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article number 678
article date 08-17-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
All Brains Together—First to Develop the Atom Bomb, Part 15: How Will Atomic Energy Enter Our Lives, 1946 -
by William Laurence, Reporter, New York Times

From the 1946 book, Dawn Over Zero.

* * *

FROM TIME IMMEMORIAL, man’s strivings bad been motivated by two dominant dreams. One was of a formula, called the philosophers’ stone, for transmuting base metals into gold. The other was of an “elixir of life” that would keep him eternally young.

Since gold symbolized wealth and power, which be considered essential for happiness, the quest for the philosophers’ stone was not actually for gold per se, but for what the possession of great riches would bring him. It came in response to a deep-seated yearning in his psyche for dominance over man and power over the forces of nature, the longing to live up to his concept of himself as the dominant creature on earth.

These yearnings, which have manifested themselves under various disguises throughout the ages, are basically expressions of man’s rebellion against the limitations of space and time. Way back in prehistoric times he invented the wheel as a device to narrow down his spatial limitations. His later inventions of the automobile and the airplane, the telegraph, the telephone, and radio were manifestations of the same urge to conquer space.

But conquest of space was not limited merely to getting places in a hurry. Basically it meant power over the material world existing in space, a power that only gold could give.

Even greater than man’s need to master space was his fundamental yearning to conquer time. Old age and death were always mocking at him.

His gods were beings who neither were limited in space nor ever grew old. Thus man’s eternal quest for the philosophers’ stone and the elixir of life was actually a manifestation of his quest for means to conquer space and time.

The philosophers’ stone would make him lord of the material world in space; the elixir of life was to give him mastery over time and death.

After five hundred thousand to a million years of his existence on this earth, during which his quest had appeared under many metamorphoses, man at last is within striking distance of his goal. For atomic energy brings within sight the realization of the dream of the ages.

He now has within his grasp a philosophers’ stone that not only will transmute the elements and create wealth far greater in value than gold, but will also provide him with the means for gaining a far deeper insight into the mysteries of living processes, leading to the postponement of old age and the prolongation of life.

This, in substance, is the true meaning of atomic energy harnessed in the service of mankind, as contrasted with its use in atomic bombs. It gives man the greatest chance he has ever had to master his material environment, to conquer space and time, disease and old age. He stands on Pisgah in the desert, gazing at a land of promise.

Before presenting a detailed explanation of these seemingly broad general statements it is necessary to clear up several popular misconceptions. The public has been fed fantastic fairy tales about small atomic-energy capsules “the size of a pea” that will drive automobiles and airplanes indefinitely, heat and light our homes and office buildings, run our refrigerators, radios, and air-conditioning systems, and furnish the power needed on the farm.

Atomic energy would run our factories, railroads, and steamships.

Coal and petroleum would be used only for the chemicals that can be extracted from them for making perfumes, nylon stockings, aspirin, and similar substances.

As our principal fuels for supplying heat, light, and power, coal and oil would be as out of date as the oxcart.

Now, all responsible scientists familiar with the matter agree that such claims are based on a lack of even an elementary acquaintance with the fundamental facts.


Let us take the idea of the “power-pill” first. This is fundamentally impossible because to produce atomic energy, a basic minimum of uranium or plutonium (the only two substances that can be used at present for atomic energy) is absolutely essential.

This basic amount of uranium or plutonium is known, as already stated, as the “critical size.” Anything less than this critical size will not yield any atomic energy, since if the amount is too small, the neutrons necessary to maintain the chain reaction would escape through the surface and be wasted.

How much is the critical amount? For the atomic bomb the amount, as we have seen, ranges from one to a hundred kilograms. in other words, anything less than one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of uranium 235 or plutonium would not work, and the critical amount may be as high as a hundred kilograms. Even one kilogram is not exactly a capsule.

But these critical amounts are for the production of an uncontrolled chain reaction with fast neutrons to release the energy at as high an explosive rate as possible.

To use it for power we need a controlled reaction, which can be achieved only with slow neutrons. To slow down the neutrons, a moderator is necessary, which would weigh many times the amount of the U.235 or plutonium.

Nor is that all. The process of the release of atomic energy is accompanied by the liberation of vast amounts of radioactivity, equivalent to that of many tons of radium. These radiations would instantly kill anyone coming near them.

