The American atomic bomb was born in secrecy. From the moment scientists first conceived of its possibility to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and beyond, there were efforts to control the spread of nuclear information and the newly discovered scientific facts that made such powerful weapons possible. The secrecy that the atomic bomb appeared to demand was new, unusual, and nearly unprecedented. It was foreign to both American science and American democracy—and potentially incompatible with both.
This secrecy was controversial and always contested. The atomic bomb was not merely the application of science to war, but the result of decades of investment in scientific education, infrastructure, and global collaboration. If secrecy became the norm, how would science survive?
Drawing on troves of declassified files, in Restricted Data, Alex Wellerstein traces the complex evolution of the US nuclear secrecy regime from the first whisper of the atomic bomb through the mounting tensions of the Cold War and into the early twenty-first century.
Alex Wellerstein, is author of Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States (University of Chicago Press, 2021). He is a professor and the Director of the Science and Technology Studies Program at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. He received a PhD from the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University in 2010, and has a BA in History from the University of California, Berkeley. Along with his writings in the New Yorker, Washington Post, Harper’s Magazine, and other venues, he is best known for creating the NUKEMAP, a popular online nuclear weapons effects simulator.