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A negative influence by Bohr and working in secret


Getting funding for, and starting work on, a nuclear reactor
Edward Teller Scientist
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Now, in the discussion around the table with Doctor Briggs presiding, presiding, Szilárd made his case. The representative of the Army, that representative said- Wars are not won by weapons, wars are won by the moral conviction of the people fighting. A statement to which I would have liked to agree except for the fact that the Polish, that the Poles have been defeated by the moral superiority of the Nazis and the Soviets. And after some discussion it was my turn and I said- Well, I am here to give you a message from Enrico Fermi. We believe that the atomic bomb can be made but not out of the materials that we now have. We first need a nuclear reactor and that nuclear reactor can be made with uranium. And there are all the people who are willing to make it. They are working for the university here, no need to hire us but we need money because to make the reactor we need the substance to slow down the neutrons, which will not eat up the neutrons, pure graphite. That will take some money. - How much? I gave the figure- $6000. I never lived it down. I had been advanced from chauffeur to messenger boy but at any rate the low figure of Fermi, which I transmitted, had its effect on the colonel from the Army- Well, listen, if you want $6000, that you can have. So that is how it all started, with the complete benevolence of Columbia University, with the help of the relevant administrator, Dean Pegram. And with six kilobucks. I also was needed and I can tell you my very important contribution. There were two outstanding people who were leading the project. One was Fermi and the other one was Szilárd. The only trouble was that they did not talk to each other. I was perhaps not the quite unique but rare personality who talked to both of them so I was invited as a guest lecturer to Columbia, gave classes and talked to both Szilárd and Fermi, and incidentally, Wigner, who started out by planning a reactor.

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, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008