The Beginning of the Nuclear Age (TWO of TWO)

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The First Nuclear Chain Reaction – Enrico Fermi and Henry Moore – ARCHIVE

The Italian physicist Enrico Fermi set off the first nuclear chain reaction in an underground tennis-court at the University of Chicago in 1942. His experiment led directly to the building of the plutonium bomb that destroyed the city of Nagasaki.

Exactly 25 years after that experiment, with Fermi already dead of radiation induced leukemia, a statue by Henry Moore was unveiled on December 2, 1967, at that location, to commemorate the first self sustained nuclear chain reaction.

Boal describes the fascinating clash of ideas, from the early anti nuclear resistance by SDS students in the US and the British CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), to the visual impression of Moore’s statue that seems to depict a skull plus storm trooper helmet plus mushroom cloud. Ignoring the early resistance to nuclear power scientists still envisioned thousands of nuclear power plants while discussing already how one could possibly keep nuclear waste safe for tens of thousands of years.

Iain Boal is co-editor of Resisting the Virtual Life, published by City Lights Books and the author of the history of the bicycle: The Green Machine (2011). Boal was educated at Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities and has taught at Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley.

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