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Becoming an assistant of Eucken and Franck


Heisenberg, Bohr and the atomic bomb
Edward Teller Scientist
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I would like to finish my story about Bohr and, in a way, about Heisenberg, by telling you of a very sad fact. When the Nazis came, when Hitler occupied Denmark, Bohr was in danger of his life. He had a Jewish grandfather, I think, at least. He was to escape. Shortly before that, Heisenberg listened- came to him. Bohr came out to America and told us that Heisenberg is working on the atomic bomb for the Nazis. Heisenberg and Bohr have been good friends. Bohr did enormous damage to Heisenberg's reputation. I heard him say that, I even heard him say that in a one-to-one conversation. I never quite believed it. I went back to Germany, found out - in more ways than in a short time I can tell you - but found out what actually happened. Heisenberg went to visit Bohr, he had to talk with him. He talked with him in his home, the Carlsberg Castle, the, the beer producing Carlsberg people or- I don't know whether it was beer, but they gave it to Bohr. And when they were talking indoors and Heisenberg was afraid that there might be- that the Nazis might have put in listening apparatus, he said things- I am working for my government and it's good to work for my country. That is what Bohr quoted. Then they went out into the garden and Heisenberg was no longer afraid. And then he added- I am with a group working on the atomic bomb. I hope we won't succeed. I hope the Americans won't succeed either. I cannot do otherwise than give an ab- abbreviated version of all this but here is one point, one generalization which I would like to make. My years in Germany, about which I want to talk a little more later, have been at a wonderful constructive period of science. Hitler destroyed it. You were not allowed to talk about Einstein. A Jewish lie, relativity. Heisenberg resisted it. I have many detailed indications that Heisenberg, if he did not directly sabotage the work on the atomic bomb, he never seriously worked on it. After war he and maybe ten other people were taken to a place in England and kept there and now the British did listen by secret apparatus to what they were saying to each other. I couldn't get that record until two years ago when it was published. And Heisenberg said about atomic bombs some of things which clearly prove that he did not think about the subject. They were told in August 1945 that we'd dropped an atomic bomb and the Germans didn't believe it. And then Heisenberg told them- Perhaps they did, and explained to them how the atomic bomb worked, wrongly so. A point about which I am very proud because the mistake that Heisenberg then made, I made a few years earlier when I was starting to think about it - and found out within a few months that it was wrong. That Heisenberg should make the same mistake gives me pleasure. But it shows, in the case of the excellent intelligence of Heisenberg, that he never seriously tried to work on the subject.

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: 6 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008