December 8, 2003, marked the fiftieth anniversary of US President Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" speech, which led to greater international cooperation in nuclear science and technology, and eventually to the establishment of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (www.iaea.org). The following article was prepared by CNS Bulletin editor Fred Boyd, but he couldn't run it in the Dec 2003 (Volume 24 No 4) edition of the Bulletin due to space limitations.

Atoms for Peace

Dwight D. Eisenhower
34th US President 1953-1961 
b. October 14, 1890 
d. March 28, 1969

December 8, 2003 is the 50th anniversary of speech that launched the international civilian nuclear program.

In December 1953 the Cold War existed, an "Iron Curtain" divided Europe, and the USA and USSR were locked in a race of atomic weapons. It was against that background that US President Dwight Eisenhower gave a speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 8, 1953 that subsequently got titled "Atoms for Peace". In it he made a proposal for an "international Atomic Energy Agency" to which countries with nuclear programs would give uranium and other fissionable materials that could be used for peaceful purposes worldwide.

It took four years and a mandate somewhat different than that envisioned by Eisenhower but the International Atomic Energy Agency was created in 1957. The following year, 1958, the first international "Atoms for Peace" conference was held in Vienna in which a remarkable amount of information that had been classified was presented for all to use.

Following are excerpts from Eisenhower's historic speech.

I decided that this occasion warranted my saying to you some of the things that have been the minds and hearts of my legislative and executive associates and on mine for a great many months.

I feel impelled to speak today in a language that in a sense is new - one which I, who has spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use. That language is the language of atomic warfare.

The atomic age has moved forward at such a pace that every citizen of the world should have some comprehension, at least in comparative terms, of the extent of this development. Clearly, if the people of the world are to conduct an intelligent search for peace, they must be armed with the significant facts of today's existence.

The dread secret and fearful engines of atomic might are not ours alone. In the first place, the secret is shared by our friends and allies, Great Britain and Canada, whose scientific genius made a tremendous contribution to our original discoveries, and the designs of atomic bombs.

My country's purpose is to help us move out of the dark chamber of horrors into the light, to find a way by which the minds of men, the hopes of men, the souls of men everywhere, can move forward toward peace and happiness and well being.

It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace.

I make the following proposal: The Governments principally involved, to the extent permitted by elementary prudence, to begin now and continue to make joint contributions from their stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials to an international Atomic Energy Agency. We would expect that such an agency would be set up under the aegis of the United Nations.

The more important responsibility of this Atomic Energy Agency would be 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.

I would be prepared to submit to the Congress of the United States, with every expectation of approval, any such plan that would:

First - encourage world-wide investigation into the most effective peacetime uses of fissionable material, and with the certainty that they had all the material needed for the conduct of all experiments that were appropriate;

Second - begin to diminish the potential destructive power of the world's atomic stockpiles;

Third - allow all peoples of all nations to see that, in this enlightened age, the great powers of the earth, both of the East and of the West, are interested in human aspirations first, rather than in building up the armaments of war;

Fourth - open up a new channel for peaceful discussion, and initiate at least a new approach to the many difficult problems that must be solved in both private and public conversations, if the world is to shake off the inertia imposed by fear and is to make positive progress towards peace.

The full text of the speech is available at Atoms for Peace full text
Additional information can be found at Atoms for Peace and the Atoms for Peace Conference web sites.

[Canadian Nuclear Society home page]