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A ban on testing


Useful size of nuclear weapons
Edward Teller Scientist
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All this had become clear gradually and I might tell you one of the important considerations; yes, we can construct weapons, explosions of sizes as big as you ever please, but if they are to be delivered, if they are to be used in a conflict, what is the useful size? I would like to tell you something that is exaggerated and unrealistic and too big but illustrates the point I want to make. - Make something hundred thousand times bigger than what happened at Hiroshima. Can be done, we know how to do it, it will be very expensive, hard to deliver, not hard to make, and will really destroy, really everything in a radius of about ten miles. It also will take a chunk of air, ten miles across, and throw it out into interplanetary space. - Not satisfied, make it a thousand times bigger still, what will be the effect? It turns out that the destruction on the surface of the earth will have hardly increased. Why? Because the pressure is propagated by the presence of the atmosphere. If you make something a thousand times bigger, the main effect will be that the same amount of air, very little more, will be thrown out into interplanetary space but with thirty times the velocity. When it came down in the course of time to the actual construction of these objects, the important advantage in the hydrogen bomb was not its size, it was its adaptability to a variety of purposes. For military purposes there is a limit what is useful, and actually the smaller and the more deliverable something is the more effective it can be.

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: 3 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 29 September 2010