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date: 03 December 2022

Atoms for Peace in Latin Americafree

Atoms for Peace in Latin Americafree

  • Gisela MateosGisela MateosUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)
  •  and Edna Suárez-DíazEdna Suárez-DíazUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)


On December 8, 1953, in the midst of increasing nuclear weapons testing and geopolitical polarization, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the Atoms for Peace initiative. More than a pacifist program, the initiative is nowadays seen as an essential piece in the U.S. defense strategy and foreign policy at the beginning of the Cold War. As such, it pursued several ambitious goals, and Latin America was an ideal target for most of them: to create political allies, to ease fears of the deadly atomic energy while fostering receptive attitudes towards nuclear technologies, to control and avoid development of nuclear weapons outside the United States and its allies, and to open or redirect markets for the new nuclear industry. The U.S. Department of State, through the Foreign Operations Administration, acted in concert with several domestic and foreign middle-range actors, including people at national nuclear commissions, universities, and industrial funds, to implement programs of regional technical assistance, education and training, and technological transfer.

Latin American countries were classified according to their stage of nuclear development, with Brazil at the top and Argentina and Mexico belonging to the group of “countries worthy of attention.” Nuclear programs often intersected with development projects in other areas, such as agriculture and public health. Moreover, Eisenhower’s initiative required the recruitment of local actors, natural resources and infrastructures, governmental funding, and standardized (but localized techno-scientific) practices from Latin American countries. As Atoms for Peace took shape, it began to rely on newly created multilateral and regional agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the United Nations and the Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission (IANEC) of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Nevertheless, as seen from Latin America, the implementation of atomic energy for peaceful purposes was reinterpreted in different ways in each country. This fact produced different outcomes, depending on the political, economic, and techno-scientific expectations and interventions of the actors involved. It provided, therefore, an opportunity to create local scientific elites and infrastructure. Finally, the peaceful uses of atomic energy allowed the countries in the region to develop national and international political discourses framing the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean signed in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, in 1967, which made Latin America the first atomic weapons–free populated zone in the world.


  • 1945–1991
  • Diplomatic History
  • Science, Technology, and Health


On December 8, 1953, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the Atoms for Peace program to the UN General Assembly. At its core, the proposal included the creation of a new international nuclear agency, the sharing of scientific and technological information for the peaceful applications of nuclear energy, and the creation of a radioactive materials reserve for use around the world. According to recent interpretations, more than a pacifist endeavor, the program was part of a general strategy comprising several goals: to induce a less fearful attitude toward atomic energy in the context of an increasing atomic weapons race, to promote political and military alliances, and “to create domestic atomic power industry and to open foreign markets which that industry could serve.”1

The initiative did induce swift changes to the Cold War nuclear order and led to the founding of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in July 1957. Eisenhower’s speech did not announce an entirely new set of policies; the proposed path to the peaceful applications of atomic energy around the world relied on processes and exchanges already taking place, which in large part it aimed to control.

New historiographical perspectives and recent accounts of the implementation of Atoms for Peace in other parts of the world (including East Asia and Europe) offer new ways to assess its impact on Latin American countries, redirecting attention to the contingencies involved in multi-layered histories that include local agents and perspective(s) while incorporating the power asymmetries pervading the western hemisphere.2 A still unexplored area lies in the analysis of the impact of Atoms for Peace in regional geopolitics and nuclear politics, as reflected in the OAS’s Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission (IANEC).3 As several authors have pointed out, science and technology were among the essential elements for reshaping the new geopolitical order during the Cold War era, a process captured in Hecht’s use of the concept of techno-politics.4

Implementation in Latin American Countries

In order to implement the initiative abroad, the U.S. government—via the State Department and middle-level officials and agencies, including the Foreign Operations Administration’s offices in each country—established strategic ties with governments and universities around the world, local governments and officials, and special industrial trade groups. Deployment of resources from Atoms for Peace required the signing of bilateral agreements between the United States Atomic Energy Commission (USAEC) and individual countries, most of them signed before the first Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Applications of Atomic Energy, took place in October 1955.5

Later on, programs and activities, including exhibitions, were developed by national atomic or nuclear energy commissions, most of them created in the wake of the IAEA founding statutes in 1957. Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia already had national agencies in place before the Atoms for Peace initiative was announced.6 Furthermore, it should be emphasized that for non-European countries, the Eisenhower initiative was always entangled with development and technical assistance programs, a practice taken over by the IAEA and the UN Technical Assistance Board (UNTAB) after 1958.7

