President’s Message: Reinvention and Renewal

From its inception 70 years ago, the founders and members of the Federation of American Scientists were reinventing themselves. Imagine yourself as a 26-year old chemist having participated in building the first atomic bombs. You may have joined because your graduate school adviser was going to Los Alamos and encouraged you to come. You may also have decided to take part in the Manhattan Project because you believed it was your patriotic duty to help America acquire the bomb before Nazi Germany did. And even when Hitler and the Nazis were defeated in May 1945, you continued your work on the bomb because the war with Japan was still raging in the Pacific. Moreover, by then, you may have felt like Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Scientific Director, that the project was “technically sweet”—you had to see it through to the end.

But when the end came—the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—in August 1945, you may have had doubts about whether you should have built the bombs, or you may have at least been deeply concerned about the future of humanity in facing the threat of nuclear destruction. What should you then do? About a thousand of the “atomic scientists” throughout the country at various sites, such as Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Chicago began to organize and discuss the implications of this new military technology.[1]

This political activity was not natural for scientists. Almost all of the founders of FAS were so-called “rank-and-file” scientists in their 20s and 30s. Members of this youth brigade—led by Dr. Willie Higinbotham, who was in his mid-30s but who looked younger—arrived in Washington. With their “crew cuts, bow ties, and tab collars [testifying] to their youth,” they roamed the halls of Capitol Hill, educating Congressmen and their staffs.[2] Newsweek called them the “reluctant lobby.” As a history of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) notes, “Part of their reluctance stemmed from their conviction that the cause of science should not be dragged through the political arena.”[3]

Fortunately, these scientists persisted and achieved the notable result of successfully lobbying for civilian control of the AEC. While they also wanted international control of nuclear energy, they fell short of that goal. However, they were indefatigable in their educational efforts on promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy and warning about the dangers of nuclear arms races.

Throughout FAS’s seven decades, the organization has transformed itself into various incarnations depending on the issues to be addressed and the resources available for operating FAS. To learn about this continual reinvention, I invite you to read all the articles in this special edition of the Public Interest Report. This edition has an all-star list of writers—many of whom have served in leadership roles at FAS and others who have deep, scholarly knowledge of FAS. These authors discuss many of the accomplishments of FAS, but they also do not shy away from mentioning several of the challenges faced by FAS.

What will FAS achieve and what adversities will occur in the next 70 years? As scientists know, research results are difficult, if not impossible, to predict. However, we do know that the mission of FAS is as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so than it was 70 years ago. Nuclear dangers—the founding call to action—have become more complex; instead of one nuclear weapon state in 1945, there are now nine countries with nuclear arms. Instead of a few nuclear reactors in 1945, today there are more than 400 power reactors in 31 countries and more than 100 research reactors in a few dozen countries. Moreover, some non-nuclear weapon states have acquired or want to acquire uranium enrichment or reprocessing facilities that can further sow the seeds of future proliferation of nuclear weapons programs. For these dangers alone, FAS has the important purpose to serve as a voice for scientists, engineers, and policy experts working together to develop practical means to reduce nuclear risks.

FAS has also served and will continue to serve as a platform for innovative projects that shine spotlights on government policies that work and don’t work and how to improve these policies. In particular, for a quarter century, the Government Secrecy Project, directed by Steve Aftergood, has worked to reduce the scope of official secrecy and to promote public access to national security information.

Nuclear energy research travel (cosponsored by FAS) to the Republic of Korea, November 7, 2013, taken at Gyeongju National Museum: From left to right: Paul Dickman, Argonne National Laboratory, Lee Kwang-seok, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, Florence Lowe-Lee, Global America Business Institute, Everett Redmond, Nuclear Energy Institute, and Charles D. Ferguson, FAS.
Nuclear energy research travel (cosponsored by FAS) to the Republic of Korea, November 7, 2013, taken at Gyeongju National Museum: From left to right: Paul Dickman, Argonne National Laboratory, Lee Kwang-seok, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, Florence Lowe-Lee, Global America Business Institute, Everett Redmond, Nuclear Energy Institute, and Charles D. Ferguson, FAS.

