Atomic Scientists' Movement

On August 7, 1945, the day after the bombing of Hiroshima, Met Lab scientists met under the leadership of Eugene Rabinowitch to draft a statement arguing for civilian administration of atomic research, international controls, and programs to educate the public about atomic weapons and nuclear energy. By mid-September, the group had constituted itself as the Atomic Scientists of Chicago.

John A. Simpson, chair of the ASC executive committee, joined William Higinbotham of the Los Alamos scientists’ group in coordinating political efforts to promote effective legislation in Washington. Public education initiatives included The Atomic Bomb and other publications as well as advertising campaigns. An ASC speakers’ bureau was organized to dispatch scientists to address schools, churches and synagogues, clubs, and business associations.

Perhaps the most concrete demonstration of the commitment of the Chicago scientists to educate the public was the founding of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The first issue of the Bulletin, which appeared on December 10, 1945, presented arguments for the importance of international measures to control nuclear development. The Bulletin was intended not only for the Met Lab and other Manhattan Project sites, but also for influential nonscientific groups and individuals who could directly affect public policy.

All these efforts achieved a notable success with the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Introduced in the Senate as S. 1717 by Sen. Brien McMahon in December 1945, the legislation cleared both houses of Congress by July. Following conference adjustments to its provisions, the bill was signed into law by President Truman on August 1, 1946. The act created the Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian agency charged to take over management of nuclear energy from the Manhattan Project and manage the future development of nuclear power.