversy among scientists both within and outside the United States, the US and British governments were forced to commission studies from the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the British Medical Research Council (MRC), and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) respectively. Historians have explored the complex and dynamic relationship within and between these scientific advisory committees for radiation protection. Tracing the evolution of the ICRP and the UNSCEAR, Soraya Boudia has explained that scientists built an international structure for the technocratic management of radiation hazards to promote the public’s acceptance of controversial technologies through the carefully crafted image of objectivity and authority (Boudia, 2007). This epistemic coordination for global regulation, however, was fraught with tensions. In his study of US–British relations over the disposal of radioactive waste at sea, Jacob Darwin Hamblin has demonstrated that scientists from different disciplines and countries frequently clashed over scientific uncertainty and value conflicts involved in the question of radioactive waste disposal (Hamblin, 2008). Building upon the recent scholarship uncovering politics within organized expertise for public health and environmental affairs, this article will explore epistemic frictions in the fallout controversy, seeking to demonstrate how each of the expert bodies evaluated the biological effects of fallout from a different set of concerns, and how the resulting incongruence fueled the public debate over the safety of nuclear testing, ultimately guiding the Eisenhower administration’s test-ban policy toward the moratorium. 1 Epistemic stalemate On March 1, 1954, a thermonuclear weapon test codenamed Bravo took place at Bikini Atoll of the US Trust Territory located in the equatorial Pacific. Since he became president in 1953, Eisenhower and his secretary of state John Foster Dulles sought to deter Communist aggression by the threat of massive retaliation. Shot Bravo, which demonstrated an explosive force of 15 megaton TNT equivalent, made such a threat technologically credible. This success, however, brought a new problem. An intensely radioactive plume arising from the test explosion veered outside the restricted area, with hundreds of US service members, Marshall Islanders, and Japanese fishermen aboard a tuna boat exposed to radiation at injurious levels. Bravo also scattered the radioactive debris across the Pacific and beyond. In Japan, food inspectors and academic scientists discovered small but detectable amounts of radioactivity in the air, water, and food (Lapp, 1958; Higuchi, 2015). As the radiological disaster at Bikini triggered an uproar in Japan and elsewhere, Dulles feared that it might unravel the US Cold War alliances around the world. Warning that a ‘wave of hysteria’ was ‘driving our Allies away from us’, he pressed AEC chairman Lewis L. Strauss to ‘say something that will bring this back to the realm of reason’ (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Vol. 2, Part 2, 1984, p. 1380). Established in 1947 as a civilian agency responsible for the development, production, and control of atomic energy in the United States, the AEC served as a sole advisory body to the President on all nuclear affairs. The Commission’s epistemic monopoly, however, was far from complete. Saddled with the conflict of interest between promotion and regulation, the AEC turned to an outside expert committee for scientific authority to legitimize its risk judgments. Its safety standards were based on the guidelines provided by the NCRP, a nongovernmental organization consisting of representatives from various radiation-user groups (Whittemore, 1986). The problem of global radioactive contamination, however, fell outside the NCRP’s regulatory concern. The NCRP proposed the concept of permissible dose as representing the levels of exposure at which ‘the probability of the occurrence of such injuries must be so low that the risk would be readily acceptable to the average individual’ (National Bureau of Standards, 1954, pp. 26–27). Geneticists, however, put forth the so-called linear non-threshold (LNT) model, which posited that genetic damage would be directly proportional to doses no matter how small they might be, and that those effects would be cumulative. As radioactive fallout from test explosions exposed the world’s population to low-dose radiation, some leading US geneticists, including Alfred H. Sturtevant and Herman J. Muller, urged not to ignore its genetic consequences (Jolly, 2004). With no external expert body then in place for assessing genetic effects of radiation, the AEC drew its own conclusion, asserting that the genetic risk involved in nuclear testing was negligible in comparison with other sources of radiation. The first benchmark was natural radiation coming from, among others, cosmic rays, rock, radium water, and a radioactive isotope of potassium in the human body. The AEC pointed out that the genetically effective doses added by nuclear testing were extremely small compared with those of natural radiation and its variations from place to place. This also meant that the excess genetic risk due to nuclear testing, if any at all, would be impossible to detect with statistical precision (Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine, 1955). The same logic held true for another benchmark, that is, artificial sources of radiation such as medical X-rays, luminous wristwatches, and nuclear power. The AEC even extended comparisons to various risks in modern society, such as cigarette smoking, traffic accidents, and