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Friday, June 17, 2005

Changes of Heart

At there are 48,469 books about NASA, only
handful cover America's serious space program, started before NASA, one book that never made it to print was Ted Taylor's book treatment. It was posted at his website, but both he and the site are gone now.


(Outline and 6/6/86 draft of first 5 chapters, Sept. 12, 1987)
Theodore B. Taylor
Address and phone until Nov. 1, 1987: Damascus, MD 20872
After West Clarksville, NY 14786

The book is an account of the author's changes in convictions about
nuclear weaponry from the announcement of the nuclear bombing of
Hiroshima through the present. After an initial period of 4 years of
mild activism in oppposition to further development of nuclear
weapons, the author spent the next 16 years working with great
enthusiasm on the design and general promotion of nuclear weapons,
first at Los Alamos and later at General Atomic and the Defense
Department. In the mid-1960s he did an about face and, from then
through the present, has focused his work primarily on ways to achieve
global nuclear disarmament.
The book is intended for general readers who are concerned about the
threat of nuclear war and are interested in the understanding the
roles nuclear weaponeers in the nuclear arms race, as well as their
justifications for playing those roles.

Forword, by a prominent person
Author's Preface
1. Full Circle
Initial reaction to news of Hiroshima, subsequent mild activism in
opposition to nuclear weapon development while at graduate school at
Univ. of Calif. (Berkeley), and acceptance of job at Los Alamos after
failure to qualify for PhD candidacy.
2. Los Alamos
Intense exhilaration from work on new weapon concepts at Los Alamos
from 1949 - 1956. Rationalizations to deal with objections to this
work from wife and mother. Effects of success in work on further
addiction to nuclear weaponry. Development of self confidence and
sense of personal power over global events. Desire for more
recognition than possible for secret work, leading to taking job at
General Atomic to work on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
3. La Jolla
Initial work on inherently safe nuclear reactor. Total absorption with
project Orion for propulsion of space vehicles by nuclear explosions.
Return of addiction to nuclear weaponry via military justification of
Orion to maintain funding, and membership on several high level
hawkish Air Force advisory committees. Shift to work on effects of
military nuclear explosions as financial support of Orion dwindled,
leading to accepting job as Deputy Director of Defense Atomic Support
Agency in the Pentagon, stating in 1964.
4. The Pentagon
About face in attitudes towards nuclear weapons towards the end of two
year exposure, in the Pentagon, to details of the war in Vietnam, the
extent and character of growth of nuclear weapons systems, failure of
arms control and disarmament professionals to make persuasive cases
for sharp changes in military strategy away from dependence on threat
of massive nuclear attack, and lack of correspondence between
information given to the public or to Congress and nuclear realities
of the day. Decision in 1965 to work as a free lance consultant on
opportunities for international control of nuclear energy, starting
with a personal assessment of the International Atomic Energy Agency
in Vienna, Austria.
5. Vienna
Move of family from Washington to Vienna. Initial contacts with
members of the nuclear safeguards staff of the IAEA.
Progress reports to AEC on nuclear safeguards
Relationships with IAEA safeguards staff
Proposal to AEC for book on effective international safeguards system
Work for General Atomic on use of non-destructive assay of nuclear
Formation of International Research and Technology Corporation, and
study of threats of use of nuclear explosives by non-national
organizations, under contract with Stanford Research Institute
IR&T Journal on safeguards
DASA-Princeton conferences on long term effects of nuclear war
TBT paper "Why the War in Vietnam Must Stop," and first public
disclosure, by Richard Rovere, of possibilities of nuclear terrorism,
in his New Yorker piece on the war in Vietnam
EG&G investment in IR&T and return to U.S.
6. IR&T/Washington (1968-76)
Initial IR&T projects -- Safeguards studies, urban transportation
systems, development of steam engine for automobiles
Writing of "The Restoration of the Earth" with Charles Humpstone
Study and writing of "Nuclear Theft--Risks and Safeguards" with Mason
Collaboration with John McPhee on "The Curve of Binding Energy"
