Does nuclear secrecy make us safer? New e-book provides counterargument

A "Restricted Data" classification stamp on a document from the US Atomic Energy Commission in the early 1950s. The document pertains to the classification of opacity calculations that were part of the work on the hydrogen bomb. The document is no longer classified and is available in the US National Archives.

Enlarge / A “Restricted Knowledge” classification stamp on a doc from the US Atomic Vitality Fee within the early 1950s. The doc pertains to the classification of opacity calculations that have been a part of the work on the hydrogen bomb. The doc is now not categorized and is on the market within the US Nationwide Archives. (credit score: Alexander Wellerstein/CC-BY-3.0)

The revolutionary discovery of nuclear fission in December 1938 helped launch the atomic age, bringing with it a novel want for secrecy concerning the scientific and technical underpinnings of nuclear weapons. This secrecy developed right into a particular class of proscribed data, dubbed “Restricted Knowledge,” which continues to be in place at this time. Historian Alex Wellerstein spent over ten years researching numerous features of nuclear secrecy, and his first e-book, Restricted Knowledge: The Historical past of Nuclear Secrecy in the US (College of Chicago Press), was launched earlier this month.

Wellerstein is a historian of science on the Stevens Institute of Expertise in New Jersey, the place his analysis facilities on the historical past of nuclear weapons and nuclear historical past. (Enjoyable reality: he served as a historic guide on the short-lived TV sequence Manhattan.) A self-described “devoted archive rat,” Wellerstein maintains a number of do-it-yourself databases to maintain monitor of all of the digitized information he has collected through the years from official, non-public, and private archives. The bits that do not discover their manner into educational papers sometimes find yourself as gadgets on his weblog, Restricted Knowledge, the place he additionally maintains the NUKEMAP, an interactive software that allows customers to mannequin the affect of assorted varieties of nuclear weapons on the geographical location of their alternative.

The scope of Wellerstein’s thought-provoking e-book spans the scientific origins of the atomic bomb within the late 1930s right through the early 21st century. Every chapter chronicles a key shift in how the US method to nuclear secrecy steadily developed over the following a long time—and the way it nonetheless shapes our interested by nuclear weapons and secrecy at this time.

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