FAS has also contributed to the public debate on bio-safety and bio-security. Daniel Singer (one of the contributors to this issue) and Dr. Maxine Singer have been active for more than 50 years in bio-ethics. Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Dorothy Preslar in the 1990s and early 2000s worked through FAS to develop methods (such as an email list serve, which was cutting edge in the 1990s) to connect biologists and public health experts around the globe to identify, monitor, and evaluate emerging diseases. In recent years, Chris Bidwell, Senior Fellow for Law and Nonproliferation Policy, has led projects examining potential biological attacks or outbreaks and the forensic evidence needed for a court of law or government decision making in countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The Nuclear Information Project, directed by Hans Kristensen, continues its longstanding work on providing the public with reliable information and analysis on the status and trends of global nuclear weapons arsenals. Its famed Nuclear Notebook, co-authored by Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow at FAS, is one of the most widely referenced sources for consistent data about the status of the world’s nuclear weapons.

I believe the greatest renewal and reinvention of FAS has been emerging in the past three years with the creation of networks of experts to work together to prevent threats from becoming global catastrophes. FAS has organized task forces that have provided practical guidance to policy makers about the implementation of the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and that have examined the benefits and risks of the use of highly enriched uranium in naval nuclear propulsion. As I look to the next 70 years, I foresee numerous opportunities for FAS to seize by being the bridge between the technical and policy communities.

I am very grateful for the support of FAS’s members and donors and encourage you to invite your friends and colleagues to join FAS. Happy 70th anniversary!



[1] Alice Kimball Smith, A Peril and a Hope: The Scientists’ Movement in America 1945-47 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 1971).

[2] Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The New World, 1939/1946: Volume I, A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962), p. 448.

[3] Ibid.


The Legacy of the Federation of American Scientists

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) formed after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, precisely because many scientists were genuinely concerned for the fate of the world now that nuclear weapons were a concrete reality. They passionately believed that, as scientific experts and citizens, they had a duty to educate the American public about the dangers of living in the atomic age. Early in 1946, the founding members of FAS established a headquarters in Washington, D.C.,and began to coordinate the political and educational activities of many local groups that had sprung up spontaneously at universities and research facilities across the country. The early FAS had two simultaneous goals: the passage of atomic energy legislation that would ensure civilian control and promote international cooperation on nuclear energy issues, and the education of the American public about atomic energy. In addition, from its very inception, FAS was committed to promoting the broader idea that science should be used to benefit the public. FAS aspired, among other things, “To counter misinformation with scientific fact and, especially, to disseminate those facts necessary for intelligent conclusions concerning the social implications of new knowledge in science,” and “To promote those public policies which will secure the benefits of science to the general welfare.”

Read on: View the full version of the article here.


Scientists and Nuclear Weapons, 1945-2015

On August 8, 2015, twenty-nine scientists sent a letter to President Obama in support of the agreement with Iran that would block (or at least significantly delay) Iran’s pathways to obtain nuclear weapons. This continues a tradition that began seventy years ago of scientists having a role in educating the public, advising government officials, and helping shape policy about nuclear weapons.

Soon after the end of World War II, scientists mobilized themselves to address the pressing issues of how to deal with the many consequences of atomic energy. Of prime importance was the question of which government entity would control the research, development and production of atomic weapons, and any peaceful applications. Would it be the military, as it was during World War II, or a civilian agency, such as the newly created Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)?

Read on: View the full version of the article here.


Government Secrecy and Censorship

From its beginning, the Federation of American Scientists has been immersed in policies and issues regarding government secrecy and censorship. By the time World War II broke out, the fission process had been observed, followed by detection of the neutron, and recognition of induced uranium fission. In the early 1940s, some scientists in the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and Germany realized the potential for nuclear weapons.

The three atomic bombs detonated in the summer of 1945 were created and assembled at secret U.S. government sites by a mixed pedigree of scientists, engineers, and military officers. The decision to drop two of them on Japanese cities was determined by military and political events then occurring, particularly in the final year of World War II.

Our Soviet wartime ally, excluded from the American, British, and Canadian nuclear coalition, used its own espionage network to remain informed. Well-placed sympathizers and spies conveyed many essential details of nuclear-explosive development. Through this network, Stalin learned of the Manhattan Project and the Trinity test. As the German invaders began to retreat from Soviet borders, he established his own secret nuclear development project.