NRC contracts on nuclear safeguards, and start of collaboration with
Princeton group
Greenhouse agriculture--assessment for National Science Foundation,
collaborating with Univ. of Arizona's Environmental Research
Frustrations regarding improvement of nuclear safeguards, speaking
tours, and testimony before Congressional committees
7. Princeton (1976-80)
First year, full time - Logistic complexity, Caro's library job in
"Alternative Strategies for Control of Nuclear Power," with Hal
Ideal nuclear power plant, with Princeton class
Collaborations with Feiveson, von Hippel, Williams, Socolow on nuclear
and renewable energy systems
Study of prospects for worldwide use of solar energy, for Rockefeller
Kemeny Commission, esp. changes in TBT attitude towards nuclear power
Princeton--Prudential ice pond projects
8. Damascus, MD Community Energy Projects
Damascus Energy Study--Appropriate Solar Technology Institute
Damascus Energy Savers, Inc.--Church energy auditing project, radon
9. Nova, Inc.
Prudential ENERPLEX project
Expansion of NOVA
Kutters' Cheese Factory Ice Pond
Greenport, Long Island ice ponds for seawater desalination and
purification of contaminated water Hydrogen from solar cells
10. A World Without Nuclear Weapons
Decision in 1985 to do all possible to stimulation total abolition of
nuclear weapons worldwide before 2000. Shift back to working in home/
office. Writing, lectures, testimony before Congress. First and second
trips to Moscow, and brief encounter with Gorbacev. Collaboration with
Soviet, American, and other western scientists on ways to stimulate
and carry out nuclear disarmament.
Project on water purification by partial freezing as example of Lewis
Bohn's "Intensive Constructive Action" to displace nuclear deterrence
as the basis for national security.
Move from Damascus, MD to "farm" in western New York. Agenda for
further action to abolish weapons of mass destruction.


Theodore B. Taylor 10325 Bethesda Church Rd. Damascus, MD. 20872 Tel.
(First draft of first half of a book, and outline of second half,
1. Full Circle
It troubles me deeply that my country is prepared to launch nuclear
weapons that would kill millions of innocent bystanders in a quarrel
between leaders of the governments of the United States and the Soviet
Union. To me, this is preparation for mass murder that cannot be
justified under any conditions. Yet a keystone of my country's defense
policy for 40 years has been to assure that we could perform such an
act of global terrorism, not necessarily only in retaliation to a
nuclear attack of the United States. I want no part of this or any
other policies that require nuclear weapons to carry them out.
I have not always had these strongest of feelings. Yet I am as sure as
I am about anything that they will persist as long as I live. This
conviction comes from now seeing clearly how they have evolved in the
forty- two years since I first heard the words atomic bomb.
This evolutionary path has resembled a circle much more than a
straight line. It has taken many shifts in direction, but has recently
returned to the feelings I had about nuclear weapons for about the
first four years after August, 1945.
Most people were shocked by the simultaneous news of the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima and the atomic bomb test at Alamogordo. I was
mostly embarrassed. I had just gotten a degree in physics at Caltech,
but had never heard of nuclear fission. Several other midshipmen who
had heard the news on the barracks radio at Fort Schuyler in New York
City asked me to explain how such a big explosion could come from such
a small bomb. I couldn't even make up anything credible. Oliver
Selfridge, hardly a model midshipman but a very bright mathematician
from MIT, had picked up some information about nuclear fission before
it was covered by the Manhattan Project's cloak of secrecy, and
instantly became our battalion's expert on the awsome events. I felt
cheated by not being in on what was going on. Oliver went on to become
a prominent authority on artificial intelligence. I started a career
that for some 30 years revolved about nuclear fission. I also started
a series of twistings and turnings trying to fit into and rebel
against the nuclear age.
The first twist started with a letter I wrote home that afternoon. It
was terribly serious, about mankind reaching a turning point, about
the great promises of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, about my
determination never to have anything to do with nuclear weapons. Four
years later I was spending most of my waking hours designing atomic
bombs at Los Alamos, with great enthusiasm.
I spent most of those intervening four years at the University of
California at Berkeley, splitting time between trying to get a PhD in
nuclear physics, working half-time at the University's Radiation
Laboratory, socializing with exhuberant fellow creatures at the "Zoo"
(which outsiders sometimes called International House), and courting
and then starting a family with Caro Arnim.
Soon after my arrival in Berkeley two other graduate students at I-
House and I wrote a proposal for a worldwide strike of nuclear
physicists until the world had worked out arrangements for abolishing
nuclear weapons. We got this to Robert Oppenheimer, who was then
commuting between Berkeley and Caltech. He told us to burn it, lest we
be labelled as Communists. I rapidly lost enthusiasm for the project,
and hardly thought about it for the next thirty years.
A casualty of this diversified life style was my PhD. Soon after Caro
announced she was pregnant I flunked my second preliminary exam for
the degree, which meant I was no longer a candidate. Dreams of
settling down with Caro and some children to teach physics in some
agreeable place vanished. I thought I had no qualifications to do
anything else. Our future looked grim.