Among the operators of the initiative on the road, the Fund for Peaceful Atomic Development (FPAD), comprising private industries, universities, and government agencies, was created in 1954 in connection with the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project founded at the University of Michigan in 1948. The FPAD’s goal was to explore possible recipients and clients of the new order.8 Countries were classified regarding the state of their nuclear sciences and technologies according to U.S. national security concerns. By then, a general development path had been established, where the most basic technologies were associated with the uses of radioisotopes for medical therapeutic and diagnostic purposes, as well as industrial applications. A second stage of nuclear development included the use of research reactors for training and education and later on for the production of radioisotopes. A more advanced stage implied the construction of power nuclear reactors and the uses and preparation of fissionable materials including uranium, thorium, and plutonium. Enrichment of fissionable materials and double-use technologies (those that according to the United States could be used for civilian and military purposes) were left to a few countries meeting the national security clearances of the U.S. government, with Brazil struggling to become part of this group but not being allowed to do it.9 Equally important, countries were classified regarding their possession of uranium and other radioactive ores such as thorium. Thus, Brazil (along with South Africa and Australia) became a privileged actor for U.S. interests, a position reflected in its participation in the negotiation of the IAEA’s statute in 1956.10

According to these criteria, a memo of October 20, 1955, established that technical assistance was not necessary for advanced countries like the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Norway, and Holland. Also, there was a second group of countries where assistance could arrive immediately, including Denmark, Japan, Spain, and Italy. A third was defined as

a group of about eight countries worthy of attention for immediate development of a longer term program including, as the first phase, research reactors and isotope centers. These would include Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, Philippines, Pakistan, Israel, Yugoslavia and Thailand. Argentina has been listed in this latter group, but might very well be included with India and Brazil upon further study.11

The memo makes clear the progressive view of the state of nuclear development in different countries, with Brazil treated as the most advanced regional power in Latin America, Argentina closely following as the second power, and Mexico occupying third place. The memo also reveals the homogenizing and “flattening” treatment of the Third World, which resulted in categorizing Mexico and Argentina in the same group as countries as diverse as Thailand and Yugoslavia.

Although other Latin American countries did not deserve a mention, Colombia and Chile also belonged to the group which, by the end of the 1940s, had already received radioisotope shipments from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. By the end of the next decade these materials, by-products of the atomic pile (nuclear reactor) built for the Manhattan Project, arrived in almost every country in the subcontinent. Indeed, as John Krige and Angela Creager have claimed, Atoms for Peace was rooted in previous experiences with the radioisotope distribution program started in the autumn of 1947, after the U.S. Congress lifted the international embargo put in place by the 1946 Atomic Energy Act.12 As radioisotope uses diversified during the 1950s and 1960s, they became instruments in agriculture, archaeology, geological dating, and biomedical research in most Latin American countries.13 By 1959 radioisotopes were being used in geological and medical applications, including research (contamination and fallout) in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela; entomology and agricultural exploration of the uses of radioisotopes were reported in Venezuela and Ecuador.14

National Nuclear Programs in Latin America

By 1960, nuclear energy was already being discussed as part of economic development in countries as diverse as Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and El Salvador.15 The idea of having cheap energy to promote industrialization was attractive for countries that—with the then exception of Venezuela—did not have particularly rich sources of energy.

As noted, the commitment to nuclear research and energy programs varied for individual countries in the region. Predating the Atoms for Peace program, Brazil and Argentina had small but outstanding and consolidated nuclear physics communities and had already invested a great deal of economic and political resources in national nuclear programs.16 In these countries, the Atoms for Peace initiative was most successful in limiting and redirecting national programs envisioned for the production of electric power and military goals, as well as reinforcing academic research in the nuclear sciences. Strong nationalistic programs, either of the civilian or the military type, were not easily tolerated by U.S. hemispheric politics. Between 1951 and 1955, as Carlo Patti has pointed out, Brazil had aggressively pursued a policy of uranium exportation in exchange for nuclear technologies and had committed to the acquisition of nuclear reactors. The program came to a halt coinciding with—or with the aid of—the Atoms for Peace initiative, with a combination of local political turmoil affecting decision-making and explicit pressures and maneuvering from the USAEC and the State Department.17

Argentina had had nuclear plans since 1946, but the conflicting relationship among the government, the military, and the scientists made it impossible to coordinate a viable project. As Hurtado de Mendoza has written, in 1952 a huge national and international scandal exploded when Ronald Richter, an Austrian nuclear physicist supported by President Juan Domingo Perón, announced the production of a fusion-controlled reaction at the Huemul Island nuclear facilities in Bariloche, a claim that soon was shown to be fraudulent.18 The antagonisms between Peron’s government and the Argentinian scientists and military proved to be disruptive to the nation’s national project, which was started after the military coup d’ètat that overdrew Perón’s government in September 1955. That same year, after the Geneva conference, Argentina committed to the peaceful atom campaign and arranged to buy a research reactor from the United States, but in 1957 the Argentinian Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEA) was instead allowed to build its own research reactor by copying the ARGONAUT Reactor located at the Argonne National Laboratory, operated by the University of Chicago.19 Finally, on January 17, 1958, the RA-1 Enrico Fermi Research Reactor was put in use at the Constituyentes Atomic Center in Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, as new sources have unveiled, both Brazil and Argentina “were secretly developing sensitive technologies such as nuclear fuel reprocessing and uranium enrichment outside any international safeguards.” Unexpectedly, during the 1980s this highly competitive relationship was transformed into a system of nuclear cooperation.20

Colombia also got involved in the research reactor economy as soon as it signed, in 1955, the Atoms for Peace bilateral agreement with the United States.21 During the next decade the struggle of the few nuclear scientists to consolidate their community, the government’s intermittent support to nuclear issues, and the United States’s changing interests in the country delayed the acquisition of the instrument until 1965, when its first and only reactor was set in place. One shared feature among the Argentinean, Brazilian, and Colombian nuclear projects was the entanglement and participation of the military of each country.

