Paul sears and the plowshare advisory committee: "Subversive" ecologist endorses nuclear excavation?

Eugene Cittadino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the late 1950s Paul Sears, director of the nation's first graduate program in conservation, was called upon to join a special committee of leading scientists and engineers to advise the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission on its Plowshare program. Project Plowshare, a creation of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California, was designed to utilize nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes, such as excavating harbors and canals, releasing mineral and gas deposits, generating electrical power, and producing radionuclides. The early focus of the Plowshare Advisory Committee was to assess the feasibility of Project Chariot, a planned experiment to use several nuclear detonations to excavate a harbor on the far northwest coast of Alaska, for which the Atomic Energy Commission, under some pressure from Alaska-based scientists, had funded a large number of preliminary environmental investigations. Despite resistance from some of the scientists, local Native American groups, and a number of individuals and organizations in the continental United States, the committee recommended going ahead with Project Chariot as well as with other Plowshare projects conceived on an even larger scale. Sears, best known for his Dust Bowl classic Deserts on the March and later for his suggestion that ecology is a subversive subject, would seem an unlikely supporter of such a program. This article explores his role on the advisory committee within the context of his life and work, and within the framework of the science-government relationship in the United States during the fifties and early sixties, before the environmental movement fully developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-446
Number of pages50
JournalHistorical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Atomic energy
  • Conservation
  • Ecology
  • Fallout
  • Plowshare
  • Radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science


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