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President Truman's decision and other scientists' views on this


Reasons for working on the hydrogen bomb while others wouldn't
Edward Teller Scientist
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As I went I was told that I will be met at the Washington train station by Manley, whom I have already mentioned, who worked in Los Alamos and who was also the Secretary of the General Advisory Committee that gave scientific advice to the administrators in charge of atomic energy. And John had one purpose- You are on your way to the senator, Senator McBain. Don't go. There is a unanimous opinion among those of us who know about the hydrogen bomb - we must not work on it. Don't break the unanimity. I did not know what to say. I remember I said to him- All right. I won't go. I will call up the senator's office and tell him precisely what you told me. At that point Manley said- Then you better go. Let me say one thing: I did work on the hydrogen bomb, I did work on the original proposal of preventing equilibrium, I did work on boosters, I did work on alarm clocks. I was going to work on other things. None of these ideas were particularly difficult to produce. Practically all of them were independently developed in the Soviet Union. I claim that I made one contribution that really counted and that was not in science. I made contributions there, but had I not made them, others would have. It did not make a great deal of difference. But, the hydrogen bomb was very strictly secret, top secret. The number of people who were allowed to know about it were few. Most of those did not know the details. And those who had the other information, again the majority had no access in Washington. Among the people who had the full knowledge and had access, I was the only one who really made strong and clear arguments for the hydrogen bomb. In this sense, what Manley told me, has to be understood. I did break the unanimity of the scientists and, had I not done so, it may well have happened that our work would never has started again. It well may have developed in such a way that the Soviet Union would have gotten far ahead of us in developing nuclear explosives. I don't want to say more about it. I have been attacked for the very point of advocating strongly the hydrogen bomb. Even recently I have been asked- Aren't you sorry that you did so? And to that question I have a simple answer: I am not sorry. To the extent that one can say the opposite, I do say so. I had to work on it and I am glad I did.

The late Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller helped to develop the atomic bomb and provided the theoretical framework for the hydrogen bomb. During his long and sometimes controversial career he was a staunch advocate of nuclear power and also of a strong defence policy, calling for the development of advanced thermonuclear weapons.

Listeners: John H. Nuckolls

John H. Nuckolls was Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1988 to 1994. He joined the Laboratory in 1955, 3 years after its establishment, with a masters degree in physics from Columbia. He rose to become the Laboratory's Associate Director for Physics before his appointment as Director in 1988.

Nuckolls, a laser fusion and nuclear weapons physicist, helped pioneer the use of computers to understand and simulate physics phenomena at extremes of temperature, density and short time scales. He is internationally recognised for his work in the development and control of nuclear explosions and as a pioneer in the development of laser fusion.

Duration: 5 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008