This chapter further elaborates on subjects introduced in the preceding chapter, considering in greater detail political aspects of mutation research at Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 1953, Brookhaven launched a formal cooperative research initiative that brought together its nuclear technologies and the expertise of agriculturalists stationed elsewhere explicitly to evaluate potential uses of radiation-induced mutation in plant breeding. This chapter suggests that the cooperative program and the ensuing renewed interest of Americans in mutation breeding are best understood as by-products of the large and growing technological system dedicated to U.S. atomic development. Within that system, the use of nuclear technologies in plant breeding satisfied multiple political needs. For one, it demonstrated the potential non-military benefits of atomic research and development, an outcome that became increasingly important as the U.S. government and Atomic Energy Commission pursued “Atoms for Peace” as an international program after 1953. In addition, successes in mutation breeding promised to counterbalance widespread concern about the harmful effects of atomic radiation and nuclear fallout on plants, animals, and especially humans. As awareness of the dangers of radiation exposure mounted in the postwar years, some plant breeders counter-claimed that radiation-induced mutation would prove beneficial, not least in improving important crops.
Keywords: mutation breeding, Brookhaven National Laboratory, US Atomic Energy Commission, nuclear fallout, atomic radiation, Atoms for Peace, technopolitics, large technological system, cooperative research
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