obesity. One report published in 1957 pointed out that the average residual amount of strontium-90 (Sr-90), a highly carcinogenetic, bone-seeking fallout product, might reduce the life span of the world population comparable with ‘some of the mechanical mishaps we risk as a partial cost of the “advantages” of our mechanized and energized age’ (Jones, 1957, pp. 18, 34). Not all critics were convinced. Sturtevant refused to accept the relative risk analysis put forth by the AEC, arguing that the genetic risk posed by nuclear testing was problematic because it would be added to the minimum risk of natural-radiation origin. He also considered it unfair to draw a comparison with risks in modern society, which people took freely and with consent, arguing that ‘we are all of us submitted, willy-nilly to fall-out’ (Sturtevant, 1955, p. 7). Many of his peers, however, disagreed. While the geneticists were united behind the LNT hypothesis, their views widely differed over its moral and political implications. For those who believed in science as the basis of social progress and also embraced the Cold War consensus, slight increases in radiation levels due to military and peaceful uses of atomic energy were fully justifiable from the cost-benefit point of view (Muller, 1955). Many scientists also warned against being involved in a debate over the benefits of nuclear testing – a question which was political in nature (Stern, 1954). While the geneticists failed to reach consensus over the question of global radioactive contamination, the AEC moved to tighten its control of fallout information to combat what it viewed as irresponsible and harmful speculations. By the fall of 1954, it drew up what it hoped to be a definitive statement on the issue of fallout. The State Department, however, persuaded the AEC to withhold the document for fear that it might upset US allies and public opinion. The delay in the public release until February 1955 served only to vindicate the suspicion among critics that the AEC was deliberately concealing data in conflict with its official view (Divine, 1978). The Commission’s efforts to silence its critics further deepened the atmosphere of distrust. In the summer of 1955, when the International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy was held in Geneva, it was revealed that the AEC had secretly pressed the conference organizer to prevent Muller from giving an oral presentation on genetic damage by radiation. This covert move backfired, prompting many scientists to publicly denounce the AEC’s heavy-handed intervention with academic freedom (Jolly, 2004). The fallout controversy, then, reached impasse, with neither side able to bring closure in its favor. 2 Restructuring of organized expertise The epistemic stalemate in the fallout controversy was broken when the scientists’ movement stepped in to capitalize on growing public concern over the global health effects of nuclear testing. In March 1955, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in the United States issued a statement, calling upon the UN to establish a committee of scientists including those from the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. According to the proposal, the committee was to evaluate the genetic risk from nuclear testing, determine the maximum permissible limit to fallout emissions, and recommend to the UN General Assembly any appropriate regulatory measures so that the radiation levels of fallout origin would be kept below the agreed limit (Press Release, 1955). The FAS joined the fallout controversy partly out of fear that the genetic hazard of nuclear testing might become serious in the future as the nuclear arms race and proliferation continued. More importantly, it believed that an international fallout study would bring about a ‘small break-through’ toward nuclear disarmament. As the genetic risk involved in a nuclear war would almost certainly exceed the maximum permissible limit established for nuclear testing in peacetime, the FAS hoped that all nations would ‘take a more realistic attitude toward the consequences of atomic war and the necessity for arms limitation and control’ (Press Release, 1955). In short, the scientists’ movement had the aim not only of shifting the locus of scientific authority for risk judgment from the AEC to an international scientific body, but also of directly linking that assessment to a limit on nuclear testing as well as to comprehensive disarmament. Both the US and British governments initially rejected the FAS proposal despite its worldwide popularity. The Eisenhower administration at that time was split over the test ban, but all sides agreed that it should be seen as a matter of national security, not public health. The test-ban opponents viewed large uncertainty about the genetic effects of low-dose radiation as an excuse for nonaction, asserting that ‘so long as continuing technical studies do not reveal solid basis, these fears do not constitute justification for abandoning our tests’ (‘Moratorium on Testing of Large Thermonuclear Weapons’, 1955). The same uncertainty, however, could also provide grounds for taking precautionary measures. As an AEC official observed, if the proposed scientific review exposed all uncertainties about a ‘safe’ dose of radiation, it might create an irresistible momentum for the limitation of nuclear testing – and even for the prohibition of nuclear weapons (‘Radiation Study’, 1955). To prevent such an outcome, the AEC and the Department of Defense insisted that, until new data or scholarly consensus emerged, ‘it is untimely and imprudent to advocate a commission to determine the danger