To protect one against their lethal effect, heavy shielding of two or three feet of steel or several times that amount of concrete is necessary.

Together with the moderator, the shielding would make the weight of the unit wholly out of the question for automobiles or airplanes. Dr. Compton calculated that an atomic-energy plant delivering one hundred horsepower would weigh a minimum of fifty tons.

Thus driving automobiles or airplanes by atomic power must be counted out as definitely impossible.

Even if these obstacles did not exist, it would still be highly undesirable from a political and social standpoint to permit possession of materials for atomic energy by individuals. Without question the greatest problem of our day is the proper control of atomic energy to prevent its use for destructive purposes.

A small clique of intriguers at the head of a minor power, if they managed to get hold of sizable quantities of U.235 or plutonium, could do incalculable damage.

With these substances placed indiscriminately in the hands of motorcar-owners, an international black market of enormous dimensions would be created and would make control out of the question. The same reasons also apply to small power units on farms, and to the use of atomic power in locomotives.

How about large steamships? It has been estimated that the cost of fuel is only twelve per cent of the cost of operating a 17,000-ton liner. Hence, even if it were possible from a technical and an engineering point of view to install atomic-energy power plants in steamships, as is not yet the case, it would still be impractical from an economic point of view.

For battleships and submarines it might be worth while because it would eliminate the need of returning to base for refueling, but crews and even admirals will still have to eat, so they would have to come back to base sooner or later for food supplies.

Here another misconception must be cleared up. The impression has been created among the lay public that since we know how to use atomic energy in a bomb, we also could use it for peacetime power. This is far from being the case.

The present atomic piles for the production of plutonium generate, it is true, tremendous amounts of heat. But this heat is of a low temperature, which cannot be used as a source of power.

As Professor Smyth states:

“An effective heat engine must not only develop heat but must develop heat at a high temperature. To run a chain-reacting system (i.e., atomic ‘boiler’) at a high temperature and to convert the heat generated to useful work is very much more difficult than to run a chain-reacting system at a low temperature.”

At present we do not know how to run a chain-reacting system, the only system by which atomic energy can be released, at a high temperature.

According to General Groves, who should know, it would take decades to develop such a system.


Others, less pessimistic, believe it may be done in from three to ten years. But in the long run this will depend on how much effort, in money and resources, we are willing to devote to it. With the knowledge we have already gained it should not take more time to develop means for using atomic power for peacetime purposes than it did to harness it for military uses, provided the necessity exists for the expenditure of large sums of money and for a large-scale national effort, as was the case with the atomic bomb.

This brings us up squarely against the economics of the question. In other words, to make such a concentrated national effort worth while we should have to know in advance that its successful outcome would lead to great savings in the present cost of light and power. The figures show that this would not be the case.

Dr. Leonard I. Katzin, of the atomic bomb group at the University of Chicago, states the problem this way:

“By making the possibly incorrect assumption that the U.235 is consumed with the same efficiency as are the combustion fuels with which it is being compared (coal, oil, natural gas, etc.), and assuming that its efficiency of conversion into electrical energy is the same, we may obtain the following rough comparisons:

"◦ In order to compete with bituminous coal at $5 a ton (approximately the 1942 wholesale average), a pound of U.235 must cost not more than $7,500.
◦ To compare with fuel oil at three cents a gallon, it must again be as low as $7,500.
◦ Competition with fifteen cent gasoline is effective at $37,500 a pound.
◦ To compete with artificial gas costing fifty cents a thousand cubic feet it may cost $40,000 a pound,
◦ while natural gas at the same price would demand a competition price of about $20,000 a pound.”

These figures are based on the fact that one pound of U.235 releases the energy equivalent to 1,500 tons of coal, 250,000 gallons of fuel oil or gasoline, 80 million cubic feet of artificial gas, or 40 million cubic feet of natural gas.

The actual cost of a pound of concentrated U.235 cannot be revealed. Professor Dunning estimated that it would probably cost from $10,000 to $50,000 a pound to produce, depending on the process. But even assuming that we were to get the uranium free, the economies that would result would still be no more than between 3 and 17 per cent.