My work at the Radiation Laboratory had gone well, however. For three
years I had worked with about a dozen other theoretical physicists for
Robert Serber, one of Oppenheimer's star students. Serber had been at
Berkeley since he left Los Alamos, where he had played a key role in
the development of the atomic bomb; his lectures in April 1943 on how
to go about making an atomic bomb were the first (secret) publication
of the laboratory. A paper on which he, Sidney Fernbach, and I
collaborated become something of a landmark in the theory of nuclear
structure, and Serber made it clear he thought well of the work I had
done in his group. He calmed me down after I failed the prelim, and
said he'd help me find a new job. He called Carson Mark, who had taken
over from Hans Bethe in running the Theoretical Division at Los
Alamos, and recommended me highly. In August of 1949 Mark made me an
offer to work on "problems in neutron deffusion theory" in his
Division, at a salary of $375 a month, nearly four times my present
half time salary at the Radiation Laboratory. The offer was contigent
on my passing the FBI's security clearance procedures, which happened
a few weeks later.
I accepted the job without hesitation. Some friends of ours had shown
us movies taken near Los Alamos during the war, showing notable
physicists-- Fermi, Bethe, and many others-- riding on horseback and
walking on trails in beautiful forests and on spectacular
ridges--hardly the desolate desert around Alamogordo I somehow had
associated with the country around Los Alamos. I had just taken a
course from Serber on neutron diffusion theory, and that bode well for
interesting work. I didn't know whether I was going to be working on
nuclear weapons, and didn't ask.

CHANGE OF HEART Chapter 2 - Los Alamos

I can recall vividly the sense of excited anticipation I felt as Caro,
our four month old daughter Clare, and I drove our overheating 1941
Buick business coupe, with nearly all our belongings, up the
spectacular Route 4 carved out of the cliffs of the mesas in the final
approach to Los Alamos. It was November 1949. Caro was 22 and I was
24. I had no misgivings whatever, nor any inkling of what I was to
find myself doing for the next seven years.
Within 24 hours of our arrival at Los Alamos I was deeply immersed in
the nuclear weapons program. Preliminaries were taken care of with
dispatch, with none of the introductory briefings or reading
assignments I had vaguely expected before I started work. After a
brief but warm welcome by Carson Mark in his office in the wartime
E-Building he introduced me to Jack Smith, with whom I was to share an
office. Jack, with a PhD from Cornell, had been there about a year,
mostly working on ways to improve the predictions of the yields of
nuclear weapons going into stockpile and proposed for future tests.
Jack was a good tutor. By the end of my first afternoon at work he was
showing me how to interpret the IBM computer listings of the progress
of spherical shockwaves in a new design of an implosion system. He
also gave me a brief description of the way he was using neutron
diffusion theory to go from the results of the implosion system
calculations to predictions of the yield from a new weapon design. So
I was, as previously told, to be using that kind of tool, but for
purposes I had never imagined but could have anticipated, knowing full
well before I got there what was Los Alamos' reason for being. Within
the next few weeks I became totally absorbed in my work, with no
misgivings about its purpose or sense of having been misled about the
kind of work I was to do.
Caro had very different feelings about my work, which she expressed
strongly soon after we arrived. Virtually everything I was working on
was classified, and we were all admonished not to discuss anything
classified with members of our family if they weren't cleared. The
"Super," which was what most people called the H-bomb in those days,
was still an unsolved problem and the focus of most of the attention
in T-Division. One morning in December it was announced on our kitchen
radio that President Truman had given the go ahead for a crash program
to develop this much more powerful nuclear weapon. I told Caro I had
wondered when that news was going to come out. She got very angry, and
we had a brief but intense kitchen scene, uninhibited because Clare
was only five months old. I don't recall the words, but I vividly
remember the sound of Caro's expressed anger, something I've heard
only very rarely in our 40 years together. That was the first and last
time at Los Alamos that she told me how she felt about the work I was
now doing. But she and my mother, who was deeply shocked by my working
on bombs, continued to exchange their similar concerns.
I had been wrestling with my own self doubts since I accepted the job.
They were mostly supressed until there was no escaping the stark
reality that I was doing exactly what I had vowed four years earlier I
would never do.
I soon found a way to dispel these doubts, though never Caro's or my
mother's. As Caro can attest, I am highly skilled at rationalizing
what I want to do. What I came up with was this:
We at the Los Alamos laboratory, and perhaps our counterparts in the
Soviet Union, were the world's first line of peacekeepers by making it
absolutely clear that nuclear weapons now made war unthinkable. The
more diversified and powerful the weapons, the less chance there would
ever be another devastating war. But what we had was not enough. We
must must make quite sure that the Russians (or anyone else) would
never get ahead of us sufficiently to think they could fight a nuclear
war and in any sense win. This didn't wash with Caro or my parents,
but the view was reinforced by all my colleagues, the Congress and the
President of the United States, innumerable prominent and powerful
people in government and industry, and an overwhelming majority of the
media. It was about fiveyears before my doubts began to return. I've
since come to believe that they were there all the time, but smothered
by the intensely thrilling nature of my work.
