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Talking to Reagan about weapons of defense


Using lasers to produce high energies without radioactivity
Edward Teller Scientist
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All work at Livermore is connected with the lasers, very particularly in the use of these exceedingly intense and well directed beams for the purpose of heating up a small amount of material in a manner that can be very precisely governed. In particular we expect to produce and have made progress toward producing or delivering energy to a spherical hollow structure and make it implode in a similar way as this implosion process was used in the hydrogen bomb; except that in the hydrogen bomb the original source of energy was already a fission bomb. Whereas in this particular case that I am now discussing the original energy source is a laser and that delivers energy, quite a bit of energy for an implosion that then multiplies that energy further, or rather multiplies the energy density and the temperature to an extent where thermonuclear reactions can take place. And this can be done in a repetitive way and the result will be - and I have little doubt that it can be done - but the result will be to produce an amount of thermonuclear energy which is proportional to the laser energy that has been put into the system, but can be a rather high multiple of that energy. This is something we are trying to do and we are doing, and I want to say two things about it. I feel sure that it will succeed. I do not feel sure that it will succeed in a manner that will in the end deliver energy at a sufficiently low cost. I believe that it must be tried, it is beginning to work and I hope that it might give a lot of energy - and incidentally, and this is what counts a great deal in reality and even more in pubic opinion - the energy can be produced connected with practically no radioactivity. We use an original energy source that is radioactively clean and we can manage to keep it not completely clean, but almost completely clean even when the nuclear energy is delivered.

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: 4 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 29 September 2010