The Mexican case stands out as different from those three by maintaining a strictly civilian control of the uses of nuclear energy. The National University of Mexico (UNAM) had acquired a Van de Graaf accelerator in 1950, starting a small nuclear physics community in the country.22 In the context of relative governmental indifference toward the new technologies, the Atoms for Peace initiative provided Mexican scientists with the opportunity to pursue their own goals. They enthusiastically promoted the training of nuclear scientists and engineers with the aid of the Phoenix Project (FPAD) and later the IAEA education and exchange programs; they also committed to acquiring training research reactors and the construction of nuclear facilities during the 1960s. In October 1968 the first research reactor was set up at the Salazar Nuclear Centre, near Mexico City.23

Other Latin American countries, including Chile and Peru, eventually acquired research reactors, all of them—until the 1970s—of American origin.24 To date (2015), twenty-one research reactors operate in seven Latin American countries; in the past, five reactors were shut down, and at least one has been decommissioned.25

The Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission and the Limits of Technical Assistance

According to its strategy in other regions in the world (e.g., Europe, Asia), the United States pushed for an encompassing nuclear program for Latin American countries. Given its leverage and dominance within the OAS, on April 22, 1959, the United States pushed for the establishment of the Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission (IANEC). Its membership included the twenty Latin American and Caribbean countries, four of which were not IAEA members at the time (Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago), and the United States. The main idea behind the newly created commission was to provide an integral and regional development for the civil uses of nuclear energy: “to the Latin American countries […] in accordance with a well-conceived plan [that] would avoid the danger of having its assistance go to unrelated projects, which might not be of as great benefit to the region as a whole.”26

The idea that regional commissions would serve “a relatively homogenous group of countries,” while the IAEA’s “distinctive feature is its broad and heterogeneous membership” did not foreclose a close relationship between the two. The IAEA and IANEC shared mutual interests that crystallized in December 1960, when a formal agreement between the two was signed. It included the exchange of information and documents, a close working relationship between the staff of the two agencies, and co-operative use of the personnel, materials, services, equipment, and facilities. Informal relationships between the two dated back to 1957, before the IANEC was formally established. The IANEC had given valuable assistance to different IAEA activities in the region, including providing training courses.27 An increasing involvement and diversity of research topics is revealed in symposia proceedings. Also, the IANEC hosted several IAEA preliminary assistance missions that traveled through Latin America to evaluate possible lines of nuclear development and determine “how best the Agency can assist in this development.”28 By 1960, when the sixth IAEA mission visited El Salvador, Guatemala, México, Paraguay, and Peru, the IAEA had fully implemented a program for technical assistance that included education and training as a first step in the region. Atoms for Peace, through the IAEA, heavily relied on the OAS and IANEC for the local organization of such programs.29 Later on, the IANEC would support notable IAEA activities in the region, such as the Radioisotope Mobile Exhibition that traveled through Latin American countries between 1960 and 1965 and the organization of the study group on research reactors at Bogota, Colombia, in 1967.30

From the very beginning, the IANEC was doomed to reflect the heterogeneity of its membership. The United States’s expectations did not meet those of their southern neighbors. This did not mean that the Latin American countries acted as a block. Inside the IANEC, Brazil and Argentina, the more technologically inclined countries, pushed more than the other participants for the creation of a regional nuclear training center. Mexico, however, was more preoccupied with the geopolitical implications of the new organization. In particular, this country opposed the designation, by the United States, of the general secretary of the IANEC. At the end, through U.S. political maneuvering, the Mexican position was successfully isolated, and the organism’s statutes were approved with minor corrections in 1959.

Nevertheless, during its early years, the IANEC was effective in promoting information exchange and providing a network of collaboration for the nuclearization of Latin American countries. Between 1957 and 1964, the IANEC organized regular Inter-American Symposia on different aspects of the peaceful applications of nuclear energy. The 1957 meeting had been held in May at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, followed by symposia in Buenos Aires (June 1–5, 1959), Rio de Janeiro (July 18–22, 1960), Mexico City (April 9–13, 1962), and Valparaíso, Chile (March 9–13, 1964). As mentioned, a study group on research reactors also met at Bogota in 1967. Through the years Latin American scientists contributed with papers on nuclear sciences and the applications of radioisotopes in medicine, agriculture, and the food industry.