The reason is that fuel constitutes only a small percentage of the total power bill to the consumer. For example, the city dweller pays 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for his electricity. If the utility company were to pay nothing for the coal, it could afford to reduce his bill to 3.4 per kilowatt-hour.

The cost of the coal is only three per cent of the total bill. The remainder pays for the costs of plant construction and maintenance, distribution, interest and profit charges, which would remain the same regardless of whether uranium or coal is used as the fuel. Even for large industrial power-users, the fuel cost is about 17 per cent of the total cost for power.

Dr. Katzin gives us further interesting comparisons between the total fuel consumption in the United States and the quantities of uranium available in the prewar years: In 1942, according to the Bureau of Mines, 649 million tons of coal were mined and consumed, or the equivalent of about 216 tons of U.235. The production of natural gas for 1942 was three million-million cubic feet, or the equivalent in energy of about 40 tons of U.235.

Similar figures were calculated by Dr. Katzin for petroleum products. The capacity of the hydroelectric generating plants of the United States in 1942 was about 14 million kilowatts, corresponding to a consumption of 1.23 pounds of U.235 every hour, or some five tons per year.

Thus the total energy consumed in the United States per year is the equivalent of about 300 tons of U.235.

The large prewar producers of uranium were the United States, Canada, the Belgian Congo, and Czechoslovakia. Estimates published before the war indicated that a total of 20,000 tons of uranium was readily available. About half of this is located in the United States and Canada.

Since each ton of uranium contains only 14 pounds of U.235, the figures show that there were only 140 tons of U.235 readily available in the world before the war. Even if all the uranium 238 were to be converted into plutonium for power purposes only, the supply would last only sixty-six years.

Thorium, which is more abundant, cannot be used because it reacts only with fast neutrons, which makes it unavailable for power purposes. It could, however, be used in combination with uranium.

Of course, it is very likely that since the advent of the atomic bomb the world’s uranium resources have greatly increased, but so has the demand for military purposes. In fact, in the present state of world affairs, atomic power for peacetime purposes will for some time to come be closely linked with further developments on the international front.

Every nation, large and small, will from now on try to get as much of it as it can lay its hands on. No metal in the world’s history will be so jealously guarded or sought after.

Overnight this substance, which had a pre-war market price of seven dollars per pound (this was for each pound of the element in the form of a nitrate, as there was no pure metal available) has become the most highly prized of all the natural elements, more precious than gold or any precious stone, more valuable than platinum or even radium.


Our coal resources, on the other hand, are estimated to last us for three to four thousand years. As for oil, though the supply may not last for more than fifty to a hundred years, there are methods now available for converting coal and natural gas into gasoline at a price no higher than current prices of the natural product.

Thus there are three fundamental reasons why we cannot expect large-scale use of atomic power in the immediate future:

1. It will require from five years to decades to develop the technology for constructing and operating high-temperature atomic power piles. Plants totally different from those built for producing plutonium for atomic bombs must be designed, requiring the solution of problems much more difficult than those involved in building our atomic piles for low-temperature operation.

2. There is no economic incentive for investing the large sums required for developing such plants. For even if the uranium were free, which it certainly will not be, it would not lead to appreciable economies in the nation’s power bill, since the cost of fuel represents only from 3 to 17 per cent of the total.

3. Lastly, the world’s uranium supplies are strictly limited. Even if the United States were to have access to all the world’s uranium, which, of course, is unthinkable, the supply would last only sixty-six years.

There is also the problem of the health hazard that will not incline communities to welcome atomic power plants in their vicinity.

While the danger of an explosion in an atomic “boiler” would be about the same as in a steam plant, and could be made negligible if the plants are designed and handled by competent engineers, still there would always be the likelihood of an accident. Such an accident would be a catastrophe of the first magnitude, as the highly lethal radioactive materials that would be scattered over a large area by such an explosion would make it uninhabitable for some time.

Coal, oil, and rivers will therefore remain our principal sources of power for many years to come.

That does not mean, however, that atomic energy will not find any uses as a power source. On the contrary, it will undoubtedly have many highly important applications that no one at present could even guess at. But such uses will supplement, not supplant, our present abundant power sources.

To use up our precious uranium for purposes that could be served equally well by our great coal and oil deposits and our great rivers would be like washing dishes in the kitchen sink with a rare vintage of some precious wine.