The working environment at Los Alamos was stimulating in countless
ways. E-Building, which housed the Theoretical Division, was ugly and
delapidated, inside an 8 foot high fence topped with barbed wire. But
three doors down the hall from our office was the multi-million dollar
IBM computer system that performed incredibly complicated nuclear
weapon design calculations in incredibly short times. (That system
would be outperformed in speed and overall capacity by the $1,000
Japanese personal computer I have used as a word processor for writing
this book.) I never learned how to program for or operate the Los
Alamos computers. But all that Jack Smith or I had to do to use them
was to give a few numbers to Preston Hammer, who was in charge of the
computing facility, and several weeks later a four inch high pile of
IBM listings of the performance of a new type of implosion system
would be in our office. For years I spent countless hours poring over
such listings, which confirmed expectations or revealed startling
surprises having to do with new conceptual designs of nuclear weapons.
I was never bored by this part of the work, perhaps because I never
quite got over the fascination for the literally astronomically high
pressures, speeds, and densities listed for the deep interiors of
arrangements of plutonium or highly enriched uranium squeezed inward
by thick shells of high explosives. It was hugely satisfying to
present Carson Mark with some astonishing results and hear his "Well
I'll be damned!"
But more awesome than the giant computers and other unique facilities
of the laboratory was the concentration of accessible famous
scientists and their likely young successors. At least in T-Division,
where the conceptual beginnings of new weapons took form, the
organizational structure was minimal. Most office doors were open.
Except for scheduled group meetings, appointments were more the
exception than the rule. No-one in T-Divsion was more than a couple of
minutes away from our office. The Division secretaries were a resource
pool for all of us, not palace guards. If you wanted to talk to
someone the chances were that you could walk in their office and do
so, especially if they thought you might have something interesting to
say. Status among your colleagues generally had more to do with what
you did than your title.
The day I started work the people down the hall included George Gamow,
Stan Ulam, John Reitz, Conrad Longmire, Preston Hammer, Bengt Carlson,
Marshall Rosenbluth, in about that order of distance from our office.
Up the stairs and around a corner were Carson Mark and the T-Division
office secretaries, Edward Teller, Freddy de Hoffmann, Rolf Landshoff,
Nick Metropolis, George Bell. Several offices on both floors were
empty, to be used for accomodating consultants who spent extended
times there, sometimes more than a year. Among these were Hans Bethe,
John von Neumann, Enrico Fermi, Emil Konopinsky, Gregory Breit, Ernest
Courant. Frequent visitors who generally were there for only a few
days included Robert Oppenheimer, Robert Christy, Isidor Rabi, Eugene
Wigner. Soon after the start of the crash program on the Super all the
empty offices were occupied, we shifted to a six day work week, and
the division staff started spilling over into other parts of
E-Building. By the following spring I had gotten to know nearly all of
these people, some of them very well. The only one I had ever met
before going to Los Alamos was Oppenheimer, and that was hardly more
than a handshake. I was nobody's star student.
The general area of work to which I was assigned had to do with
fission bombs, not the thermonuclear Super, which was getting most of
the attention. As it happened, this assignment was fortunate for me,
because there was still a great deal to be done in sharply reducing
the sizes and increasing the efficiencies of fission bombs. Making
major new contributions was relatively easy because the field was so
new, and Jack Smith and I were giving them more concentrated and
steady attention than anyone else. Cream- skimming the fission weapon
field was much easier than solving the problems of igniting the Super,
which stubbornly resisted conception until Teller and Ulam saw the
light about a year and a half later. Even Fermi found himself in one
blind alley after another, for many months. Thousands of pages of IBM
listings said the Super wouldn't work. During this time new types of
fission bombs worked with a vengeance.
Within less than six months of our arrival at Los Alamos my self
confidence and sense of direction, which had shrunk to practically
nothing by the failure at Berkeley, were greater than ever before. The
lack of a PhD was troublesome because it set limits on my salary not
applicable to nearly everyone with whom I worked, and for a time
prevented me from being named a full-fledged staff member who could
attend the large weekly meetings of the Los Alamos staff. But I wasn't
particularly bitter about that.I resisted many suggestions that I go
back to graduate school to get my credential because I was so excited
about what I was doing, and had glimmers of new concepts that needed
to be explored. I was also learning physics that was new to me faster
than I could imagine every doing in graduate school, and getting
direct inspiration from contacts with with a better "faculty" of
physicists and mathematicians than assembled anywhere else in the
My awareness, at least, of conflicts between what I was doing and
Caro's and my parent's convictions faded. I knew my mother was
clipping references to my work from my letters home when she
circulated copies to the rest of the family. (She had proudly
displayed photographs of three of her sons, in uniform, including me,
during World War II). I couldn't talk about my work to Caro, which was
probably just as well. She would sometimes write with some sense of
pride to both our families about my going off in the corner with
Enrico Fermi or Hans Bethe at a party to discuss what I was doing at
the lab, but the subject of my work was generally a no-no between Caro
and me. To our children, four of whom were born while I was working
for Los Alamos, the fenced in E-building became known as "Daddy's work
pen." The never went inside, but they knew I was working on atomic
Los Alamos in those days could be characterized as a town in which the
men were proliferating nuclear bombs and they and their wives were
proliferating children, both inside a big fence. I can recall only
four women who were members of the staff of the laboratory. Most of
the laboratory's work then had to do with nuclear weapons. The average
age in the town was 18. Until about the time we left in 1956 no-one
could enter the town without a pass, and there was an imposing army
tank and a guard tower (both defunct) at the entrance that suggested
the authorities meant business. Cats also proliferated phenomenally.
