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Involving John Wheeler in the project


Should the hydrogen bomb be built?
Edward Teller Scientist
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A lot of discussions which I don't need to mention - visits to Los Alamos from people in Washington inquiring what could be done, what should be done. One thing I did was, if we were going to go ahead with anything like the hydrogen bomb, we needed more people, more organization in Wash- in, in Los Alamos. I got permission from Bradbury to go and talk to people and do some recruiting. Obviously the first man I went to see was Fermi. He knew what we were trying to do, he knew the technical details; he had just been coming back from a trip abroad. He listened and then he came out with a statement, quite unusually strong for him- I hope the hydrogen bomb will not work. You might try it. I believe that everybody, ourselves, the Soviets, would be much happier if it did not work and I will not work on it. So I went to the next man, Hans Bethe, a man of really unusual powers of concentration who was very much in the habit of succeeding in whatever he tried. He had an appetite for anything important and new and he said- Yes, I will come. And while we were talking he got a phone call from Oppenheimer inviting him to come to Washington and then, perhaps because I was there, I was to come along. And shortly afterwards there were the three of us, in Oppenheimer's Washington office, discussing the question. Oppenheimer did not take a strong stand, at least not on the face of it. He told us that one man on the- among the important advisers, Conant, had written him a strong letter in which I remember the phrase- The hydr- the hydrogen bomb would be built over my dead body. And then Oppenheimer said something with which I happened to be in very full agreement. He said- Maybe we should work on it, but if we worked on it, we can no longer do it in the kind of extreme secrecy that we have used in the past. Now that was a point on which I agreed and Bethe did not.

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, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008