Dr Lewis Stadler, Oak Ridge, United States discussed on Proof
In nineteen thirty eight. A team of German and Austrian scientists discovered nuclear fission and then less than a year later. Germany invaded Poland leading to the outbreak of World War. Two Britain is tonight making it clear to Adolf Hitler that if he does send his armies into Poland Great Britain. We'll go to war. Today's men Evan's Gemini has invaded Poland and has bummed. Many general mobilization has been ordered in Britain and fronts armed with the understanding of vision. It took the US government less than six years to develop the atomic bomb largely through a top secret military program known as the Manhattan Project and one of the Manhattan project's bomb building sites was located about twenty five miles west of Knoxville and Oak Ridge. Tennessee also known as the secret city. There were actually seventy five thousand people living year in August of nineteen forty five. It was the fierce largest city in the state of Tennessee and it wasn't known any map. This is Ray Smith Historian based in Oak Ridge. I found ray through the Oakridge newspaper in his column called historically speaking which she's been writing since two thousand six for that. He worked as a maintenance manager at the y twelve national security complex known as the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Now he's the official historian for the whole city. I reached out to Ray because I knew there was a resurgence of interest in mutation breeding. Not long after World War. Two and I was curious how this transition from atomic bombs back to Thomas. Agriculture actually happened and it turns out that Oak Ridge played a pretty big role though not entirely on purpose. It came down to a herd of HEREFORD CATTLE ON JULY. The sixteenth of nineteen forty five atomic age was ushered in. When the first gadget it was called was exploded in Alamogordo New Mexico. This was known as the Trinity Test. The first ever detonation of a nuclear device. It was of isolated area very remote far from many ranches or any population and they thought that would be a good place. Now you might think given that the. Us was less than a month out from bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki that there would have been some interest in understanding. The biological impact of this weapon. Stadler had shown that radiation could cause mutations so what would nuclear fallout mean for plants and animals and people but the army was primarily focused on just making sure that it worked at all so the first actual victims of nuclear fallout were entirely accidental farm animals including those hair for cattle who were down wind from the test site when the bomb went off. It kicked up a cloud of radioactive dust which was carried by the wind. Overtop these animals. Those particles were falling out of the Ska. And we're actually hitting on the backs of this herd of cattle raining down on them like snow. The fallout was primarily. Beta radiation a less penetrative form than gamma or x rays still where it landed on the animals backs it caused open sores and lesions and after the war when things were a little less hush-hush one local rancher actually filed a damage claim against the army so in December of nineteen forty five. The government bought the seventy five. Most impacted cattle. They were probably interested in observing the cattle for science. Yes but they were interested in keeping things quiet and they said look. We need to watch the cattle and make sure that we understand what happens to them because they've been closest to the actual blast so in order to monitor them. They ship them to Oak Ridge and they put them in this location at South of the city of Oak Ridge down on the clinch river in three bands area. Three bends in the river making some low flat grassland within a couple of years that grassland became the agricultural research lab a joint project of the University of Tennessee and the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission or ADC. Basically the peacetime arbiter of all things atomic. Now obviously this is a story about cattle not crops so it's a bit of a departure from what we've been talking about with mutation breeding. But it's kind of the origin for postwar atomic agriculture. This accident triggered all these new questions. About what might happen to living organisms and to food production systems in the event of a nuclear attack. Something that was a very real fear for a lot of people right and not just because of the blast itself but also because of this possibility of unforeseen dialogical consequences but the ABC was concerned that if people got too scared public opinion might turn against nuclear research altogether and they definitely did not want that to happen so one of their main goals was to try to manage this fear. The real appeal of mutation breeding and agriculture. Is that mutations are. They might be positive things right. It might be a mutation that makes a cold resistant orange. It might be a mutation that makes a disease resistant wheat and so one of the reasons why mutation plant breeding has such an appeal in. This context is that it's a a counter narrative to the story of mutation. That is is really quite scary. Which is the story of mutations? In in humans essentially the goal was to give the atomic age an image upgrade and to provide some distance from that scarier side something. That was a little difficult to do when the place you're in is the birthplace of the atom bomb so in nineteen forty seven the established a new nuclear research facility a full eight hundred miles from Ridge and its irradiated cattle and just seventy miles east of Manhattan Brookhaven National Lab. Brookhaven was dedicated entirely to the research of peacetime applications atomic technology without any of the destructive baggage which made it the perfect place for mutation breeding to make its comeback Brookhaven was. Certainly I would say the center of the resurgence of mutation breeding in the United States and it was in part through the actions of particular biologists. Whose name was Ralph. Singleton Dr Ralph. Singleton was a Harvard trained plant geneticist and sweetcorn breeder who already had some experience in the world of mutation breeding ten years prior during a sabbatical at the University of Missouri. He first experimented with radiation breeding while working with none other than Dr Lewis Stadler so when he was appointed Brookhaven Senior. Geneticist in one thousand. Nine forty eight. One of his first projects was taking stadler's ideas and expanding on them by making use of a resource that stadler never had radioactive isotopes or radio-isotopes access to radio. Isotopes meant that scientists could now produce gamma radiation a higher frequency. More penetrative form than Stadler's x-rays in one thousand nine forty nine singleton began building a new mutation breeding tool using cobalt. Sixty gamma emitting radioisotope. As his source he planted circular rows of crops around his source and called it the gamma field. This was set up an installation in which there was a central tower through which piece of radioactive. Cobalt could be raised to the top of the tower to really in some ways. You might think of it. As kind of showering radiation on a field of crops growing in concentric circles around the tower depending on their distance from that central source plants would receive different doses of radiation compared to earlier experiments with radiation induced mutation. The gamma field was something radically new. Instead of a quick blast of x-rays plants in the field were subject to near constant radiation. Sometimes the entire growing season and will initially a mutation breeding skeptic. Singleton quickly became convinced that Stanley had been wrong. That radiation could produce new beneficial crop varieties after all. He expanded the size of the field from three.