Barry commoner and paul sears on project chariot: Epiphany, ecology, and the atomic energy commission

Eugene Cittadino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Project Chariot, one of the first planned nuclear excavation experiments of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Plowshare program, touched off a controversy over its safety that drew in two prominent American biologists, Paul Sears and Barry Commoner, both now known mainly for their roles as environmental advocates. However, Sears, the ecologist and well-established conservationist, supported Project Chariot and the Plowshare program in general, while Commoner, unacquainted with ecology at the time, strongly opposed it. A close study of their different responses to this project provides insights into the tensions and pressures on scientists during this critical period of the Cold War, 1960–1961, when fear of nuclear war and concerns over radioactive fallout from bomb tests mixed with hopes for peaceful applications of nuclear energy and the environmental movement had not yet begun. For Sears, the close connections in the United States between the science of ecology and the Atomic Energy Commission may well have played a significant role in his support for Chariot, while for Commoner, Project Chariot turned out to be his epiphany moment, the incident that transformed him from an antinuclear activist into an environmentalist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)720-743
Number of pages24
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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