Their ancestors mostly belonged to the Mark family. Old people were
were rare. If grandparents or in-laws wanted to come and live with
you, they could be put off by saying, sorry, the town in closed to all
except those who work here and their families.
I hardly noticed all this for seven years. I had exciting ideas, the
laboratory had the resources to put them to test and carry through
those that panned out, and I thought what I was doing was of supreme
Although Los Alamos was beginning to branch out in other fields, my
work was exclusively on nuclear weapons, by my own choice. It was in
three categories--refining calculations that had to do with
understanding the measured performance of previous nuclear explosions
(including those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki), predicting
the performance of planned test explosions at the Nevada and Pacific
test sites, and searching for ways to improve fission weapons. The
last was by far the most exciting part of my work, and I had some
trouble focusing as much attention as I should on the first two.
Within about two weeks of my arrival I started keeping a list of
possible improvements. The list grew rapidly, even as I crossed off
ones that didn't pan out or were tested and sometimes incorporated
into new weapons in the stockpile. The list was longest when I left
Los Alamos in 1956.
None of my ideas were fundamentally new, but some of them pressed
extreme basic limits much further than previously. I have always been
attracted by such limits to applications of scientific knowldege to
new devices or processes. What is the smallest, the most efficient,
the largest, the lightest, the cheapest, the simplest device for doing
this or that, given what we know of the laws of nature and the
technological building blocks that have been developed in the past?
And what is it that we really want the most, "we" including those whom
I know are likely to have strong interest in the final product?
Although pushing these limits was not the main focus of the galaxy of
talent assembled at Los Alamos in 1943--their objective was to produce
at least one kind of A-Bomb that was likely to work and could be
dropped from a bomber--informal reports from the Manhattan Project
days were rich sources of ideas that still looked interesting five
years later, but had been either set aside for lack of relevant data,
or forgotten.
Pushing limits to a technology that, even in its earliest form,
represented an increase of more than 1,000 in the destructive force of
transportable explosives was bound to yield spectacular results, and
we had a long way to go. It came as quite a shock to hear Carson Mark
say that the yield of the Nagasaki bomb, which weighed about 10,000
pounds, was equivalent to the complete conversion of only about one
gram of mass into energy. Even taking into account the rather small
fraction of mc2 for a plutonium atom that is converted to energy when
it fissions (roughly 1/1000), we still had a long way to go with
fission bombs. The total weight of fissioned plutonium needed to
produce the explosive energy of the Nagasaki bomb is about 2.5 pounds,
or about 1/4000 the weight of the bomb itself.
Pursuing these limits became an obsession. What is the absolute lower
limit to the total weight of a complete fission explosive? What is the
smallest amount of plutonium or uranium- 235 that can be made to
explode in big or little explosives? How can thermonuclear reactions
of the lightest nuclei be used to feed a fission chain reaction with
extra neutrons that would speed up the fission chain reaction? What is
the optimum time for neutrons to initiate a chain reaction in
plutonium or U-235, to get the largest explosion, and how can that be
done? What is the largest yield that can be produced by a deliverable
fission bomb? What is the smallest possible diameter of a nuclear
weapon that could be fired out of a gun?
Answering these questions required many hours of systematic scanning
of tables of material properties--densities; neutron scattering,
capture, and fission cross sections; measured and calculated critical
masses of plutonium and U-235, alone and mixed with other neutron
scattering materials, surrounded by different reflectors of different
thicknesses; potential energies per pound of various types of high
explosives. This was always exciting, because it kept turning up new
possibilities. One product was a sort of mini-Guinness-book-of-records
that I often referred to when starting a new project.
