Christopher Dunlap

  • Fellowship year:2016-2017
  • University: University of Chicago
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Latin America
  • Dissertation Title: Scientific Communities, Nuclear Energy, and the State in Brazil and Argentina, 1950-1995
  • My dissertation traces the development of nuclear energy in Argentina and Brazil in the second half of the twentieth century, arguing that the pursuit of nuclear technology helped to stabilize the long-standing and complex relationship between the two South American neighbors, who together possess a majority of the continent's land, population, and economic activity (as measured by GDP). Scientists and technicians worked, sometimes at cross purposes, alongside generals, politicians, and diplomats to create and sustain Latin America's two most advanced nuclear energy programs.
    Military personnel created "parallel" nuclear programs in the 1970s to develop uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities, heavy water plants, and other nuclear technologies outside the global nonproliferation and safeguards framework. I argue that in the 1980s, scientists and technicians involved with nuclear energy in the two countries were fundamental to re-establishing and maintaining the programs' peaceful orientation after the tense 1970s, and thus to building and sustaining regional and international security. Mutual inspections of nuclear facilities by members of these scientific communities finally assured the governments of Argentina and Brazil, among others, that neither program was keeping nuclear secrets from the other, paving the way for full participation by both nations in the global weapons nonproliferation regime. In fact, Argentine and Brazilian negotiations and actions on nuclear technology had significant ramification for their bilateral relationship even beyond policy on weapons nonproliferation, energy or security.
    My dissertation situates the Brazilian and Argentine scientific and technical communities at the center of a story that links nuclear energy with global and regional geopolitics and bilateral diplomacy. In doing so, I am attempting two moves in the scholarly conversation about global nuclear energy. One move in geographical: I analyze how two countries, among the region's leaders in Latin America, yet often thought to be on the periphery of global science and technology, developed advanced nuclear energy programs, and did so at many points in defiance of the United States and its Cold War allies. The other move is conceptual. This history shows how the normative values of nuclear nonproliferation were questioned and challenged for almost two decades in Argentina and Brazil, then accepted, negotiated and codified in a bilateral treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. My research therefore traces how the practice of nonproliferation and peaceful use of advanced nuclear energy developed on the ground in South America, and shifts consideration of these topics of global importance outside of the realms of theory.