threshold’ (Loper, 1955). To deflect the mounting pressure for an independent fallout assessment on an international level, the US and British governments respectively announced their plans to ask their national scientific bodies, the NAS and the MRC, to study the biological effects of radiation. This preemptive move, however, failed to contain the call for an international investigation. In April, a month after the FAS issued its appeal, the International Union of Biological Sciences called upon the International Council of Scientific Unions, a nongovernmental organization of academic societies, to investigate the effects of fallout on human health. According to Secretary Dulles, such a study with no political oversight was dangerous. As an alternative, US ambassador to the UN Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr, suggested that the United States sponsor the creation of a scientific committee under the UN. Unlike the FAS, he proposed to restrict its mandate to collecting and distributing scientific data and publications submitted by UN Member States. In this way, Lodge argued, the United States could retain control over its own fallout assessments (‘U.S. Initiative in UN on Radiation Effects’, 1955). Lodge publicly unveiled his idea in June, and the British and other Western governments agreed to join the United States in introducing a draft resolution in the UN General Assembly. The subsequent discussions among the cosponsors, however, led to some critical changes in the proposal. The original version was supposed to give members of the panel some degree of autonomy by allowing the UN Secretary-General to appoint scientists upon recommendation of a nominating committee of government representatives. The US government, however, reportedly grew fearful of the possibility that the panel might be tempted to interpose itself in political affairs in such a manner as a group of intellectuals issued the Russell–Einstein manifesto in July (Documents on Canadian External Relations, Vol. 21, 1999, pp. 73–75). To rein in and control the scientists, the cosponsors agreed that each Member State appoint experts as its official representatives. This meant that the government would be able to exert direct and strong influence over the panel’s review process through its scientists. Another major change concerned the terms of reference. As discussed earlier, Washington intended the panel to be no more than an information clearinghouse. London, however, suggested that it should be allowed to evaluate collected data and issue a comprehensive report on the subject of fallout. Only then, British officials argued, would it be possible to bring the long, drawn-out controversy to an end. Fully confident in the Anglo-American scientific leadership, they believed that the NAS and MRC reports, if completed earlier than that of the UN panel, would ‘set the tone of the discussions of the U.N. scientists’ and prevent ‘[Soviet] fellow travelers’ from ‘get[ting] the subject on the wrong foot’ (‘Nuclear Radiation’, 1955). The expanded mandate for the UN panel thus drastically raised the political stakes in the national reviews for the US and British governments. The cosponsors, however, quickly lost control over the panel’s makeup once the General Assembly convened. The original list of members included eleven countries, in which the United States and its six Cold War allies (Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, and Japan) held a comfortable majority over the Communists (the USSR and Czechoslovakia) and the Neutrals (India and Sweden). Although the Western Bloc managed to defeat the Soviet effort to bring in more Communist countries, it reluctantly accepted four more countries (Argentina, Belgium, Egypt, and Mexico). As a British observer noted, this enlarged membership had a potential risk of putting the like-minded Western countries in the minority (Brief for United Kingdom Delegation to the UNSCEAR, 1956). The ultimate outcome of the intergovernmental panel, established in December 1955 as the UNSCEAR, thus critically depended on the US–British epistemic leadership. 3 Epistemic divide As the UNSCEAR began work toward its reporting deadline in the summer of 1958, the US and British governments were anxiously awaiting the completion of the NAS and MRC studies. Both institutions commanded scientific authority in their respective countries. Chartered by the US Congress in 1863 as a society of distinguished scholars, the NAS was responsible for providing scientific counsel to the federal government. The MRC, created in 1919 to administer the fund for medical research in Britain, also acted as the country’s leading public health adviser. The US and British governments believed that these bodies, if shielded from the political pressure for a nuclear-test ban, would naturally come to similar conclusions based on scientific facts concerning the biological effects of radiation. In fact, the NAS and the MRC closely consulted one another in the course of deliberations and even decided to simultaneously release their reports to the public on the same date, June 12, 1956, to maximize the impact of their supposedly unanimous views (Hamblin, 2007). As discussed earlier, however, the question of global fallout hazards involved scientific uncertainty and value conflicts at its core. The NAS and MRC scientists thus had to make a number of assumptions to fill these knowledge gaps based on their own scientific and regulatory concerns. The most contentious issue studied by the NAS and the MRC was the genetic effects of radiation. Indeed, the Genetics Panel of the NAS Committee on the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation (BEAR) included Muller, Sturtevant, and other harsh critics of the AEC. Not surprisingly, both the BEAR and MRC geneticists reiterated the LNT hypothesis, asserting that radiation exposure from fallout would increase the human mutation rates in direct proportion with the dosage, and that almost all additional mutations would be biologically harmful. The Americans, however, went further and determined the ‘genetically permissible dose’ for the US population: an average dose of 100 mSv in a 30-year reproductive period. Frustrated by the AEC and others who continued to ignore genetic damage, they tried to compel the radiation users to address the issue by establishing a low but practical dose limit (Genetics Panel, Second Meeting, 1956, p. 2). Informed of this decision through private channels, the British hastily added similar guidelines to their draft report to keep in step with the Americans (Medical Research Council, 1956; Hamblin, 2007). These strategic moves, designed to place radiation exposure under control, ironically pushed the BEAR and MRC geneticists closer to their governments’ view of global fallout hazards. As discussed earlier, critics like Sturtevant had long condemned the AEC for downplaying the genetic risk of fallout by quantitatively comparing it with those from other radiation sources without acknowledging the fact that it would result in large numbers of casualties in absolute terms. The ‘genetically permissible dose’, however, provided yet another potentially misleading point of reference. In fact, the BEAR and MRC alike found that the estimated genetically effective dose from fallout in their respective countries accounted for <1% of the newly suggested limit. Warren Weaver, chairman of the BEAR Genetics Panel, used the metaphor of a household budget to sum up their view: ‘Well, this still is not a negligible part of our yearly budget. It still deserves scrutiny but we don’t need to get all lathered up about it at the moment’ (Genetics Panel, Second Meeting, 1956, p. 293). This was exactly the kind of argument that the AEC had made all along. Despite strong reservations voiced by Sturtevant and a few other members, the Genetics Panel unanimously approved the draft report declaring that the genetic risk of fallout, albeit harmful in absolute terms, nevertheless had been and would remain negligible in the foreseeable future (The Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation: Summary Reports, 1956). While the BEAR and MRC geneticists unexpectedly came around to the view of the US and British governments, disagreement arose among those studying nonheritable (somatic) effects, especially over the cancer risk of Sr-90. This development caught Washington and London by surprise. Unlike the geneticists, oncologists tended to dismiss the carcinogenetic effects of low-dose radiation, believing that malignant tumor was a multistage event and thus likely to have a dose threshold in practice if not in theory (Jolly, 2004). Moreover, Washington and London found the members of the BEAR and MRC somatic panels politically reliable. Many of them worked for the US and British atomic authorities and occupied key positions in the NCRP and its international counterpart, the ICRP. And yet, the two panels assessed the cancer risk of fallout rather differently. The BEAR panel offered a reassuring estimate showing that the amounts of Sr-90 in the human skeleton were well below the Maximum Permissible Concentration recommended by the NCRP and the ICRP for the general population (The Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation: Summary Reports, 1956). The MRC panel agreed with this statement, but also added that countermeasures should be taken if the Sr-90 levels showed a sign of exceeding one-tenth of the Maximum Permissible Concentration. And it warned that the amounts of Sr-90 in human bones might reach this ‘warning dose’ in the proceeding decades (Medical Research Council, 1956). Why did the BEAR and MRC somatic panels, whose views of the health effects of fallout were supposedly close to those of their governments, wind up disagreeing with one another? As was the case with the geneticists, a combination of scientific and regulatory concerns guided the medical researchers’ judgments. On one hand, the BEAR panel consciously restricted its work to no more than reviewing the existing literature. It undertook no new research and also deferred to the NCRP and the ICRP regarding the matter of permissible dose. While acknowledging that the whole-body exposure data from US medical radiologists and Japanese atomic bomb survivors suggested a possible LNT relationship for leukemia, the panelists nevertheless found these studies unreliable, especially in regards to estimated doses (Jolly, 2004). Composed largely of physicians, the panel also tended to think in terms of calculated risks. Austin Brues of the AEC Argonne National Laboratory observed that it was ‘very silly for anyone’ to complain about Sr-90 if its amounts remained only small fractions of natural radium, a bone-seeking carcinogen like Sr-90, found in the soil (Transcript, Pathologic Meetings, 1956, p. 163). On the other hand, the MRC panel possessed both the willingness and resources to challenge the existing guidelines and intuitive judgments. Some members had long been skeptical about the scientific basis of the Maximum Permissible Concentration value for Sr-90, arguing that the original data of bone cancer incidence among radium-dial painters, used to estimate the minimum injurious dose, was too small in size to rule out the LNT relationship (‘An Attempt to Estimate the Hazard from