The other main task in this pursuit of limits was examining
alternative arrangements of high explosives, neutron reflectors,
fissionable materials, and means for initiating a chain reaction for
getting the best possible performance. For implosion type bombs, which
I spent most of my time on, the first test of progress was the
combined results of computer calculations of the progress of an
implosion from the detonation of the high explosive, estimates of the
multiplication rate of neutrons in the assembly after it became
critical, and estimates of the efficiency of the nuclear explosion as
functions of the time when the chain reaction was initiated by a
source of neutrons. The implosion calulations were by far the most
complex, constantly being revised by some of the best hydrodynamicists
and applied mathematicians in the United States. They and the huge IBM
computers did all the hard work, and I got their results several weeks
after the main design features had been specified. For the neutron
multiplication and efficiency calculations we generally used some
fairly simple rules of thumb that had been worked out by Bethe,
Feynman, and Serber during the war. It therefore generally took only a
few months to assess some new design approach on paper, and sometimes
only a few days. Since we were simultaneously looking in several new
directions, there was never a lull in exciting new results.
So there was always much that was new to report to the many prominent
laboratory consultants and visitors when they did their rounds of
asking "What's new?" I came to anticipate these visits with a great
deal of pleasure. Part of that pleasure was the display of keen
interest by such luminaries as Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, John von
Neumann (and many others) in what I was doing. The other was from
observing, first hand, the workings of their awsomely keen minds. Each
visit made me feel greatly enriched and much more capable of getting
on with what I was trying to do. The pleasures of the day-to-day
associations with members of the laboratory staff and consultants
there for extended periods were of the same sort.
My first strong sense of being skillful at this kind of work came in
the spring of 1950, a few months after we arrived. Jack Smith and I
had been working on performance calculations for a new design of the
main stockpile bomb that had been proposed about a year earlier. I
found that several of the questions about its performance could be
isolated and answered separately in a series of nuclear tests with
relatively small yields, rather than depending only on a test of the
device as a whole. Edward Teller was especially enthusiastic about the
proposal, and quickly made arrangements for me to present it to the
senior managers of the laboratory and its consultants. It apparently
never occured to him to question how appropriate it was for someone so
young and new to Los Alamos, with no significant credentials, to
present such a major proposal directly to those in charge. Teller was
like that, directly responsive to what he thought were good and
worthwhile ideas, without a shred of snobbishness. The proposal was
adopted, with some major improvements by various people, and was the
basis for the first series of nuclear tests at the Nevada Proving
Grounds early the following year.
This was the first of a series of roughly one year cycles for most of
the projects I worked on. The cycle would start with the emergence of
some improvement in nuclear weaponry that looked worth trying out and
would end, as far as I was concerned, with comparisons between the
predicted and measured performance of a nuclear test. In between in
was a matter of sorting and selling. Sorting involved weeding out
concepts that did not survive careful scrutiny by appropriate
laboratory experts, not only in T- Division, where the theoretical
performance of new concepts was analyzed, but also in the several
laboratory divisions responsible for fabricating, assembling, and
arranging for testing a new device. Selling involved convincing the
laboratory management to proceed with a project on a schedule geared
to a specific planned test series. After the first series of tests in
Nevada, the laboratory settled down to alternating test series between
the Pacific and the Nevada proving grounds, usually reserving the
Pacific for the larger explosions. At least one, and sometimes two
test series were carried out each year from 1951 through 1958. This
meant that at the time of emergence of something new and worthwhile to
consider testing, the test itself could be part of a series a year or
so later.
There was no set pattern for the emergence of improvements that were
ultimately tested. Although new weapons that eventually appeared in
the stockpile had to meet stringent specifications set outside the
laboratory, most of the new developments were initiated at Los Alamos,
rather than in response to specific requests from the military. The
laboratory's director, Norris Bradbury, had to get authorization from
Washington for each test, but I had the impression this was usually
pro-forma. He would in effect say "Here is something new we have come
up with. Do you want it?" The answer almost invariably was "You bet!"
I'm convinced that the way to make a practical H-bomb would have
emerged even if President Truman had not called for a crash program to
develop it. It's hard to imagine Teller and Ulam, who had spent years
trying to figure out how to make it work, not persevering until they
got the answer. In short, the selling required to get new nuclear
weapons on the national agenda was primarily a process internal to Los
I had complete freedom to work on any new weapon concept I chose. If I
thought it looked worth pursuing further, I could get help from others
in T- Division who knew far more than I how to do some of the needed
calculations. It was also easy to approach people outside of T-
Division who were experts on the metallurgy, high explosive assembly,
and other problems that would have to be solved to go from
calculations and simple sketches to a complete device ready for
testing, and find out whether it was practical for the laboratory to
proceed with a test. If the answer was yes, it didn't necessarily
follow that the test was carried out; the decision whether to proceed
with a test was made by a group of the laboratory's senior managers
that was formally organized as the Fission Weapon Committee about a
year after I started work. The chairman of the FWC was Duncan
MacDougall, who was also the head of the laboratory's GMX (explosives)
Division. I was never a member of the FWC, but attended nearly all its
meetings and often presented the case for proceeding with a new line
of weapon development. I spent almost as much time with MacDougall as
with Carson Mark.
