The Manhattan Project and the Fukushima Initiative

Regarding the Fukushima Initiative of the Asia Institute, I am a bit torn about whether or not we should use an analogy to the Manhattan Project. The analogy is a good one in that the Manhattan Project brought together the best and the brightest to focus their full attention on the extremely complex task of developing an atomic weapon quickly. Under the inspired leadership of Robert Oppenheimer, a group including such scientists as Richard Feynman,  John Manley and Enrico Fermi put together their collective wisdom and creativity to pursue in a period of a few years a project that would have perhaps taken more than a decade under normal circumstances. Certainly that is the sort of intensity and focus we are imagining with regards to Fukushima.

At the same time, the Manhattan Project is not a neutral analogy. It was, after all, the tragic beginning of nuclear weapons and by extension all nuclear technologies. To invoke the Manhattan Project requires us in a sense to strip it of its original political significance and use it almost in reverse. Perhaps the Fukushima Initiative is a Manhattan project to clean up the mess that resulted from the original Manhattan Project. In the words of Albert Einstein (a few books from whose library came into my possession through the assistance of Vince Rubino) the nuclear age “has changed everything but our thinking.” We need to see everything differently now. Fukushima has brought that message home and this is the moment for action.

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