Contrasting expectations were omnipresent and never fully realized within the commission. While the United States openly encouraged the development of local nuclear programs, the Latin American countries expected the U.S. commitment to be translated into generous economic and technological support, a support that never arrived to the extent expected by the Latin countries. The lack of funds was interpreted by the Latin Americans as reflecting a lack of interest on the part of the United States. As David Fisher has said: “IANEC was perennially short of funds and the opportunities for co-operation [with the IAEA] were few and far between.”31 After a decade of inactivity, in 1986 the OAS made a final attempt to resuscitate the IANEC in view of several atomic power projects taking place in Latin American countries, only to finally shut it down three years later.

The decade after 1953 witnessed the largest impact of the exchange and training programs, supported by a network of national, regional, and multilateral agencies. This was evident not only in the formation of several research groups in the fields of nuclear physics, radiochemistry, and radiobiology at Latin American universities and national commissions but also in regional collaboration among Latin American scientists as a way to counteract U.S. scientific hegemony.

The Tlatelolco Treaty and Latin American Diplomacy

The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 acted as a total galvanizer for the region’s position on nuclear weapons and made Latin Americans aware of the dangers of a nuclear confrontation between the superpowers.32 Other motivations to ban atomic weapons included the perception that a nuclear race among Latin American countries would divert scarce funds for development from other priority areas, such as education and agriculture. On October 29, 1962, Brazil advanced a proposal for a nuclear weapon–free zone in the region that did not gain support at the United Nations. In November 1964 the Mexican government, under President Adolfo López Mateos (known at the time as “the great denuclearizer of Latin America”), led the creation of a Permanent Preparatory Commission for the Denuclearization of Latin America (or Copredal). During the next two years, the Brazilian and Mexican representatives struggled to gain the support from the region’s countries within the Copredal. While the Brazilians aimed for all countries in the subcontinent to be signatories as a must, the Mexican delegation led by Alfonso Garcia Robles aimed for a more humble path, arguing that it was enough for a few countries to join after which a cascade of signatories would follow.33 Eventually, the Mexican plan succeeded. Indeed, as a contemporary commentator put it: “The Latins claim—and they are right—that theirs is the only region of the world where the statesmen are ahead of the scientists; where political negotiations to control atomic weapons are more advanced than the capacity to make atomic bombs.”34

On February 14, 1967, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Tlatelolco Treaty, was signed in Mexico City by most countries of the region. Tellingly, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Chile did not ratify the NPT until years later. The treaty came into force and was ratified by the UN General Assembly in April 1968; the United States, the Soviet Union, and colonial powers with territories in South America and the Caribbean ratified it.35 The treaty placed Latin American countries, and in particular Mexico, as relevant geopolitical actors, showing for the first time that a large zone for nonproliferation of nuclear weapons was possible. The Tlatelolco Treaty created a precedent for the Non-Proliferation Treaty that took effect in 1970.


The impact of Atoms for Peace in Latin America is better understood as part of a broader history of development programs and technical assistance to the Third World after the Second World War. A few general remarks can be made:


Atoms for Peace initiative was successful in shaping and redirecting the national nuclear projects already in place before 1953, as is clear in the cases of Brazil and Argentina. Such movements took place by delaying nuclear energy power reactors, constraining the use and development of dual-use technologies, and making every effort to put limits on Latin American research in the nuclear sciences. The case of Brazil stands out as the most dramatic, given the mature state of the Brazilian nuclear community and the nationalist approach before Eisenhower’s plan was implemented. The initiative was also efficient in promoting and furthering nuclear technologies such as radioisotopes for all countries and research reactors for a few.


The initiative was also successful in controlling the Latin American market of nuclear technologies and materials. Until the mid-1970s, no research reactor was bought from a non-U.S. company, even with the mediation of the IAEA. It was not until 1974 that Brazil and Chile bought nuclear reactors from Germany and the United Kingdom, respectively. Concerning materials, Brazil’s bilateral agreement committed the country to sell uranium and thorium to the United States. However, nuclear markets were shared with other countries, including Canada, France, and the United Kingdom.


The initiative provoked highly contingent responses and appropriations. Thus, for instance, the Mexican government used it for the validation of its foreign affairs policy, as reflected in the promotion of the Tlatelolco Treaty, while Mexican scientists used the nuclear label as an instrument to obtain economic resources and political leverage. For the Argentineans, after Peron’s deposition, the initiative meant a nuclear national project closely linked to the military establishment. In general, for all Latin American countries the Atoms for Peace initiative provided the means to create, enlarge, and consolidate local scientific communities and infrastructures in nuclear physics, radiochemistry, and radiobiology. This is probably the most lasting effect of the initiative in the region.


Finally, the initiative failed in its promises of economic and social development. Radioisotopes did not provide high-yielding crops or plague eradication; they did not cure cancer and other diseases. Power reactors did not produce the much-promised electric energy that would fuel development projects. But all this propaganda was resourcefully used to empower, at least for the first decades, different local communities, including government officials, scientists, and, in some places, the military.

