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Losing international control of nuclear research and weapons


Proposed international nuclear regulation
Hans Bethe Scientist
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President Truman appointed a committee under Dean Acheson - who was then Assistant Secretary of State, and later on became full Secretary of State - a committee to investigate whether one could internationalize atomic nuclear affairs. And the Acheson Group again... appointed a committee under Lillenthal, who had been the Director of TWA... TVA, the Tennessee Valley Authority, making electric power, and became then the Chairman of the newly created Atomic Energy Commission. Well, that committee who devised a plan, and I think a very good plan, how an international agency could be created. And this was brought to the United Nations by Bernard Baruch, a very conservative financial wizard who had done some political work before. Baruch did not really believe in it. But whether he believed in it or not, the Soviet Union turned down the proposal flat, and they simply did not want an international organization, they wanted to have atomic weapons themselves. In fact, this, as we now know and as we... as we did not then know, immediately after knowing about Hiroshima, Stalin immediately gave orders to his nuclear physicists and engineers to build him an atomic bomb. And, in fact, they... their first bomb was a carbon copy of our Nagasaki bomb.

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: Tennessee Valley Authority, Atomic Energy Commission, United Nations, UN, Soviet Union, Hiroshima, Harry S Truman, Dean Acheson, David E Lilienthal, Bernard Baruch, Joseph Stalin

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008