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Checking the explosions on a seismograph (Part 1)


Starting Livermore
Edward Teller Scientist
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In a scientific development, the judgment what should be tried and what should not is not easy. In that instance the right decision was arrived at, but under conditions where the development might have very easily gone in an opposite way. I made up my mind that we very badly needed not one laboratory, but two. In general, scientific progress depends on widespread careful discussion by many scientists. In the case of the hydrogen bomb the discussion was strictly limited to a few people and the interactions as I described them almost led to stopping the process. It was not hopeful to open up the subject so that everybody could participate in it. The only alternative to me to- seemed to me to have two competing groups, to make the wrong decision much less likely. While staying at Los Alamos, I could not argue for a second laboratory therefore I went back in the summer of '51, in the early fall of '51, to Chicago, did not resume to a very great extent my scientific work, and put a lot of effort into just that, what Ernest Lawrence has recommended- Try to establish work on the hydrogen bomb. And that to my mind, not for the hydrogen bomb itself, but for the continuous uninterrupted development of all real possibilities, it needed a second laboratory. I would have loved to see that second laboratory right in Chicago where my close friends were, but the closest of them, Enrico Fermi, did not like the idea and I did not feel at all like disagreeing with Fermi. Ernest Lawrence still loved the idea, invited me to California, did not tell me that he would argue for a new laboratory, but encouraged me to do so and told me that if I got permission to go ahead with the second laboratory, I can count on every support of himself and his people. And that is what actually happened. With the help of Ernest Lawrence it was decided that work, future work on nuclear explosives should go on not at one place, Los Alamos, but at two places, Los Alamos and Livermore, a newly started group some thirty or forty miles east of Berkeley. It was not an easy decision for me to leave Chicago for good. That's where my friends were, but my friends did tell me- You want to do that, it's fine if you do it as well. I had to get it done where the conditions were right.

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, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008