Quickening Nature’s Pulse: Atomic Agriculture at the International Atomic Energy Agency
Published in Dynamis 35:2 (2015), 389-408.
Mutation breeders in the 1960s seemed poised to use atomic energy to speed up mutation rates in plants in order to develop new crop varieties, for the benefit of all people. Although skepticism had slowed this work in the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nurtured the scientific field, its community of experts, and an imagined version of the future that put humans in control of their destiny. The IAEA acted as a center of dissemination and support for experts and ideas even when they had fallen from favor elsewhere. Through the lens of the IAEA, plant breeding bore the appearance of a socially progressive, ultra-modern science destined to alleviate population pressures. Administrators at the IAEA also were desperate for success stories, hoping to highlight mutation plant breeding as a potential solution to the world’s ills. The community of mutation plant breeders gained a lifeline from the consistent clarion call from the Vienna-based agency to use atomic energy to understand the natural world and quicken its pulse with radioisotopes.