Seventy-five years ago, famed scientist Enrico Fermi and a group of his colleagues at the University of Chicago launched an experiment that forever changed the course of humanity — the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.
And the anniversary couldn’t be anymore timely, as concerns about North Korea’s nuclear arsenal grow and U.S. relations with Russia remain tense.
“The risk of a nuclear weapon being used somewhere in the world in these next years is probably higher than it’s been since the Cuban missile crisis,” said Ernest Moniz, the former U.S. secretary of energy, on WBEZ’s Worldview.
In this special episode of Worldview, host Jerome McDonnell talks to Moniz, a nuclear physicist and founder of the Energy Futures Initiative; Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive, engineer, and whistleblower who now runs Fairewinds Energy Education; and Norma Field, professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Chicago, about this landmark scientific discovery that continues to impact the world.
On the human toll
Norma Field: What comes to me over and over again is that nuclear power was introduced to bring prosperity to people, and here [in Fukushima], we have a disaster and the most vulnerable people living there have to be alienated from their own victimization because the government is bent on recovery.
And recognizing that has made me reflect on the kinds of ways in which the nuclear age is discussed. The whole nuclear era: Nuclear weapons are necessary to defend one’s own country. And nuclear energy is necessary to bring prosperity to all kinds of people. And thirdly, something more subtle, which is that scientists cannot be stopped — should not be stopped — in their pursuit of the truth, which really goes back to the beginning of the experiment that’s being commemorated today.
But all three aspects entail continuous injure to the people who are meant to be protected.
These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced by Julian Haydan and adapted online by Hunter Clauss.
Read more and listen to the program at The 75th Anniversary of Chicago’s Nuclear Contribution To The World