Fission Products’, 1956). As a research grant provider, the MRC was also capable of funding a large-scale epidemiological study on patients treated with X-rays for ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammatory arthritis). The result suggested that the incidence of leukemia might be directly proportional to estimated doses (Medical Research Council, 1956). Moreover, the rates of fallout depositions observed in Britain were much faster than those in the United States. Less confident about the existence of a safe dose for cancer, and alarmed by the rapid buildup of fallout in the environment, the MRC panel ultimately decided to incorporate the ‘warning dose’ into a draft report shortly before publication (‘Amendments Relating to the Hazard of Strontium 90’, 1956). By then, however, the BEAR panel had already finished its work, unable to mount a last-ditch effort to mend the sudden divide with its British counterpart. The epistemic divide between the NAS and the MRC affected the Eisenhower administration’s nuclear-test ban policy in a number of important ways. First, the British broke away from Washington’s position regarding nuclear testing. When the NAS and the MRC released their reports, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden was about to announce plans to conduct the first British thermonuclear test in the Pacific. Given that the MRC report took a more cautious attitude toward fallout, Eden and his ministers concluded, ‘world scientific opinion and a substantial body of American scientific opinion is likely to agree with the M.R.C.’ (‘Nuclear Tests: Radio-Strontium Hazard’, 1956). To deflect the growing pressure for a test ban that would completely halt the British nuclear weapons program, Eden opted for modest limits on testing instead. On July 23, he told the House of Commons that his administration was willing to enter negotiations with the United States and the Soviet Union toward an international treaty to curb fallout emissions from nuclear tests (HC Deb 23 July 1956 vol. 557 cc46-47). The epistemic divide across the Atlantic also compelled at least some AEC officials to rethink their uncompromising opposition to any form of restriction on nuclear testing. During the disarmament talks held in London from March to September, the Soviet Union announced their support for an immediate test ban. To regain initiative, Harold Stassen, Eisenhower’s disarmament adviser, pressed the AEC and other agencies for a positive counterproposal (Greene, 2007). In response, Willard Libby, a leading US nuclear chemist and one of the AEC commissioners, drew up plans for a test limitation. Noting that most of the test-ban supporters worried about the health effects of fallout, Libby suggested that the United States should pursue an international agreement that would impose an annual cap on fallout emissions to keep the worldwide Sr-90 levels below the Maximum Permissible Concentration for the general population for an indefinite period (‘Study Proposal by Commissioner Libby Concerning Limitation on Weapons Testing’, 1956). Instead of ignoring growing public concern over radioactive contamination, Libby, like the British, tried to divide and conquer the test-ban supporters by offering the option of a test limitation. Most importantly for the Eisenhower administration, the epistemic divide between the Western nuclear allies had a direct impact on the test-ban debate during the 1956 US presidential election. In April, Adlai Stevenson, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Eisenhower, declared his support for the suspension of thermonuclear weapons testing as part of his peace initiative (Johnson, 1972). By the time he returned to the subject in September, however, the focus of public attention had shifted to the alleged dangers of Sr-90. As a growing number of scientists, both within and out of the United States, sharply criticized the BEAR report for its optimistic view toward the risk of cancer, Stevenson immediately seized on this dispute to boost his campaign (Johnson, 1972). As the test ban became a major partisan issue, Dulles suddenly withdrew his support for Stassen’s policy review, arguing that such an exercise was politically untimely. Although Eisenhower personally intervened to ensure its continuation, the momentum for a new policy initiative had been irrecoverably lost amid the heat of the election (Greene, 2007). Eisenhower’s landslide victory in the presidential election also put an end to Stevenson’s quest for an H-bomb test ban. The successful rollback by the test-ban opponents in the United States, however, hardly broke Washington’s political isolation in the international arena. Even after the presidential election was over, the British still continued to pursue an international agreement that would set annual caps on fallout emissions for each polluting country. To compel them to abandon such an idea, Strauss and his associates challenged its technical feasibility with the idea of a ‘clean bomb’, a fusion-enhanced nuclear weapon with a reduced amount of fission products per yield (Higuchi, 2006). If successfully developed, they argued, such a device would not only offer a technological fix to the problem of contamination, but also make it no longer possible to make reliable estimates of fallout emissions for regulatory purposes (‘Technical Problems of Nuclear Test Limitation and Registration’, 1957). The British found this ostensibly technical argument unconvincing, but nevertheless astutely recognized the political message behind it. As the Suez Crisis in the fall of 1956 had already strained Britain’s relationship with the United States, Harold