Read on: View the full version of the article here.


FAS History, 1961-1963

“I was chairman of FAS from 1962-63. Fifty-year-old memories are hopelessly unreliable and historically worthless. Fortunately, my mother preserved the letters that I wrote to her describing events as they happened. The letters are reliable and give glimpses of history undistorted by hindsight. Instead of trying to recall fading memories, I decided to quote directly from the letters. Here are two extracts. The first describes an FAS Council meeting in 1961 before I became chairman. The second describes conversations in 1962 after I became chairman…”

Read on: View the full version of the article here.


FAS in the 1960s: Formative Years

“I am sharing some memories of the period 1960-1970 when I served as FAS General Counsel. I start by echoing Freeman Dyson’s caution that 50-year old memories are unreliable. I first learned about FAS in late 1958 when my wife, Dr. Maxine Singer, a molecular biologist employed by NIH, shared with colleagues her concerns about a range of science-related public issues. I was then a young lawyer in the small DC office of a larger NY-based general practice firm; the DC office had substantial experience representing, among many other clients, American Indian tribes in matters before Federal agencies and on Capitol Hill. At that time, FAS volunteers published a newsletter 8-10 times a year to keep its members (approximately 2000) informed about matters of concern to scientists – e.g., radiation hazards, nuclear weapons, passport denials, government secrecy, loyalty oaths, and civil liberties for scientists – in anticipation that scientists would take direct policy to influence governmental action. For several years, the FAS Newsletter was assembled on our dining room table and, willy-nilly, I became part of the process…”

Read on: View the full version of the article here.


Revitalizing and Leading FAS: 1970-2000

FAS Staff Photo, April 1987.
FAS Staff Photo, April 1987.

“When, in 1970, I descended from the FAS Executive Committee to become the chief executive officer, FAS had 1,000 members and an annual budget of $7,000 per year. The organization was very near death. During my 30 year tenure, FAS became a famous, creative, and productive organization….”

Read on: View the full version of the article here.

FAS’s Contribution to Ending the Cold War Nuclear Arms Race

Frank von Hippel and Andrei Sakharov discuss the possibility of cutting U.S. and Soviet nuclear forces (without changing the basic war fighting approaches of the two) in Sakharov’s apartment, just after his release from seven years of internal exile in Gorky, January 1987.

“When, at Jeremy Stone’s instigation, I was elected chair of the Federation of American Scientists in 1979, I had no idea what an adventure that I was about to embark upon. This adventure was triggered by President Reagan taking office in 1981 and resulted in FAS making significant contributions to ending the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race and the Cold War. This was not the President Reagan we remember now as the partner of Mikhail Gorbachev in ending the Cold War. This was a president who had been convinced by the Committee on the Present Danger that the United States was falling behind in the nuclear arms race and was in mortal danger of a Soviet first nuclear strike…”

Read on: View the full version of the article here.

FAS Engagement With China

“Supporting and expanding on Frank von Hippel’s cogent and exciting narrative of some of the great accomplishments of the Federation of American Scientists, I detail below two endeavors, at least one of which may have had far-reaching impact. The first was the initiative of FAS Director (and later President) Jeremy J. Stone who, in 1971, wrote the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to introduce FAS and to begin some kind of dialogue…”

Read on: View the full version of the article here.

Nuclear Legacies: Public Understanding and FAS

“In late 1945, a group of scientists who had been involved with the Manhattan Project felt it was their civic duty to help inform the public and political leaders of both the potential benefits and dangers of nuclear energy. To facilitate this important work, they established the Federation of Atomic Scientists, which soon became the Federation of American Scientists. Over the years, FAS has evolved into a model non-governmental organization that plays a leading role in providing scientifically-sound, non-partisan analyses of nuclear and broader security issues. I have long admired FAS and was therefore deeply honored when President Charles D. Ferguson asked if I would be interested in preparing a brief essay for a special edition of the PIR that would commemorate the organization’s 70th anniversary. A period of mild apprehension then followed: What could I say on the relationship between science and society that had not been said a thousand times before?

Read on: View the full version of the article here.