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Science and Technology in the Global Cold War$
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Naomi Oreskes and John Krige

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262027953

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262027953.001.0001

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Defining (Scientific) Direction:

Defining (Scientific) Direction:

Soviet Nuclear Physics and Reactor Engineering during the Cold War

(p.317) 10 Defining (Scientific) Direction
Science and Technology in the Global Cold War

Sonja D. Schmid

The MIT Press

This chapter uses nuclear physics and reactor engineering as an example to illustrate uniquely Soviet discussion over “fundamental” and “applied” research during the Cold War. Post-Stalinist scientists found creative strategies around Party control that involved “boundary work” emphasizing scientific universalism. These strategies involved both a public image campaign for peaceful uses of nuclear energy (which linked abstract research agendas to concrete applications and the public good), and also the creation of organizational structures that would firmly anchor fundamental science in the country’s institutional landscape. The success of these strategies ironically reinforced a symbiotic relationship between science and the state by buttressing the rhetoric of “scientific neutrality” versus state ideology. While deeply contradictory, the rhetorical demarcation between “fundamental” and “applied” science served to materialize specific organizational arrangements, which in turn shaped the kind of research deemed appropriate, and the kinds of applications regarded desirable. This rhetorical move made it possible that both an “international” design and a uniquely “Soviet” model of nuclear power reactors found resonance among Soviet decision makers.

Keywords:   Soviet Union, nuclear reactors, nuclear engineering, physics, fundamental vs. applied science, boundary work

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