One of the factors favoring an atomic pile as a power source is the promise it holds for greatly increased efficiency in the conversion of heat into work. As Dr. Katzin points out:

"With ordinary fuels, the heat of reaction and rate of combustion set limits to the temperature which may be reached. In the case of the pile, the problem is to keep the temperature down to the limits set by the physical structure. Because of this characteristic, it is theoretically possible to operate a power cycle at such an elevated temperature that the efficiency of conversion of heat into work is greatly increased.

"The power output of atomic power installations per unit size [he adds] can be disproportionately high when compared with other types of sources. This coupling of small size and independence of large fuel supplies or watercourses gives the atomic pile certain unique values in situations in which these characteristics are important."

This view was further elucidated by Dr. Thomas:

“The availability of power and the place where it is to be used is an important factor in considering any economic studies or prognostications of the power uses of the future.

"For example [he said] in many manufacturing enterprises it is often the case that you have raw material available but no power, and that is a factor that must be counted on the optimistic side in bringing about atomic power plants in the future.

"This is particularly true in the mining industry where you have certain ores in isolated areas and no power for processing the ores. You could build an atomic power plant right on the site without the necessity of transmission lines. Such a situation allows you to pay more for power than in locations where you have abundant coal and oil on the spot."

Professor Morrison puts it this way:

"Only if for special reasons the transportation of coal is impossible or prohibitively expensive will the substitution of atomic energy sources for ordinary fuels be made economically and on a reasonably large scale.

"Perhaps a hotel on the South Polar ice cap or in Arctic Siberia could afford an atomic power plant. The wind is after all a ‘free’ source of energy. But its reliable and large scale utilization is so expensive that we burn our heritage of coal rather than set up windmill plants on a great scale in the desert."


Thinking of atomic energy as just a concentrated fuel to serve as a substitute for coal or oil is to lose sight of its far more important implications as placing in the hands of man the greatest tool he has ever had given to him for making his world a much better place to live in, and to have a greater voice than he ever had before in the shaping of his destiny.

‘When the U.235 atoms are split in the atomic pile by the trillions, the resulting fragments are radioactive varieties of lighter elements. These elements do not exist in nature in radioactive form. They promise to become immensely valuable substances as substitutes for radium and X-rays and as catalysts in industrial processes.

They are not promises for tomorrow. They are actualities, by-products of the creation of plutonium. They could be purified in large amounts if we want to build the plants for such purposes.

But the factor of the utmost significance, which dwarfs all other possible benefits that may result from man’s new ability to liberate vast amounts of atomic energy, is the all-important fact that in the atomic pile man has at last a practically limitless source of neutrons. With these neutrons he can eventually transform his world and gain a mastery over space and time to a degree far greater than any of the ancient alchemists ever dreamed of achieving with their philosophers’ stone and their elixir of life.

For with the endless supply of neutrons at his disposal man can transmute practically all the elements found in nature. He can create elements to order, elements that he could use for a better, richer, and more abundant life. Such elements could not be created in quantity by any other power on earth.

A number of these elements promise, among other things, to provide far more effective means for the treatment of cancer, and, better still, means that could serve to elucidate for the first time the mystery of the cause of the cancer. Once the cause is determined, means for its prevention, or even its cure, are likely to be found.

For example, it is known that certain elements have affinities for particular organs of the body and could therefore be used for treating diseases of those organs. Iodine, for instance, has an affinity for the thyroid gland; phosphorus for the bone marrow, where the blood cells are formed; strontium for the bone structure.

It had therefore been known a long time that if such substances could be made radioactive they could be fed to the body in small amounts in the treatment of cancer of the thyroid, leukemia (a form of cancer of the white blood cells), and cancer of the bone, respectively. Small amounts of these substances were made artificially radioactive by the cyclotron and used with good effect on cancer patients.

Similarly, ordinary table salt was transmuted by the cyclotron in small amounts and used in the treatment of other forms of internal cancer. Such substances have the same effect as radium and are even more powerful than the natural substance, with the advantage that they can be selected because of their special affinity for particular organs and administered internally, either by injection or by mouth. This, of course, is impossible with radium.

Unfortunately, the cyclotron, a big and expensive machine, could produce only minute amounts of these substances, far short of the need.