Discussion of the Literature

There is a very limited corpus of literature on the implementation of Atoms for Peace in Latin American countries. An analysis of the region risks focusing on the influence of U.S. policies towards the countries of the hemisphere, contributing to the traditional narrative on “U.S. hegemony in the Western hemisphere” as warned in a recent dossier by Vanni Pettinà and José Antonio Sánchez Román. Fortunately, in recent years numerous studies have been done on other regions of the world, opening the door both for a transnational account of the Atoms for Peace program in different locations and for interpretations of its impact that include the recipients’ voices.

A point of departure lies in the intersection of diplomatic and international history and propaganda and rhetorical studies, as illustrated in Kenneth Osgood’s and John Medhurst’s accounts. These authors have provided insight into the strategic perspective underlying Eisenhower’s program, analyzing its pacifist intentions and emphasizing its role in the creation and control of new markets for nuclear technologies and materials. This interpretation has opened new venues to interrogate the impact of Atoms for Peace around the globe, including Latin American countries, and relate it to U.S. technoscientific and economic power after World War II. A critical view of the role of U.S. scientific internationalism has also played a role in recent interpretations of Eisenhower’s initiative and its global reach. John Krige was among the first authors to combine both diplomatic history and the history of science and technology in pioneering accounts of the co-construction of U.S. scientific hegemony in the post–World War II period. Along similar lines, Angela Creager has studied the use of radioisotopes as political instruments of U.S. foreign policy. Several case studies have been published on the techno-political impact of radioisotope distribution in different countries, including Spain (María Jesús Santesmases and Nestor Herrán), the United Kingdom (Simone Turchetti), the two Germanies (Karin Zachmann), and Mexico (Mateos and Suárez-Díaz). The papers collected by Naomi Oreskes and John Krige on science and technology during the Cold War, though not all related to Atoms for Peace, attest to the numerous disciplines and fields of research affected by the expansion of governments’ spending on areas beyond nuclear science during this period.

A more recent theme on the impact of Eisenhower’s initiative and closer to Latin America’s studies lies at the intersection of technical assistance and development programs in postcolonial and Third World countries. John DiMoia’s study of the South Korean nuclear project and Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz’s account of the IAEA’s Mobile Radioisotope Exhibition in Latin America are a contribution in this area. Also, despite its peculiarities, the growing and detailed literature on India’s atomic project, including works by Itty Abraham, Jahnavi Phalkey, Robert S. Anderson, and Vinod Kumar, provides a fruitful counterpoint for countries elsewhere and relevant lessons on the relation between the state, national projects, and nuclear technology. National nuclear projects in Latin America focused or were redirected, for reasons explained above, to the civil uses of atomic energy and the creation and consolidation of scientific collectives; and so, the history of how research reactors came to energize or create communities of users has received the greatest attention. The Brazilian case has been studied in Ana María Ribeiro de Andrade and R. P. A. Muniz’s work on the synchrocyclotron and Carlo Patti’s research on the national nuclear project in the early 1950s. Diego Hurtado de Mendoza has written on Argentina and—with Ana María Vara—has advanced a comparative analysis of Argentina and Brazil’s nuclear projects. Meanwhile, Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz have written on the peculiarities of the Mexican nuclear program, emphasizing its strictly civilian character and its relation to a highly successful diplomacy.

As mentioned already, at this early stage of historical research, studies in other areas and continents invite future inquiries. Much relevant literature is situated on the IAEA’s impact on agriculture; Jacob Darwin Hamblin’s work on radioisotopes in agricultural research and Karin Zachmann’s on food irradiation and agriculture in the two Germanies during the 1950s and 1960s are relevant references. The social studies of technology have also engaged with the consequences of the Atoms for Peace initiative around the globe; the work of Gabrielle Hecht, for instance, has illuminated South Africa’s role at the IAEA and the development of uranium markets around the world.

A word must be said about the invisibility, in secondary historical literature, of the motivations and consequences of the Tlatelolco Treaty. In our view, the treaty was complexly interwoven with the nuclear order produced by the implementation of Atoms for Peace. Despite this fact and the fact that it created the first populated atomic weapons–free zone, the Tlatelolco Treaty has been poorly treated in historical accounts of disarmament in the world. Lawrence Wittner, in his three-volume history of nuclear disarmament, devotes one page only to Garcia Robles and the treaty. The most extensive account to date is William Epstein’s as an active participant in the treaty negotiations. Such silence speaks volumes about the small role granted to Latin American countries when analyzing the world’s history after World War II.

Finally, to avoid the pitfalls of diffusion theory and uncritical accounts of technology transfer, studies in this area will benefit from current approximations to the Global Cold War and the history of science and technology outside the United States. Moreover, a critical position should emerge from critically informed accounts of development projects that analyze technical assistance and training programs as mechanisms for imposing and shaping knowledge and values. Historical studies of this area need to consider UN specialized agencies and Latin American and U.S. archives in order to produce more substantial and interconnected narratives.

