Human fission

Something of a sideshow to the U.S. technical and political nuclear drama in the 1950s was a personality clash between two of the commissioners on the Atomic Energy Commision, the regulator and promoter of nuclear energy. The faceoff was between chairman Lewis Strauss (you’ll know him from Robert Downey Jr.’s riveting portrayal in Oppenheimer, the movie), a die-hard Republican, and Thomas Murray, the last of the Truman-appointed Democrat commissioners. Warren Unna, in a long investigative piece in the Atlantic Monthly in May 1957, titled “Dissension in the AEC,” kicked off thus:

While the Atomic Energy Commission has been most successful in controlling nuclear fission for weapons, it has been somewhat less than successful in controlling the human fission within its own ranks: that of AEC Chairman Lewis L. S. Strauss (pronounced Straws) and Commissioner Thomas E. Murray.

Their bickerings and disputes end up sounding tiresome, and I don’t cover them in my book. But I do enjoy a slice of human drama and Unna’s article is well worth a skim. For example:

It is ironic that these two Commissioners who have so much in common should hold opposing views. Both are in their sixties. Both are multimillionaires and highly successful financiers. … Both Strauss and Murray are extremely devout. … Despite the current involvement of the AEC’s atomic power program in the public versus private power issue, Strauss and Murray are essentially private power men. … Both Strauss and Murray are humanitarians and take enormous pride in the good the atom promises when it is not being devoted to war.

Murray was kicked out by President Eisenhower a couple of months later. Strauss left a year later.

Atlantic Monthly article