In the atomic pile, however, we have a neutron factory equivalent to more than a million of the most powerful cyclotrons. We can now produce these life-saving substances in practically limitless amounts at an extremely low cost, within the reach of the poorest of cancer patients.

Important as this is, there are still more important things to come from the philosophers’ stone, or elixir of life, if you will, within the neutron. For with these neutrons man can create practically limitless quantities of radioactive forms of the four basic elements of life—hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.

By incorporating minute amounts of these easily distinguishable atoms into the food molecules of animals and plants, it becomes possible, for the first time on a large scale, to trace their course step by step in the body of the living animal and growing plant. These “tagged atoms” will serve as a “lantern” in the dark labyrinth of life. Processes hitherto hidden, normal as well as abnormal, will stand revealed at long last.


This is of the utmost significance for man’s future welfare and cannot be overestimated or overemphasized. If the atomic bomb does not bring doomsday first, this lantern into life will set man on the road to the millennium.

Men and plants live by the food they eat. ‘When the food enters the living body of plant or animal, it is broken up into constituent parts and utilized for energy and for the replacement of burned-up tissue. This process is known as metabolism. It is as complex as life itself and is, in fact, a synonym for life, for life is metabolism.

The processes of metabolism are different in normal health from those in disease, and each disease is characterized by specific abnormalities in metabolism. If we could only know what these abnormalities are, we should have a better insight into the nature of the disease and a much better approach to its prevention and treatment.

The tagged atoms of the basic elements of life that we can now create by atomic energy will enable us to trace what the animal and plant body does with its food at every stage of digestion and incorporation into the living body. They can be used in harmless amounts in all living things, including man.

By studying first normal metabolism and then comparing it with that in the various diseases, biology, medicine, physiology and biochemistry, working together, would learn for the first time what deviations occur in the sick body and take intelligent measures to prevent and correct these deviations.

Take cancer, for example. We have but a very sketchy idea of the metabolism of the cancer cell and how it deviates from the normal cell. By tracing the food taken in by the cancer patient we can now find out what stuff the cancer cell uses for its building blocks. We could trace every step in which these building blocks are made, the elements of which they are composed, the sources whence they come.

Suppose it is found that these sources are present only in certain foods. Then the feeding of a diet in which these elements are missing would starve the cancer to death.

This could be done not only with cancer but with all other diseases. For the first time we may be able to establish the metabolism in every type of disease, both chronic and acute. We may elucidate at last the mystery of arteriosclerosis, arthritis, heart disease, diseases of the kidney, and most other baffling ills that are taking a tremendous toll in death and suffering.

At last we stand on the threshold of elucidating the mystery of why we get old. As we age, our metabolism gradually changes, but how we do not know. By feeding animals, throughout their lifespan, foods in which these tagged atoms have been incorporated, as well as feeding them to human beings who have reached a ripe old age without impairment of faculties, we might find out what it is that makes people old, and the way will have been opened for an intelligent approach to means for postponing the process.

And that is only part of the picture. With new types of tagged atoms we at last have a means that promises to solve one of the major mysteries of nature, the process whereby plants, by the use of the green coloring substance named chlorophyll (the stuff that makes the grass green), are able to harness the energy of the sun.

Chlorophyll is the only substance known in nature that somehow possesses the power to act as a sunlight trap. It catches the energy of sunlight and stores it up in the plant. Without this ability no life could exist on earth. We obtain the energy we need for living from the solar energy stored up in the plant food we eat, or in the flesh of the animals that eat the plants.

The energy we obtain from coal or oil is solar energy trapped by the chlorophyll in plant life millions of years ago.

We live by the sun through the agency of chlorophyll. By means of the sunlight trapped by the chlorophyll the plant is able to synthesize starches, sugars, and proteins out of the carbon dioxide and water in the air and the minerals in the soil.

Thus our supply of energy for living and power for running our civilization are both made possible by this mysterious substance that makes grass green.

So far the process whereby chlorophyll traps the energy of the sun has eluded the searches of the world’s greatest scientists. Dr. Conant, before he became president of Harvard, was among those who tried to solve the mystery. The process is just as complicated as life itself.


