British Atomic Scientists Association

From ArticleWorld

The now defunct British Atomic Scientists’ Association (ASA or BASA) was founded in 1946 by a group of scientists who sought to inform their peers and the public of the dangers of nuclear physics.


The British Atomic Scientists’ Association was the British equivalent of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). It was set up by a group of Oxford and Liverpool physicists who had contributed to the Manhattan Project or its British precursor, code-named Tube Alloys, after a series of meetings. Four years after its launch in 1946, the BASA represented some 640 full and associate members (full membership was restricted to those scientists who had actually worked on the Allied bomb project during the Second World War).

One of BASA’s well known founders and its executive vice-president from 1952-1959 was Joseph Rotblat (1908-2005). He had especially felt betrayed by the American bombing of the two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, calling it a “wanton barbaric act”. The British Atomic Scientists’ Association, along with its American counterpart, the Federation of American Scientists, tried to educate the public, warning them about the dire consequences of an inevitable international arms race, and, as Joseph Rotblat said, hoping “thereby to influence governments.” However, most government ignored their warnings, and nuclear weapons development escalated.


Even though the British Atomic Scientists’ Association was much smaller than its American counterpart, it succeeded – although only to some extent – in arousing public debate via public papers and journals. They had an interesting venture called the “Atom Train”, a mobile museum featuring models placed on two railway cars, which illustrated peaceful and military uses of atomic energy. This was shown throughout the British Isles and even in Scandinavia and the Middle East.

The BASA had adopted a non-partisan stance and its list of vice-presidents – all fellows of the Royal Society – included many of Britain’s most eminent scientists as well as government advisers coming from diverse political backgrounds.

Fall of BASA

BASA wasn’t able to make an impact as large as was desired; only their fellow scientists paid more attention, and not the larger audience which they were trying to reach. This already modest degree of influence diminished further as Cold War politics became even more polarized during the Korean War (1950-53). Also, it turned out to be too non-political for many of its vice-presidents, especially after a public statement in 1957 explaining the danger of strontium 90 in fallout from nuclear weapons tests.

Difficulties were still to come, and both the Federation of American Scientists and the Atomic Scientists’ Association faced acute financial difficulties and a sharp decline in membership. The force and extent of their lobbying, in the meantime, became narrower and less controversial. The association was finally dissolved in 1959.