"How to Lose a lot Of Weapons Grade Uranium and Get Away With It"
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Alex Wellerstein, Assistant Professor; David and G.G. Farber Faculty Fellow in Science and Technology Studies, Stevens Institute of Technology.
Co-sponsored by the Graduate School or Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
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Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.
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In 1965, the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), an early entry in the budding private American nuclear industry, was found to have lost over 90 kg of weapons-grade uranium that it had been supposed to turn into fuel for a nuclear reactor. This was enough for several nuclear weapons. Over the course of several decades' worth of investigations by the FBI, CIA, and NRC, several theories emerged, to various degrees of plausibility and culpability, as to what happened to the missing fuel. Remarkably, however, the only consequences faced by the company were some fines (paid off quickly) and a persistent swirl of rumors (which allegedly led to loss of business). In this talk, I will be looking closely at the NUMEC Affair and what it tells us about the evolution of ideas of nuclear security, safety, and accountability, and how the generally up-beat assumptions of the nuclear 1950s gave way to the more suspicious and cynical nuclear mindset that became prevalent by the end of the 1960s.