Primary Sources

Primary sources for the implementation of Atoms for Peace in Latin America are to be found at the IAEA Archive in Vienna. This collection is largely unexplored for Latin American countries. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at College Park, Maryland, as well as the archive and the Open Net services of the Department of Energy (DoE) in Washington D.C., host relevant information for the subject. More specific documents can be found at the presidential libraries of Dwight D. Eisenhower (Abilene, Kansas), Lyndon B. Johnson (Austin, Texas), and John F. Kennedy (Boston). Contemporary accounts of Atoms for Peace are part of IAEA bulletins and reports. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists contains contemporary informed and sometimes critical accounts of the IAEA’s programs; resourceful contemporary literature on technical assistance programs is published at the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.

A thorough account necessarily requires exploration of the national archives in Latin American countries—some of which do provide easy access for researchers (for instance, the Mexican Dirección Federal de Seguridad archive was opened for research in 2000). Every national nuclear or atomic energy commission has its own archive, though only the Argentinian, Mexican, and Brazilian ones have been explored as yet. In Argentina, the Archivo Instituto Balseiro of the Centro Atómico Bariloche at San Carlos Bariloche holds relevant information on the national project. In Mexico, the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Nucleares at Salazar Nuclear Center and the Archivo Histórico of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (AHUNAM) are good places to start. The Brazilian archives include the Arquivo Histórico do Ministério das Relaco˜es Exteriores at Rio de Janeiro and those at the Comissao Nacional de Energia Nuclear. Primary sources are also provided by contemporary institutional publications, interviews of living actors, and local newspaper articles. In Colombia, sources include the Archivo General de la Nación and the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores collections and the Instituto de Asuntos Nucleares at the Ministerio de Minas y Energía.

Further Reading

  • Anderson, Robert S. Nucleus and the Nation: Scientists, International Networks and Power in India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  • Azuela, Luz Fernanda, and José Luis Talancón. La historia de la energía nuclear en México. 1945–1995. Mexico City: CEPE, IIS, IG and Plaza y Valdés, 1999.
  • Creager, Angela. “Tracing the Politics of Changing Postwar Research Practices: The Export of ‘American’ Radioisotopes to European Biologists.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences 33 (2002): 367–388.
  • Creager, Angela. Life Atomic. A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
  • De Greiff, A., and M. Nieto. “What We Still Do Not Know About South-North Technoscientific Exchange: North-Centrism, Scientific Difussion, and the Social Studies of Science.” In The Historiography of Contemporary Science, Technology, and Medicine, edited by Ronald E. Doel and Thomas Söderquist, 239–259. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • DiMoia, John. “Atoms for Sale?: Cold War Institution-Building and the South Korean Atomic Energy Project, 1945, 1965.” Technology and Culture 51.3 (2010): 56–76.
  • Drogan, Mara. “Atoms for Peace, US Foreign Policy and the Globalization of Nuclear Technology, 1953–1960.” PhD Diss., University at Albany, State University of New York, 2011.
  • Eklund, Sigvard. “Treaty of Tlatelolco.” IAEA Bulletin 11.5 (1969): 32–36.
  • Epstein, William. “The Making of the Treaty of Tlatelolco.” Journal of the History of International Law 3 (2001): 153–179.
  • Escobar, Arturo. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.
  • Gilbert, Joseph M., and Daniela Spenser. In from the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.
  • Hamblin, Jacob D. “Let There Be Light … and Bread: The United Nations, the Developing World, and Atomic Energy’S Green Revolution.” History and Technology 25.1 (2009): 25–48.
  • Herran, Néstor. “Isotope Networks: Training, Sales and Publications, 1946–1965.” Dynamis 29 (2009): 285–306.
  • Hecht, Gabrielle. “Negotiating Global Nuclearities: Apartheid, Decolonization, and the Cold War in the Making of the IAEA.” Osiris 21.1 (2006): 25–48.
  • Hecht, Gabrielle. “Introduction.” In Entangled Geographies. Empire and Technolopolitics in the Global Cold War, edited by Gabrielle Hecht. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.
  • Hewlett, Richard G., and Jack M. Holl. Atoms for Peace and War, 1953–1961. Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission (A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission). Vol. 3. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
  • Hurtado de Mendoza, Diego. “Autonomy, Even Regional Hegemony: Argentina and the “Hard Way” Towards Its First Research Reactor (1945–1958).” Science in Context 18.2 (2005): 285–308.
  • Hurtado de Mendoza, Diego, and Ana María Vara. “Winding Roads to Big Science: Experimental Physics in Argentina and Brasil.” Science, Technology and Society 12 (2007): 27–48.
  • Katz, Friedrich. “La Guerra fría en América Latina.” In Espejos de la Guerra fría en México, América Central y el Caribe, edited by Daniela Spenser, 11–28. Mexico City: SRE/CIESAS, 2004.
  • Keller, Renata. “The Latin American Missile Crisis.” Diplomatic History (2014): 1–28. Accessed March 17, 2014.
  • Krige, John. “The Politics of Phosphorus-32: A Cold War Fable Based on Fact.” Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 36.1 (2005): 71–91.
  • Krige, John. “Atoms for Peace; Scientific Internationalism and Scientific Intelligence.” Osiris 21 (2006): 161–181.
  • Krige, John. American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.
  • Kumar, Vinod A. India and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime: The Perennial Outlier. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
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  • 1. Martin J. Medhurst, “Atoms for Peace and Nuclear Hegemony: The Rhetorical Structure of a Cold War Campaign,” Armed Forces and Society 24 (1997): 575. See also Kenneth Osgood, Total Cold War. Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006), chapter 5. For an analysis of the bilateral agreements including these aspects of Atoms for Peace, see Mara Drogan, “Atoms for Peace, US Foreign Policy and the Globalization of Nuclear Technology, 1953–1960” (PhD Diss., University at Albany, State University of New York, 2011).