Macmillan, who replaced Eden as prime minister in January 1957, could ill afford to further antagonize Britain’s key ally. During a summit meeting held in March, Eisenhower and Macmillan agreed, at Strauss’ insistence, not to seek a nuclear-test ban or limitation without mutual consent (‘Agreement for Prior Consultation about New Proposals Regarding Nuclear Tests’, 1957). Although Washington and London managed to restore their political unity in the test-ban issue, their epistemic leadership in the matter of fallout had by then significantly diminished. Contrary to their expectations, the NAS and MRC reports turned out to be incongruent regarding the cancer risk of Sr-90, which firmly welded the fallout controversy to the test-ban debate in the United States and abroad. As the world awaited a final verdict coming from the UNSCEAR, the United States and Britain confronted their most formidable opponent: the Soviet Union. 4 Epistemic negotiations From the outset of the fallout controversy, the Soviet Union consistently sought to directly connect the issue of global radioactive contamination to its ban-the-bomb propaganda. When the Western powers introduced a resolution to establish the UNSCEAR during the 1954 session of the UN General Assembly, the Soviet representative unsuccessfully tried to push for an amendment, demanding an immediate halt to nuclear testing on grounds that, unlike X-rays and other sources of radiation, fallout was neither socially beneficial nor technologically controllable (United Nations General Assembly, 1955). The Soviet delegation to the UNSCEAR, however, initially had little success in promoting the Kremlin’s political agenda. Part of the reason had to do with the quantity of the scientific information. While the United States and Britain had been systematically measuring radiation levels outside their test sites since the early 1950s, the radiological data that the Soviets shared with the UNSCEAR suggested that they had apparently initiated their unclassified offsite fallout monitoring program only in response to the Committee’s request (Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (Physics), 1958). When the UNSCEAR held its first session in April 1956, the British delegation told London that the Soviets submitted no scientific publications at all, asserting that ‘[t]heir inability to produce useful data for the Committee has tended to lower their prestige with the smaller delegations’ (New York, 1956). More importantly, the Soviet scientists at the UNSCEAR were poorly prepared for discussion on the genetic effects of radiation. As discussed earlier, the studies of chromosome mutations by radiation provided the most robust scientific basis for the LNT hypothesis, a key proposition which made it possible to conceive the potential dangers of fallout in small amounts to human health. In the Soviet Union, however, Trofim D. Lysenko attacked the chromosome theory of inheritance as a useless abstraction, arguing that an organism could adapt to the environment and pass acquired characteristics onto its offspring. In 1948, he persuaded Stalin to ban the study of genetics and purge his scientific rivals, most notably Nikolai Dubinin, from research institutions (Soyfer, 1994; Krementsov, 1997; Pollock, 2006, 2009). Although some geneticists managed to survive and the most extreme form of political persecution ended with the death of Stalin in 1953, Lysenko’s dominance in the studies of inheritance severely undercut the effectiveness of the Soviet scientists at the UNSCEAR. When the Committee took up the problem of genetic damage during its third session held in March 1957, the Soviets submitted not a single written report on the subject, a stark contrast to the Americans and British who together contributed five out of the nine publications received by the intergovernmental panel (Second Memorandum on Reports Received Concerning the Genetic Aspects of Irradiation, 1957). Over time, however, Soviet scientists became more assertive in the fallout issue. The reason for this attitude change was two-fold. First, a group of prominent Soviet nuclear physicists and chemists came to the assistance of genetic researchers in their struggle against Lysenko (Sakharov, 1990; Soyfer, 1994). This interdisciplinary coalition repeatedly underlined the problem of fallout as one of the issues where genetics could make critical difference. When the Presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences held a meeting in March 1957 to discuss a proposal for the creation of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics with Dubinin as director, geochemist Aleksandr P. Vinogradov strongly endorsed the motion. He went on to declare that genetics alone could offer a solution to ‘this struggle for peace, the ban of tests, and the halt of the military use of atomic energy’ (Stenogramma zasedaniia presidiuma akademii nauk SSSR, 1957). Keenly aware of the Kremlin’s Cold War agenda, the anti-Lysenko scientists capitalized on the fallout controversy to underline the importance of genetic knowledge. Second, the Soviet geneticists and their supporters established contact with their Western colleagues through the transnational networks of activist scientists. A turning point came in July 1957 when Bertrand Russell and his collaborators organized an international conference of scientists in the small Canadian village of Pugwash to discuss the dangers of nuclear weapons. The Soviet Academy of Sciences originally planned to send four scientists, including two biochemists, Aleksandr I. Oparin and Norair M. Sisakian, both known as Lysenko’s supporters. Shortly before the conference was