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70 Years Later, the Legacy of the “Atoms for Peace” Speech


“The more important responsibility of this Atomic Energy Agency would be to devise methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind. Experts would be mobilized to apply atomic energy to the needs of agriculture, medicine, and other peaceful activities. A special purpose would be to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world. Thus the contributing powers would be dedicating some of their strength to serve the needs rather than the fears of mankind.”

– President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Atoms for Peace” Speech, 1953

This year marks the 70th anniversary of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The speech inspired the creation of the IAEA, which was founded in 1957 to promote the application of nuclear science and technology for peace and development around the world "for the benefit of all mankind."  

To commemorate the speech and the enduring impact of Eisenhower’s vision for peace which led to the creation of the IAEA, the Agency and the United States of America hosted a panel discussion at the Albertina Museum in Vienna on the margins of the IAEA’s 67th General Conference. The President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo, the US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Eisenhower, joined IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi on Tuesday evening to discuss the legacy of the speech and the impact of the IAEA. “This speech should have been Eisenhower’s first presidential speech; however, it became a message for the United Nations. I think it was a turn of the destiny which was very important because of its scope. It was an inspiration that these multilateral places after the wars have at the end today a very big role as vehicles for peace, for satisfaction of these basic needs and aspirations,” said Mr Grossi. 

The speech’s enduring influence is also reflected in the IAEA’s activities in the field of human health, Mr Grossi said. Through its Rays of Hope initiative, the IAEA is mobilizing resources to support the establishment and expansion of radiotherapy services to address the cancer care gap in low-and-middle-income countries. Director General Grossi also highlighted how the wide scope of the IAEA's work affects millions of lives, from supporting countries in mitigating climate change and implementing safeguards, to overcoming challenges in water management and food security. 

The importance of communication

Finding the tools and avenues to communicate and engage with the public is crucial to advocate for the use of atoms for peace and development, President Akufo-Addo said. Since Ghana gained its independence in 1957, the population has increased from 6 million to over 32 million people today. The country must find a carbon-free, reliable and cheap source of energy to provide electricity for such a fast-growing population, and nuclear presents all these advantages, President Akufo-Addo explained. Advocacy is crucial for this process, as well as engaging the population to discuss this, especially the young generation, he added.  

Ms Eisenhower and Secretary Granholm agreed on the importance of communication and youth engagement. “Advocacy must be brought to the right level. People on top have to endorse it, while also people from small villages should be involved in decision making, especially looking at the discussion around decarbonization,” Ms Eisenhower said.  

Furthermore, “we should be giving voice to the young generation and using their voices on social media to promote the use of nuclear and its role in combating climate change,” Secretary Granholm said. Earlier this month, the IAEA launched an essay competition for young adults. The competition is designed to commemorate Eisenhower’s speech and to posit ways the IAEA and the international community can address today’s biggest challenges within the IAEA mission of “Atoms for Peace and Development.” 

Since the 1953 speech and establishment of the Agency, the IAEA, which has 177 Member States, has helped people around the world benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology.  

“Personally, having worked in the field of national security and arms control, and now nuclear energy, I admire the work of the IAEA,” Ms Eisenhower said. “I think Dwight Eisenhower would be so gratified to see how this Agency has managed some of the most important issues facing our globe. Not only has it provided the safeguards around illegal development of nuclear weapons, but the IAEA is also at the cutting edge of solutions for the future. This is exactly what my grandfather hoped for in that speech in 1953.” 

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