Now, carbon dioxide is one of the basic elements used by chlorophyll in building its trap for the sun. With the powerful stream of neutrons now at our command in the atomic boiler we can create large quantities of a new type of carbon, of atomic weight 14, which does not exist in nature.

We can incorporate this new carbon in carbon dioxide and feed it to the plant. We can then watch it at each step of the process as it builds up its sunlight trap.

With this, two tremendous vistas of incalculable importance will open up. By learning how the plant builds up its food substance from carbon dioxide, water, and a few minerals (we could also build these other substances out of tagged elements) we may learn to use the same substances and sunlight for the direct production of food.

We would no longer be dependent exclusively on the soil to give us our daily bread. Man at last may be able to produce enough food to provide abundantly for the world’s population.

The nitrogen in the atmosphere, the water in his rivers, some of the common elements in the soil and in the sea, will be the raw materials out of which he will grow his foods.

The other vista is equally alluring. Learning how the plant traps the sunlight may lead to the building of a better trap. The way may be opened to harnessing the enormous energy poured down on the earth every second by the sun, only a small fraction of which is now utilized by us indirectly through the chlorophyll in plants.

Thus atomic energy, while not providing us directly with a great new reservoir of power, promises to bring the sun down to earth as its gift to man.

It also promises, in more than a figurative sense, to bring the moon and Mars, and other neighbors in space, within man’s reach, for here at last he has a fuel powerful enough to free him from the gravitational bonds of the earth.

All existing fuels have only a little more than the energy needed to lift their own weight beyond the earth’s gravitational field.

Hence no rocket or spaceship that would leave the earth could hitherto be made, as no existing fuel has enough power to lift both its own weight and the weight of the rocket to a point beyond the reach of the earth’s attractive force.

In the atomic bomb, on the other hand, there is more than a million times the energy needed to get beyond the earth’s field of gravity. This, therefore, opens the possibility of sending a rocket or space-ship to the moon, or even Mars.

Man for the first time has the fuel for such a space-ship. He still lacks the engine to utilize this cosmic fire. While scientists point to formidable obstacles still to be overcome in the solution of the propulsion problem, they do not regard them as basically insurmountable.

The interplanetary era may not yet be just around the corner, but it is already faintly discernible above the horizon. And the real shape of things yet to come may still be hidden beyond the horizon.

In the words of Dr. Compton:

"Fifty years ago it could not be predicted that X-rays would become a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer, or that researches made possible by X-rays would reveal the electron, and with it give us the radio and a host of electronic devices.

"Such unforeseen developments are the result of every great discovery. It would be surprising similarly if the really important consequences of the release of atomic energy are not in directions as yet unpredicted."

We stand at the gateway to a new world.


pic: X-rayFilmOfBody.gif

* * *

ON THAT HISTORIC MORNING in the desert of New Mexico when the first atomic bomb sent up a mountain of cosmic fire 41,000 feet into the stratosphere and suffused the earth with a light never before seen under the sun, your world and mine, the world we knew, came to an end.

A new world was born in that mountain of fire. What kind of world this new world is going to be no one yet knows. But we do know that it could be a vastly better world than the one that has just come to an end. Whether the vast potentialities of this new world will ever be turned into actuality, in whole or even in part, will largely depend on what the inhabitants of this new world, you and I, make of it.

That is the most important matter for all of us to think about, today, tomorrow, and in the years to come. Mankind now has the greatest chance it ever had in the million years of its existence on this earth. If it muffs this chance it may never get another.

The tragic truth is that at present we really cannot be sure that the war is over. Twenty-five years from now, or even sooner, we may find out that what we thought was the end of the war was no more than merely another prolonged armistice, a period in which we took time out to stock up with bigger and better atomic bombs.

If that happens the end cannot be far away.

To Dr. Kistiakowski the bursting of the first atomic bomb was “the nearest thing to Doomsday.”

To me, who saw the same thing, the spectacle meant the birth of a new world.

Which one of us was right? That again is for the inhabitants of this new world to decide.

These two attitudes were poignantly illustrated to me in a striking symbolic form in the explosions at New Mexico and Nagasaki.

In the first the mountain that rose above the clouds took the form for a fleeting instant of a gigantic Statue of Liberty, its arm raised to the sky, symbolizing the birth of a new freedom for man.

