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Writing to Roosevelt (Part 1)


Suggesting uranium fission to the Navy
Edward Teller Scientist
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A few weeks later, I was engaged in one of my favorite occupations. I already told you that my mother almost made a pianist of me. I was interested in music. In high school, during my high school years, I went to the opera again and again. And then I took up not just piano playing but chamber music. And I remember an evening where with a friend we played Mozart violin piano sonatas. The phone goes. New York, Szilárd- I found the neutrons. He did not need to tell me any secrets. That meant that nuclear energy could be released; that meant that the possibility of nuclear explosions had- was no longer an possibility but a probability. And you know, the next thing that has happened was nothing. It was discussed. Two important people - Fermi, who had gotten out of Fascist Italy and come to the United States; and Tuve, the head of an important laboratory in Washington - have gone to the Navy and suggested that they look into uranium fission. And they were told that the Navy is not interested in any fantastic scheme of that kind. And Fermi, who was real one to understand these things, in a new country, and due to his conservative nature, was not willing to push along any more. So, by the summer, all these possibilities were on the best way to go back to sleep.

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: 2 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008