NBA History of Science Seminar

D.J. Kinney , "The AEC’s Propaganda Primer: Revisiting Cold War Atomic Testing in the Arctic."

D.J. Kinney, Florida State University, Tallahassee

Between 1965 and 1971, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission fundamentally changed the means by which it represented its activities and the way in which it dealt with public dissent, both in the United States and abroad. By mounting a massive public relations campaign between 1969 and 1971, the AEC sought to suppress the outcry over the proposed nuclear test on Amchitka Island in Alaska. The means by which this effort was undertaken were outlined in an internal document - a "p.r. primer" - on public relations and disinformation which had been written in the aftermath of the failed attempt to assuage the protests over the 1969 "Milrow" atomic test.

Through a series of presentations, publications, and propagandistic films, the AEC went about softening the opposition to its activities. The mantra of this effort was stated best by Under Secretary of State Elliot Richardson in a conference call regarding Canadian opposition to the upcoming atomic test: "This is one of those situations like many [in] which the question is a good deal in how the situation is perceived rather than what the real facts are."

These developments are important not only for what they reveal about the AEC and U.S. foreign policy; they also indicate that public opposition to proposed Arctic nuclear tests was a significant factor for starting the environmental movement.