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Commentary | 18 August 2023

Nuclear experts react: Oppenheimer

On the 21st of July, the European Leadership Network (ELN) co-hosted a private screening of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer at Battersea Power Station, London, with a range of peace and security partners, including PAX sapiens Foundation (PAX), Open Nuclear Network (ONN), a programme of the One Earth Future (OEF) Foundation, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Ploughshares FundSchool of International Futures (SOIF), The Elders and VERTIC.

Prior to the screening, a panel took place to discuss the birth of the bomb and the moral choices that we face today regarding nuclear threats, security, and the emergence of new technologies.

The panel was moderated by Andreas Persbo, Director of Open Nuclear Network and ELN Senior Associate Fellow, with panellists Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former President of Ireland, Shashank Joshi, Defence Editor at The Economist, and Marcela Capaja, Creative Lead and Network Weaver at the School of International Futures.

You can find a recording of the panel on YouTube.

Despite the audience leaving the cinema in sobering silence, conversations and reflections began to form at a reception where guests discussed the power of the bomb, the moral dilemmas Oppenheimer battled with, and the salience of the film in the context of modern nuclear weapons. We asked some of the experts in attendance for their reactions:

I thought that it was a fantastic depiction of the moral dilemmas and contradictions of the scientists who worked on the atomic bomb, wrestling with how it should be used, whether it should be used, and the nature of atomic weaponry after the war. Shashank Joshi, Defence Editor at The Economist


I am one of those people who believe that the probabilities are that one of these nuclear weapons will be used again and that we will see another Hiroshima and I think it’s incumbent on us as human beings to try to eliminate that risk completely. Andreas Persbo, Director of Open Nuclear Network and ELN Senior Associate Fellow

The best way to prevent war is to continue to work on arms control disarmament Larry MacFaul, Acting Executive Director at VERTIC

We need to make sure that the guardrails are in place so that we don’t accidentally miscommunicate ourselves into nuclear war. Sahil Shah, ELN Senior Iran Policy Advisor

We’ve forgotten the about the impact and the scale of nuclear weapons in public discourse. Dr Olamide Samuel, ELN Policy Fellow

Oppenheimer showed us that we can have a strong mindset about arms control. Nikita Gryazin, YGLN Coordinator

It hopefully will raise that salience in people’s minds of how much of an issue nuclear risk still is today. Alexander Cook, NEVER member

The modernisation of arsenals has continued since Oppenheimer’s time and so now we have weapons that are much more powerful, and I don’t think people will have an easy time conceptualising that. Hailey Wingo, Research Assistant at VERTIC

It’s not just the responsibility of the people who deploy them but also what role do the people who are developing these technologies play? Safia Sangster, NEVER member

I think that the film will be a great way to bring nuclear weapons back on the agenda and get people talking about nuclear weapons now and how the problems in the film are still pretty similar to what we’re facing today. Chloe Pilling, Account Executive at 89up

We would like to thank The Podcast Guys for producing these expert reaction videos.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.