  • 2. John DiMoia, “Atoms for Sale?: Cold War Institution-Building and the South Korean Atomic Energy Project, 1945, 1965,” Technology and Culture 51.3 (2010): 56–76. Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz, “Peaceful Atoms in Mexico,” in STS in Latin America: Beyond Imported Magic, eds. Eden Medina et al. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 2014), 287–303.

  • 3. A first attempt to include the Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission (1957–1962) as a relevant actor in the early stages of the Cold War is included in Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz, “We are not a rich country to waste our resources on expensive toys’: Mexico’s version of Atoms for Peace,” Technology and Culture, forthcoming.

  • 4. Gabrielle Hecht, “Introduction,” in Entangled Geographies. Empire and Technolopolitics in the Global Cold War, ed. Gabrielle Hecht (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011), 3.

  • 5. For example, Colombia was one of the first countries to sign a bilateral agreement with the USAEC, on July 19, 1955. It was followed by Venezuela on July 21 and Argentina on July 29; Brazil and Chile signed on August 3 and 8 of the same year, respectively. Also, see Drogan, “Atoms for Peace.”

  • 6. Brazil was the only Latin American country to participate at the twelve countries commission organized to draft the IAEA statutes. Argentina, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela became member states of the IAEA in 1957; Mexico and Ecuador in 1958; Chile and Colombia in 1960. Other countries were signatories as late as 2003 (Honduras). In 1956, the Comissao Nacional de Pesquisas of Brazil was replaced by the Comissao Nacional de Energia Nuclear. The Comisión Nacional de Energía Nuclear de Argentina was created in 1950. Colombia created an Instituto de Asuntos Nucleares in 1956, to be replaced by a Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica de Colombia in 1959. The Comision Nacional de Energía Nuclear de México was created in 1956 and started operations in January 1957.

  • 7. By 1958 the IAEA had already requested a budget of $145,000 for technical assistance programs and training and exchange. By 1965 the budget included allocations of $308,090 for technical assistance and $319,350 for training and exchange programs. In 1959 the IAEA requested to be part of the UNTAB, which implied that nuclear programs for non-IAEA member states could be supported by the UN.

  • 8. The Phoenix Project was especially active in Southeast Asia. See DiMoia, “Atoms for Sale,” note 2. Research on The Phoenix Project archives is pending, and some files are also to be found at NARA, College Park, MD. At least eight Mexican students obtained their PhDs in nuclear physics and engineering as part of this program See Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz, “We are not a rich country,” forthcoming.

  • 9. Carlo Patti, “The Origins of the Brazilian Nuclear Programme, 1951–1955,” Cold War History (2014): 1–22.

  • 10. In her discussion of South Africa´s role at the IAEA´s board of directors, Gabrielle Hecht also tangentially discusses the role of Brazil and its rivalry with Argentina. See Gabrielle Hecht, “Negotiating Global Nuclearities: Apartheid, Decolonization, and the Cold War in the Making of the IAEA,” Osiris 21.1 (2006): 25–48.

  • 11. Memorandum from Blythe Stason (Director of Fund for Peaceful Atomic Development, Inc., FPAD, and Dean of Michigan University Law School) to W. Keneth Davis, Director of U.S. AEC Reactor Development Division. NARA Record Group 59. Box 297 (old box 214).

  • 12. Angela Creager, “Tracing the Politics of Changing Postwar Research Practices: The Export of ‘American’ Radioisotopes to European Biologists,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences 33 (2002): 367–388; Angela Creager, Life Atomic. A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013); John Krige, “The Politics of Phosphorus-32: A Cold War Fable Based on Fact,” Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 36.1 (2005): 71–91; and John Krige, “Atoms for Peace; Scientific Internationalism and Scientific Intelligence,” Osiris 21 (2006): 161–181.

  • 13. Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez Díaz, “Clouds, Airplanes, Trucks and People: Carrying Radioisotopes to and across Mexico,” Dynamis 35.2 (2015): 279–305.

  • 14. See Proceedings of the 2nd Inter-American Nuclear Energy Symposium, Buenos Aires Argentina, 1959 (Washington, DC: Pan-American Union, 1959).