This state of affairs had much to do with my feelings about my
work--in particular, with a sense of extraordinary power over events
of global significance. I came to believe that I knew more about the
potentials for imrpovement of fission bombs and proliferation of their
military uses than anyone in the United States and, I hoped, the
world. Circumstances happened to have placed me in the midst of the
extraordinarily talented people and the needed facilities set up by
our government to assure that the United States maintained supremacy
in the development of nuclear weapons, at a time when dramatic new
possible devlopments were easy to identify, and I had broad assignment
to search for them. Several events in 1950 and early 1951 intensified
these feelings of self importance. Soon after the outbreak of the
Korean War in June, George Gamow and I started focusing attention on
possible tactical uses of nuclear weapons. As the war progressed we
examined various situations where we thought nuclear weapons might be
used to advantage against concentrations of North Korean troops. We
concluded that low yield weapons were most appropriate, especially if
they could be made much lighter and smaller than the strategic weapons
in stockpile. We summed up these findings in an informal paper titled
"What the World Needs is a Good Two Kiloton Bomb." This stirred up
strong interest among people in the Pentagon who were looking for ways
to use nuclear weapons for something besides bombing cities. meetings
with military planners visiting Los Alamos.
In October I was one of a small group of people sent from Los Alamos
to the Pentagon to learn about the perceived needs of the military
establishment for nuclear weapons. We spent a week hearing top secret
briefings about Russian preparedness for overwhelming Western Europe
within a few weeks of a start of an invasion, and about rapid progress
of their buildup of strategic nuclear forces, based on delivery by
one-way bomber flights to the US, since their first test explosion a
year earlier. We also heard about buildup of air defenses in the
Soviet Union and widespread concern that the damage we could do with
our bombers and still small stockpile of atomic bombs would be
insufficient for deterring them from attacking Western Europe. It was
all very depressing and alarming.
Art Sayer and I stayed on in Washington for another five weeks after
the rest of the group returned to Los Alamos. Art was a group leader
in W- Division (W for weapons), also working on development of new
types of weapons. We spend much of that time with compass and
magnifying glass looking at innumerable aerial photographs of Russian
military and industrial complexes, and drawing circles on them with
radii equal to the distances out to which nuclear explosions of
various sizes would cause various levels of damage. Before we arrived
I had taken a first look at pushing the yields of fission weapons up
into the megaton range. Some of the circles were therefore much bigger
than the others, and I can still recall a strong sense of exhilaration
when one of the bigger circles included a much larger number of
targets than circles corresponding the bombs we had in stockpile.
These big circles and the possibility that Los Alamos could develop
such bombs, even if H-bombs turned out to be impossible, caused a lot
of excitement in the Pentagon. It was in the midst of all this that
our second daughter, Kathy, was born in Los Alamos. At that moment I
was morosely drinking beer in the Roger Smith Hotel bar, angry with
myself for having left home at such a time, but still thinking about
the big circles.
China had entered the Korean War during those five weeks, and had
massed some 300,000 troops in what was called the "Iron Triangle" near
Pyongyang just north of the border between North and South Korea. When
I got back to Los Alamos I drew some more big circles centered on the
middle of the Iron Triangle, and concluded that one very large fission
bomb would kill most of the troops, all within about 7 miles of the
explosion. George Gamow and I didn't disavow our previous paper, but
started promoting both types of bombs. This started a new cycle of
sorting, selling, and testing.
By the time of completion of the series of air dropped exploratory
test devices in Nevada the following January my list of new
possibilities to explore had grown to several dozen, partly stimulated
by the successful results of the tests. My only disappointment about
my work was that I was not asked to observe any of those tests, and
had to be satisfied by hanging around the J-Division office
(headquarters of the laboratory organization responsible for planning
and carrying out the test) and pouncing on teletyped messages giving
preliminary results as they came in.
The first nuclear explosion I saw was three months later at Eniwetok
Atoll in April, 1951. It was the culmination of the series that had
started in Nevada, but considered too large for testing there. I was
sent to the Pacific Proving Grounds as part of a small team to make a
quick decision about the choice of the core of a subsequent shot,
depending on the outcome of the first of the new series. That duty
took very little time, and couldn't start until we had some results
from the test. For the few days before and after the shot I therefore
had time to see what was going on in this most impressive,
quasi-military operation. It was all extremely exciting, including
many hours of floating in the lagoon with schnorkel and face mask,
watching countless numbers and varieties of tropical fish so close
that one often touched them.
