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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Rudolf Peierls, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Rudolph Peierls was a German-born, British physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. He begins by providing some basic scientific information about fission and its use in a weapon, then describes some of his early work and discoveries related to the separation of uranium isotopes, as well as the impact of his work on British nuclear efforts. He notes the irony of briefly being ruled ineligible to work on his project further because of his alien status. He also comments on the origins of the name of the Maud Committee. Describing Britain's cooperative relationship with the United States, he recalls it as being "very checkered." His reactions to the Trinity test and the Hiroshima explosion are recorded, as are his memories of Klaus Fuchs and the impact of his espionage. Concluding, the most surprising aspect of the recent nuclear period has been the intensity of the arms race, given how few weapons are required to form an effective deterrent.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
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Interview with Rudolf Peierls, 1986

Series Description

The first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, changed the world forever. This series chronicles these changes and the history of a new era. It traces the development of nuclear weapons, the evolution of nuclear strategy, and the politics of a world with the power to destroy itself.

In thirteen one-hour programs that combine historic footage and recent interviews with key American, Soviet, and European participants, the nuclear age unfolds: the origin and evolution of nuclear weapons; the people of the past who have shaped the events of the present; the ideas and issues that political leaders, scientists, and the public at large must confront, and the prospects for the future. Nuclear Age highlights the profound changes in contemporary thinking imposed by the advent of nuclear weapons. Series release date: 1/1989

Program Description

Amid the violence, fear and desperation of World War II, nuclear weapons are created and used for the first time.

“Dawn” traces the development of the first atomic bomb, from 1932 with the ominous rumblings that led to World War II and the ground-breaking scientific experiments that led to the bomb. Atomic physicist Victor Weisskopf explains, “we did not think at all that this business would have any direct connection with politics, or with humanity.” The frantic rush by American scientists who feared the Nazis were ahead of them and the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945 are described by eyewitnesses. Physicist Philip Morrison was ten miles away from the blast and will never forget the heat on his face. “Dawn” concludes with the failure of the first attempts to reach agreement on international control of atomic weapons after the war.



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Raw video

Media Type


World War II
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945
Frisch, Otto Robert
Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962
Great Britain
Fuchs, Klaus
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Nuclear fission
Nuclear weapons
United States
Hahn, Otto
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Peierls, Rudolf E. (Rudolf Ernst), 1907-1995 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Rudolf Peierls, 1986,” 03/05/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Rudolf Peierls, 1986.” 03/05/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Rudolf Peierls, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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