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Series Accession 2011-M-023: Programs and Projects. Nuclear, 1952-2010

Call Number: MS 1965, Series Accession 2011-M-023

Scope and Contents

The records of Accession 2011-M-023 document the work of NRDC’s Nuclear Program on public education and advocacy and the effective verification of arms control treaties and international bans on the testing of nuclear weapons. Most of the initiatives described in these records occurred in the 1980s and 1990s out of NRDC’s Washington, DC office when Thomas B. Cochran, a nuclear physicist, and S. Jacob Scherr, an attorney, served as co-directors of the program.

The bulk of the public education and advocacy records consist of an extensive array of publications produced by the program staff along with supporting files for the five volume series, Nuclear Weapons Databook, the program’s most ambitious publication. The run of publications covers the years from 1974 to 2010 and includes published articles and chapters, conference papers, reports, and testimony as well as the Nuclear Weapons Databook. The publications are arranged by year and a list of the year’s publications can be found in the front of the first folder for each year. Many of the items in these chronological files are photocopies of the original publications.

The volumes of the Nuclear Weapons Databook provide detailed factual information about nuclear arms from a time when government secrecy shrouded even the most basic details about the number, location, and physical appearance of the weapons. The first volume of the Nuclear Weapons Databook, published in 1984, focuses on U.S. nuclear forces and capabilities; the second and third volumes, both published in 1987, cover U.S. nuclear warhead production and government facilities supporting that production; the fourth (1989) addresses the nuclear forces of the Soviet Union; and the fifth (1994) concerns the nuclear forces of the United Kingdom, France, and China. Copies of the published volumes are filed under their year of publication while only the files of supporting materials, and not the publications themselves, will be found under the heading for the Nuclear Weapons Databook. These supporting files consist of volume production and promotion files, which contain materials about organizing and publicly promoting the project, and photograph files. The photographs include copies of the illustrations used in the Databook series as well as an extensive collection of “extras” that did not make it into the volumes. Most of the photographs are of nuclear weapon systems and facilities taken by government agencies. For a period after the publication of the Databook, the Nuclear Program staff served as an informal clearinghouse for these unusual and difficult to obtain photographs.

Other notable publications filed by their year of publication include Making the Russian Bomb, which was published in 1995 and examined in great depth the nuclear production complex of the Soviet Union; the entries on “Nuclear Weapons” authored by the Nuclear Program staff in 1990 and 2008 for the Encyclopedia Britannica; and the 2001 report on nuclear weapons targeting entitled “The U.S. nuclear war plan: A time for change.” Two other noteworthy publications are filed under their title rather than their year of publication: a complete set of the “Nuclear Notebook” articles from July 1987 to August 2010 which appeared as a regular feature in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, written principally by Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, and Hans M. Kristensen and The Bomb Book which was an extensive compilation of information about the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty that the Nuclear Program prepared for a public education campaign on the eve of the 1987 summit meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

Additional items of note among the public education and advocacy files include a detailed history of NRDC’s nuclear activities written in 2010 by program staff which runs to fifty-one pages plus appendices; a small amount of material on NRDC’s work with Carl Sagan on the danger of a nuclear winter; and a set of correspondence concerning Freedom of Information Act requests for information about various classified nuclear issues.

The primary subjects of the verification projects files concern NRDC’s nuclear test ban verification project of the mid-1980s and the Black Sea experiment of 1989. The test ban verification files provide a rich description of the Nuclear Program’s collaboration with the Soviet Academy of Sciences to build seismic monitoring stations near the major nuclear testing sites in Nevada and Kazakhstan in order to demonstrate that a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing could be verified through an effort by non-governmental organizations. Files are arranged into four sections: administrative files, outreach and lobbying, press relations, and scientific research. The administrative files consist primarily of the written agreements between NRDC and the Soviet Academy of Sciences on their cooperation and correspondence with U.S. federal agencies concerning export licenses for the seismic equipment for the monitoring stations in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and visas for team members. The outreach and lobbying files most notably contain correspondence with arms control organizations, Congress, and verification organizations; materials concerning and lobbying for nuclear test ban legislation; and Telenet and telex communications and correspondence with scientists and NRDC representatives in the USSR. The outreach and lobbying files also include materials about the U.S. Congressional delegation that observed the 1987 testing of the monitoring stations in Kazakhstan and subsequently inspected the secret Krasnoyarsk radar installation in Siberia at the invitation of a Soviet government experimenting with its glasnost policy of openness. The press relations files contain substantial runs of press releases and press conference handouts as well as copies of newspaper, magazine, and journal articles about the test ban verification project. The photographs and slides among the press relations files are primarily original pictures taken in Nevada and the USSR. The videotape is a mix of recorded television coverage of the project and original recording from Nevada and the USSR and may include several recordings unrelated to Nuclear Program work. The scientific research files consist mainly of scientific articles and papers, technical reports, and data concerning the project’s seismic testing.

The Black Sea experiment files contain extensive material concerning the feasibility of using radiation detection devices to reveal the presence of nuclear weapons on ships in order to support the verification of a future international ban on naval nuclear arms. This second joint collaboration between NRDC and the Soviet Academy of Sciences was initially known as the Nuclear Weapons at Sea project. A joint American-Soviet scientific team conducted the tests on July 5, 1989, off the coast near Yalta aboard the Soviet cruiser Slava. The files include project proposals and cooperative agreements, correspondence between NRDC staff and their Soviet partners, and materials concerning press relations and public outreach efforts and a scientific workshop held in November 1989 to analyze the data from the experiment. The files contain materials describing the visit of a delegation of journalists and American members of Congress to the USSR for the Black Sea experiment. Other materials concern the delegation's subsequent visits to the Sary Shagan missile testing center, which the Reagan administration had claimed contained a high-powered laser in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the Chelyabinsk-65 nuclear reactor facility at Kyshtym which produced plutonium for Soviet nuclear weapons.

In addition, the verification projects files contain a small amount of material about weapon tags and seals technology and the Fourth International Warhead Elimination Workshop in 1992.


  • 1952-2010
  • Majority of material found within 1974 - 1995


Language of Materials

From the Collection:

The material is in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Material is open for research.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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