held, however, the Academy suddenly removed Oparin and Sisakian from the list of the participants and added biophysicist Aleksandr M. Kuzin instead (Afiani and Yesakov, 2010, pp. 734–735). Although no explanation accompanied this last-minute reshuffle, it was clear that Kuzin, director of the Institute of Biophysics which then temporarily hosted Dubinin’s laboratory, spoke the same scientific language as his Western counterparts. Not surprisingly, the Pugwash Conference unanimously endorsed the LNT hypothesis as a prudent basis to assess both the genetic and cancer risks of fallout (‘The Pugwash conference’, 1957). The Kremlin immediately recognized the political value of this emerging scientific consensus across the Iron Curtain. Upon the conclusion of the Pugwash Conference, Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko wrote to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, urging to ‘use a campaign among foreign scientists’ to compel the Western countries to agree to an immediate and unconditional test ban (Afiani and Yesakov, 2010, pp. 818–819). In response, the Soviet Academy of Sciences launched an intensive propaganda campaign, organizing mass meetings across the country and issuing a series of public statements signed by countless Soviet scientists that strongly condemned continued nuclear testing for its global health effects (‘Uchenyie trebuiut zapreshcheniia iadernogo oruzhiia’, 1957). In the meantime, a number of anti-Lysenko scientists lent their expertise to the Soviet delegation to the UNSCEAR. Kuzin served as a genetic adviser, with relevant data supplied by Dubinin and two other geneticists. Physiologist Andrei V. Lebedinskiy, head of the delegation, and his colleague and pathologist Nikolay A. Kraevskiy both supervised the works relating to cancer and other nongenetic effects (Stenogramma raschirennogo zasedaniia radiobiologicheskoy komissii pri prezidiume AN SSSR, 1958). By the time the UNSCEAR met again in early 1958 to discuss a draft report to the UN General Assembly before its public release, then, the Soviet scientists became scientifically and politically capable of challenging the US–British epistemic leadership. As Lebedinskiy later explained to members of the Academy in Moscow, the UNSCEAR found itself in ‘an interesting situation in the history of science’ because the state of knowledge about the biological effects of low-dose radiation was deeply uncertain (Stenogramma raschirennogo zasedaniia radiobiologicheskoy komissii pri prezidiume AN SSSR, 1958, p. 15). The Soviet delegation thus consistently emphasized considerations that, in the words of a British observer, ‘gave maximum estimates [of damage] and admitted maximum uncertainty’ (‘Factors Emphasized by USSR’, 1958). For example, when the Committee reviewed the risk of leukemia posed by the ingestion of Sr-90, Austin Brues, a US delegate who acted as rapporteur, summed up the discussion as suggesting that the existence of threshold remained an open question. Lebedinskiy, however, immediately disputed this conclusion, arguing that theories suggesting nonthreshold ‘must be given high value in this question since medical statistics did not present enough evidence’ (New York, 1958a). Both sides eventually reached a compromise, agreeing to calculate the incidence of leukemia connected with nuclear testing on the basis of both the threshold and nonthreshold hypotheses. Successfully guiding the UNSCEAR toward the side of caution in interpreting scientific uncertainty, the Soviet delegation moved to directly connect this epistemic shift to a test ban. Toward the end of the session, Lebedinskiy introduced an amendment to the draft report demanding a ban on nuclear testing, declaring that even the smallest amount of fallout should not be tolerated because it was out of human control and could potentially harm a vast number of innocent bystanders across the world. The US and British delegations were shocked to find that even some Western members like the Swedes strongly supported the idea of drawing a moral distinction between fallout and other hazards (New York, 1958b). Fearing that a minority report would seriously undercut the UNSCEAR’s credibility, the Americans agreed to a carefully worded compromise suggested by the Belgians (‘Paragraph 45 of Chapter H’, 1958). The revised draft, which the Committee unanimously approved in June 1958, noted that the cessation of nuclear testing would help reduce radiation exposure worldwide, adding that this question involved ‘national and international decisions which lie outside the scope of its work’ (Report of the United NationsScientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, 1958, p. 41). In this way, the UNSCEAR pushed the task of controlling fallout back to the polluters. 5 Epistemic shift and the test moratorium The UNSCEAR report, released to the public in August 1958, came when the US and British governments found themselves under mounting pressure to suspend nuclear testing. Five months earlier, in March 1958, Moscow suddenly announced that it would unilaterally suspend all nuclear tests if the Western nuclear rivals would reciprocate. Washington and London, however, initially refused to follow suit. Eisenhower insisted that the Soviets accept an effective international verification system, hoping that it would not only guard against cheating but also compel the Soviets to lift the Iron Curtain. Macmillan also adamantly opposed taking any steps toward a test ban until the United States fully shared its nuclear weapon technologies with the British. The two Western leaders thus countered the Soviet proposal with their own, suggesting that experts