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The Nuclear Spirit of Geneva

Boundary-Crossing Relationships of Soviet Atomic Scientists after 1955*

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The 1955 UN-sponsored Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy quickly became a symbol for the re-establishment of international scientific cooperation and knowledge-exchange. It was the first large-scale meeting attended by Soviet atomic energy specialists – so called atomshchiki – after years of isolation. Starting from this vast gathering, this article examines the limited internationalization of Soviet nuclear science, stressing the importance of personal encounters of and direct contacts between scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain. Focusing on the role of the Soviet Academy of Sciences as one of the most influential institutions within the creation and negotiation of border-crossing relationships regarding nonmilitary uses of atomic energy, it provides insights into the growing international entanglements of Soviet nuclear research. The establishment of an International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957 marked yet another milestone in this process. One of the Agency's main purposes was to provide a diplomatic platform for the discussion of problems posed by the nuclear age. By analyzing professional contacts of Soviet scientists and science administrators with their Western counterparts, this article shows how they sought acknowledgment both from an international scientific community and from the Party and state authorities. Referring to an atmosphere of mutual understanding experienced during a total of four major atomic energy conferences in Geneva between 1955 and 1971, Soviet atomshchiki did much to foster knowledge exchange across the Iron Curtain and to establish channels of communication to the West which remained open even in times of growing political tensions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2018

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  • The Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas ("East European History") present the discipline in its entire breadth; for thematically focused articles the emphasis lies on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. A double-blind review process with international experts ensures adherence to the annals' recognized high quality standards. An extensive section devoted to reviews informs the reader about current trends in German and international research. In addition, the editorial board publishes an electronic review supplement under the title jgo.e-reviews at
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