Nuclear research as a field of the physical, chemical and technical sciences is the classic example of security-relevant research, i.e. research associated with considerable security-relevant risks for human dignity, human life, health, freedom, property, the environment and peaceful coexistence.
The discovery of the nuclear fission of uranium in the 1930s, for which Otto Hahn later received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, is seen as a milestone in the natural sciences and technology which opened up large-scale opportunities for the carbon-neutral generation of energy. The same is expected of nuclear fusion, which was also discovered in the early 20th century and is currently regarded by many as a beacon of hope for a safe and clean energy supply in the future. Nuclear research also, of course, led to the development and deployment of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Intensive debate on the responsibility of researchers was triggered in particular by the hydrogen bomb tests of the US on the Bikini Atoll and the resulting radioactive contamination. The debate produced, among other things, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and the Göttingen Manifesto in which scientists spoke out against nuclear arms while supporting the peaceful application of nuclear energy. More recently, the possible use of radioactive isotopes in so-called “dirty” bombs has put the issue back in the public eye.