from East and West should meet to determine the technical feasibility of verifying compliance with a test ban. Only in August, when the conference of experts held in Geneva issued an affirmative report, and also when the US Congress passed a legislation permitting the weapons information exchange, did the US and British governments jointly declare an one-year moratorium on nuclear testing (Greene, 2007). Does all of this mean that the UNSCEAR report had no bearing whatsoever on the Western nuclear powers? A closer look at the decision-making process in Washington, however, reveals two major ways in which the epistemic negotiations at the intergovernmental panel subtly but fundamentally changed the course of the Eisenhower administration’s test-ban policy. First, the UNSCEAR report set a strict time limit for the US policymakers to make a decision on the moratorium. At the end of July, with the Geneva conference moving toward a successful conclusion, Secretary Dulles told new AEC chairman John A. McCone that the United States should announce its plan to suspend nuclear testing without delay because ‘[i]t would in any event be imperative for the next General Assembly, particularly having regard to certain aspects of the prospective UN report of experts’ (Memorandum of Conversation, 1958). In fact, the Eisenhower administration found the problem of fallout so politically explosive that it did not dare to mention it in its moratorium statement. As Dulles explained to Macmillan, if the West announced the decision to suspend testing as a matter of public health, ‘then indeed we might have burned our bridges behind us’, making it impossible to resume testing even if the test-ban negotiations failed (Dulles, 1958). The conspicuous lack of reference to fallout in the US–British joint statement, then, ironically underlined the significant impact of the UNSCEAR report on US test-ban policy. Second, the test-ban opponents in the United States revived the idea of limits on nuclear testing as an alternative to a comprehensive ban. In May 1958, two months after the Soviets announced a test moratorium, the AEC’s General Advisory Committee (GAC) recommended that the United States should transfer most tests underground while seeking an international agreement to limit annual fallout emissions to one megaton fission equivalent (Tomei, 1958). Two months later, as the White House leaned toward a moratorium, Libby and physicist Edward Teller urged McCone to support the GAC proposal, arguing that ‘[the] most powerful objection to continued testing would be removed if radioactive fallout from future tests could be limited or eliminated’ (Libby and Teller, 1958). Although Eisenhower and Dulles ignored this last-minute plea, the idea of a partial ban reemerged by early 1959, when test-ban negotiations reached a deadlock over the US demand for the onsite inspection of a suspected underground test site within the Soviet Union (Greene, 2007). In this way, the changing public discourse of the global fallout hazards continued to reshape US test-ban policy beyond the moratorium period. 6 Conclusion The successful test of Shot Bravo at Bikini Atoll in March 1954 forced the Eisenhower administration to squarely confront the dilemma of the Anthropocene that the sheer scale of radioactive contamination across space and time clouded scientific and moral clarity concerning the environmental change. This article has demonstrated how epistemic frictions over these multiple unknowns gradually altered the public discourse of the global fallout hazards through four successive phases. First, the absence of organized expertise for the genetic effects of radiation sparked an endless public debate between the AEC and geneticists. Second, the scientists’ movement broke this epistemic stalemate by proposing an independent scientific review under the UN. This demand from an interested third party in the fallout controversy led to the wholesale restructuring of organized expertise for radiation protection. Third, the NAS and MRC, despite close coordination behind the scenes, failed to strike out a consensus regarding the carcinogenic risk of Sr-90, which elevated the problem of fallout to a prominent place in the parallel debate on the nuclear-test ban. And finally, the reconstruction of biological knowledge in the Soviet Union and the growing scientific contact across the Iron Curtain enabled the Soviet scientists to guide the UNSCEAR toward a more cautious view of the effects of fallout on human health. The gradual shift in the understanding of the global fallout hazards, in turn, affected the Eisenhower administration’s test-ban policy in a number of important ways. As demonstrated in the 1956 presidential election, it significantly boosted the position of the test-ban advocates in the United States. Public opinion, however, was not the only venue through which the fallout controversy intersected with the test-ban debate. This article has also demonstrated that the epistemic frictions cracked, albeit temporarily, the US–British political unity in the test-ban issue, deepening Washington’s isolation on the international level. More importantly, test-ban opponents, while continuously denying the dangers of fallout to humans, strategically appropriated growing public concern over radioactive contamination through a number of test-limitation proposals, as well as technological innovations including the ‘clean bomb’ and underground testing. 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International Relations of the Asia-Pacific – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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