  • 15. As reflected by the proceedings of the IANEC symposium celebrated in Petropolis, Brazil. Attendants to the meeting included representatives from Venezuela, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Mexico. See the 3rd Inter-American Symposium on the Peaceful Application of Nuclear Energy. Industrial Applications of Nuclear Energy. Pan American Union (Washington, DC: General Secretariat of the Organization of American States, 1961).

  • 16. On the academic community and the synchrociclotron in Brazil, see see Ana M. Ribeiro de Andrade and R. P. A. Muniz, “The Quest for the Brazilean Synchrocyclotron,” Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 36.2 (March 2006): 311–327. See also Patti, “The Origins,” 1–22.

  • 17. On the relation between political turmoil and bad decision-making, see Ana M. Ribeiro de Andrade and R. P. A. Muniz, “The Quest,” 311–327. Also see Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Ana María Vara, “Winding Roads to Big Science: Experimental Physics in Argentina and Brazil,” Science, Technology and Society 12.27 (2007): 27–48. On the USAEC and the U.S. embassy´s intervention in the derailment of Brazil´s nuclear project, see Patti, “The Origins.”

  • 18. Hurtado de Mendoza, “Autonomy, Even Regional Hegemony: Argentina and the “Hard Way” Toward Its First Research Reactor (1945–1958),” Science in Context 18.2 (2005): 285–308.

  • 19. Hurtado de Mendoza´s account does not offer an explanation for why the Americans gave the Argentinians access to the ARGONAUT plans. A couple of hypotheses to explore would include the will to limit Brazil´s regional power in nuclear matters or the fact that the ARGONAUT was undoubtedly a non–double-use technology.

  • 20. Rodrigo Mallea, Matias Spector and Nicholas J. Wheeler. The Origins of Nuclear Cooperation. A Critical Oral History Between Argentina and Brazil (Rio de Janeiro: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and FGV Graphic Design, 2015).

  • 21. Juan Andrés León Gómez., “El reactor colombiano y la agencia de actores no humanos en los estudios sociales de la ciencia,” Revista Colombiana de Sociología 23 (2004): 31–48.

  • 22. Adriana Minor, “Instrumentos científicos en movimiento. Historia del Acelerador NVan de Graaff del Instituto de Física de la UNAM (1950–1983),” (master’s thesis, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011).

  • 23. Gisela Mateos and Suárez-Díaz, “Peaceful Atoms” and “Clouds.”

  • 24. As explained in the text, the first Argentinian research reactor was a copy of an ARGONAUT (Argonne National Laboratory Nuclear Assambly for University Training); Brazil bought the following research reactors in the first years of Atoms for Peace: IEA-R1 Research reactor from Babcock&Wilcox Co. of Chicago (1957); a Trigamark I of General Atomic Co. (1960); an ARGONAUT (1965); and a IPEN/MB-01 (1988). Colombia was offered the reactor used at the UNAEC exhibition in 1963 but eventually chose to buy a new instrument, a IAN-R1 Triga by Lockheed Nuclear products in 1965. Chile bought its first reactor in 1974, a RECH-1 manufactured by the UKAEA at Scotland. In 1964 Mexico acquired its first reactor, a Trigamark III from General Atomic Co., followed in 1969 by two more reactors, a CHI.Mod. 9000 and a CHI.Mod 2000, located at the Zacatecas University and the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, respectively. In 1977 Peru acquired a RP-0 designed and constructed by the National Atomic Argentinian Commission (CNEA), a notable case of South–South exchanges.

  • 25. Spent fuel management options for research reactors in Latin America,” IAEA June 2006. See also “Research Reactors,” IAEA, accessed July 10, 2015.

  • 26. Office memorandum, August 14, 1959, from George N. Monsma to Robert M. Winfree (suggested redraft on Section on Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission (IANEC)). NARA, RG. 59, Box 457, Regional Program: Latin America d. (IANEC) 1958–1959, p. 4.

  • 27. IAEA Collaboration Agreements with Regional Intergovernmental (Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency, 1961), 1–9.

  • 28. A New Survey in Latin America,” IAEA, accessed August 15, 2015.

  • 29. For details on technical assistance budget, see “Programme and Budget” for years 1960–1964, Vienna, IAEA.

  • 30. On the Radioisotope Mobile Exhibition in Latin America, see Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Diaz, Radioisótopos itinerantes en Latinoamérica. Una historia de ciencia por Tierra y por Mar (México City: CEIICH-UNAM, 2015).

  • 31. David Fisher, History of the IAEA. The First Forty Years (Vienna: IAEA, 1997).

  • 32. Joseph M. Gilbert and Spenser Daniela, In from the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); and Renata Keller, 2014, “The Latin American Missile Crisis.”

  • 33. In 1982 García Robles and the Swedish Alva Reimer Myrdal shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their commitment to world disarmament.

  • 34. Peter Barnes, “Latin America: The First Nuclear Free Zone?,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 22.10 (1966): 37.

  • 35. William Epstein, “The Making of the Treaty of Tlatelolco,” Journal of the History of International Law 3 (2001): 153–179.