At Nagasaki the multicolored cloud assumed at one stage of its evolution the form of a giant totem pole, a “living totem pole carved with many grotesque masks grimacing at the earth” and at its inhabitants, symbolizing an atavistic throw-back to primitive savagery and barbarism.


Future generations, if there are to be future generations, may look upon the harnessing of atomic energy as the greatest single milestone in man’s material progress, in the course of his everlasting battle to harness nature’s forces to make possible a decent life for himself on this earth.

But while this development may mean man’s greatest scientific triumph, it may also mean the most tragic moment in his history—a moment in which we may be standing on the brink of the great abyss. For all man’s recent ills have been brought about by the misuse of the products of man’s genius.

If mankind sees to it that atomic energy is properly controlled, this new cosmic fire can bring him new light and new warmth and new freedom. If he allows it to get out of control, as was the case with man’s other inventions, it will mean a conflagration that will engulf the earth and all its inhabitants, leaving abysmal chaos and ruin.

Mankind must now face the reality that atomic energy is here to stay. The question is: Are we? If we are, we must find means to control it. On that will depend whether atomic energy is to mean a horn of super-plenty or a super-box of Pandora. Man, like Hamlet, must ask himself the question: To be or not to be?

There can be only one defense against the atomic bomb—peace. On that all our scientists agree. The word “peace” has become synonymous with survival. The word “war” has become synonymous with suicide.

Peace or atomic war? That is the question the world is facing. But only the peoples of the world can supply the answer. It will not, it cannot, be answered by us alone. No unilateral decision can supply the answer.

While no military defense against the atomic bomb is envisaged by our scientists, there is one instrumentality, actually two instrumentalities in one, that can conquer the atomic bomb and put it to use as man’s slave, not his master. These instrumentalities are the human brain and the human heart, man’s mind and man’s spirit.

It was the combination of the human mind and the human spirit that created the atomic bomb against insuperable obstacles. The creators of the atomic bomb are greater than the thing they created.

We must therefore start with faith in the mind and in the spirit of man. Without this faith no methods of control, no organization, will succeed, for no human institutions can thrive on a foundation of suspicion and distrust.

James Russell Lowell said: “Be noble and the nobility dormant in your neighbor will rise to meet yours.” Suspicion breeds suspicion. Nobility engenders nobility.

We must start with faith in the ultimate triumph of the good and in the fulfillment of man’s destiny on earth as an innately noble creature.

Prometheus was the first scientist. He invented fire, the symbol of light, and gave it to man, thereby starting him on his march to civilization.

Zeus, the Olympian, symbolized the tyrant who made man his slave. He knew that fire would make man free. So he chained Prometheus, the liberator of man, to the rock, and set the vulture, symbolizing war and strife between men, to torture him.

All through the history of civilization this ancient struggle between Prometheus, the liberator, and Zeus, the enslaver, has been going on. There have been periods of enlightenment, such as the Golden Age of ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and the nineteenth century, in which Prometheus succeeded in breaking his chains. These may be called the Prometheus Unbound periods.

The world is now witnessing a new period, in which Zeus, the tyrant and enslaver, is threatening to chain Prometheus, the liberator, once more to the rock and to put all mankind back into bondage.

The word Prometheus, translated from the Greek, means “forethought,” thinking ahead. If we bring our concentrated thought to bear upon this problem, Prometheus will remain free.

With this forethought, if we keep thinking ahead, and think clearly and objectively, in a spirit of faith in the destiny of man, this great new force placed at our disposal can become the greatest weapon for enforcing peace the world has ever known, ensuring a period of peace lasting conceivably until a time when the groundwork has been laid for a world government.

In the final analysis it is the American people who have opened up this great new continent of atomic power. Destiny has placed its trust in our people by providing us with the key to this hitherto tightly locked “cosmic cupboard,” and the American people must, and will, keep faith with this trust.

We must develop and cultivate this continent into a new promised land of plenty, for ourselves and for all mankind, bringing in a new era of wealth, health, and happiness such as the world has never seen.

But the time at present is still 9.15 it is still 12.01. It is no longer Japanese time, it is world time. It is 9.15 over the civilized world. It is 12.01 on the hour-glass of history.

Oppenheimer and Groves.
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