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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LATIN AMERICAN HISTORY (oxfordre.com/latinamericanhistory). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 15 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

The early study of radioactivity (an important precursor to nuclear science) in Mexico was intertwined with a brilliant and determined woman’s arrival in the country. Marietta Blau Goldwin—Jewish by birth, a physicist by training, and a refugee by circumstance—helped pioneer nuclear emulsions by creating a portable technique that revolutionized the field. Blau, recommendation from Albert Einstein in hand, fled the Nazi’s invasion of Austria and arrived in Mexico City in 1938. There she initiated studies in atomic physics while teaching at the National Polytechnic Institute. This dramatic start to the country’s initial foray into the study of the atom illuminated how global political processes were inextricable from the development of nuclear science. Although her departure to the United States in 1944 impeded the momentum building behind atomic research, a core group of scientists at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) worked with government officials to promote nuclear technology during and after World War II. With the help of the Atoms for Peace program, this coalition of boosters succeeded in bringing a particle accelerator to the country in 1952.

Argentina and Brazil developed nuclear programs that rivaled, if not surpassed, the scope and complexity of Mexico’s during the post–World War II era. These three nations vied for recognition as regional authorities between 1964 and 1967, as countries throughout Latin America sent delegates to Mexico City to grapple with the so-called nuclear question. Talks culminated in the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, commonly known as the Tlatelolco Treaty. The language of the agreement focused on curtailing the proliferation of nuclear weapons but also carried implications for nuclear power’s adoption as an energy source. The Tlatelolco negotiations led to the formation of two blocs: one, led by Mexico, championed a cautious approach to nuclear development, and the other, led by Argentina and Brazil, resisted limitations on such programs. Examining the varying trajectories of Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil’s respective nuclear programs illustrates how Cold War issues took on distinctly regional characteristics as government officials reinterpreted them in ways that accounted for unique national agendas.

Keywords: Marietta Blau Goldwin, nuclear science, UNAM Institute of Physics, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Atoms for Peace, nuclear non-proliferation, Tlatelolco Treaty, nuclear energy

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