The male business of nuclear diplomacy

November 30, 2022, 9:30AMANS Nuclear CafeMaria Rentetzi

Maria Rentetzi

An unusual event during the recent General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency distracted the delegations of member states and the press from the Russian war in Ukraine and the fear of the next nuclear disaster. It was a small exhibition, Building the IAEA Headquarters and its Laboratories, at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, which brought to life the history of the agency’s laboratories through photographs, original letters and documents, explanatory texts, and timetables.

I was invited to participate in a related panel discussion that shed light on the early days of the “world’s first full-fledged laboratory of a truly international character” (in the words of an article about Seibersdorf Laboratory that ran in the January 1962 edition of the IAEA Bulletin) and its role in science diplomacy. There, I spoke of something that had struck me: Women were totally missing from the agency during this early period—making nuclear diplomacy an exclusively male business. To a large extent (as, for example, the recent IAEA missions to Ukraine show) nuclear continues to be a gendered endeavor.

November 7: The unofficial day of women in nuclear science?

November 7, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News
Curie and Meitner (Photos: Wikicommons)

Marie Curie was born in Warsaw in 1867 on this day, 155 years ago. Exactly 11 years later, in 1878, Lise Meitner was born in Vienna. November 7 is also the date when, in 1911, the Swedish Royal Academy of Science decided to award Curie a second Nobel Prize for her 1898 discovery of the elements radium and polonium (coincidentally, her 44th birthday). Curie, who at age 36 had shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband, Pierre Curie, and Henri Becquerel, later accepted the chemistry prize on December 10, 1911, and remains to this day the only person—man or woman—to receive two Nobel Prizes in two different categories. On this unofficial day of women in nuclear science, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the fundamental discoveries of both Curie and Meitner.