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Proposed international nuclear regulation


Hiroshima and the Federation of American Scientists
Hans Bethe Scientist
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We got the photographs of Hiroshima, at Los Alamos, photographs taken by American planes overflying the city after the bomb. And Hiroshima was devastated and we were devastated as well. We had carefully calculated how much destruction there would be from the atomic bomb. We knew its yield in energy. We knew, in consultation, especially with GI Taylor of England, how to translate the yield into the radius of destruction. But it was really terrible to see the destruction ourselves, in these pictures. And many of us, at that point, decided that this should not happen again, and that we should use our efforts to persuade the American people, the American President and Congress, not to consider the nucleus as a means of destruction. Well, many of us got together and formed the Federation of American Scientists. We gave some talks at various places. We had a magazine, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has continued to the present day. The federation has also continued. And we went... some of us were invited to testify before the Senate, which was framing the law of atomic energy after the war. It was that Senate committee which conceived the idea of an Atomic Energy Commission. I was one of the many people who testified. Probably the most important testimony was that of Philip Morrison, who really can be very impressive in... in picturing the awful damage that is done by nuclear weapons. Well, one of the consequences was that atomic energy was put under the civilian commission rather than under the military. But the civilian commission, after a short time, was mostly interested in nuclear weapons, and that was certainly not our idea.

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Hiroshima, Los Alamos, Federation of American Scientists, Bulletin of American Scientists, Atomic Energy Commission, United States Congress, Philip Morrison

Duration: 3 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008