The explosion was every bit as awsome as I had expected--roughly five
times as big as the one that destroyed Hiroshima. There was much
pre-dawn activity on Perry Island, where the "scientific" (as opposed
to military) headquarters and accomodations were, so there was plenty
of time to get comfortably settled on the beach, straining with
binoculars to see the shot tower about 15 miles away across much of
the lagoon. The countdown started close to dawn.....1 minute...thirty
seconds (put on your dark goggles)...fifteen...four, three, two, one:
instant light, almost blinding through the goggles, and heat that
persisted for a time that seemed interminable. I was sure I was
getting instant sunburn, and the back of my neck felt hot from heat
reflected off the beach house behind us. Goggles came off after a few
seconds. The fireball was still glowing like a setting sun over a
clear horizon, a purple and brown cloud risng to fast that in less
than a minute we had to crane our necks to see the top. I had
forgotten about the shock wave, an surprisingly sharp, loud crack that
broke several martini glasses on the shelf of the beach house bar. The
sight was beautiful at first, in an awesome way, then turned ugly and
seemed threatening as the gray-brown cloud spread and began drifting
towards us. I tried hard to shake off the feelings of exhilaration,
and think about the deeper meanings of all this, without success. It
was just plain thrilling.
After the other observers wandered off to their various jobs for the
day, Jerry Suydam and I lay down on the beach to soak in some sun and
relax. Jerry, also from T-Division, was one of the small group with
nothing to do until we started to get some results in from the test.
Within half an hour we saw much of the cloud from the explosion
directly overhead. At about the same time we heard excited
exclamations from two radiation safety people who were pointing a
gamma-ray counter at the base of one of the drain spouts for the beach
house..."Jesus Christ!..Two hundred R...Hey, bring it over here...500
R!" Their "R" was short for rads per hour. A person getting a whole
body gamma ray dose of 400 rads has a fifty-fifty chance of dying
within a few weeks.
Totally alarmed, Jerry and I ran the few feet to where they were.
There was no mistaking the readings taken a few inches from little
piles of what looked like small beebees accumulating just under the
drain spouts. We heard a rustling sound as these particles settled on
the the corrugated aluminum roof and worked their way, in the fairly
stiff trade wind, to the gutters' downspouts. Our suspicion, confirmed
later, was that these were condensed remnants of the steel tower that
had supported the bomb.
We wasted no time getting to the technical compound, about a quarter
of a mile from the beach house, where there was quite a hubbub. About
a dozen people were lined up waiting to be scanned for traces of
radioactive debris, using a radiation meter that Herb York (then one
of the Los Alamos consultants and subsequently the first director of
the Livermore Laboratory) had set up as soon as there were signs of
fallout on the island. Jerry and I joined the line, and a few minutes
later were shocked to know that our hair, up close, was reading about
10 R per hour. In the next half hour or so we took four or five
showers, with vigorous shampooing, dropping the level several-fold
each time. None of us were wearing film badges for recording our
exposure to radiation. I have no idea how much total radiation we got,
but have never worried about the effects on me later. I have been
frequently upset, however, about the cavalier way in which nuclear
testing went on in those days. The only formal protective action I
remember about the incident was cancellation of the outdoor movie that
I watched five other nuclear tests--one about a year later at the
Nevada Proving grounds, where I achieved some notoriety by lighting a
cigarette with an atomic bomb exploded 12 miles away, with the help of
a small parabolic reflector. I carefully extinguished the cigarette
and saved it for awhile in my desk drawer at Los Alamos. Sometime,
probably in a state of excitement about some new kind of bomb, I must
have smoked it by mistake, because one day it had disappeared. The
other three tests were in the Marshall Islands in the spring of 1956.
One scarcely blew off the top of the supporting tower, and drew some
cheers from those of us at Los Alamos because it had been designed at
Livermore. The last one, though 500 (miles) away from Eniwetok, at
Bikini, was in some ways the most impressive. It was a multi-megaton
H- bomb that lit up the dawn sky like noon for more than a minute.
Although there was no sound, and we were too far away to see the
mushroom cloud, the spectacle left me with a sense of foreboding I
found very hard to shake off. The two years between the start of the
first Nevada test series and the end of 1952 were eventful in the
extreme. At the beginning of this period no-one knew how to make an
H-bomb work, and the prospects were dim. Late in October of 1952 a
thermonuclear explosion nearly 1,000 times bigger than the one that
destroyed Hiroshima left a huge crater where there had been an island
at Eniwetok Atoll. Preparations for that test brought a steady stream
of prominent people to Los Alamos, and also stimulated frictions that
led Edward Teller, who wanted to go even faster, to leave Los Alamos
and establish a second weapons laboratory at Livermore, California.
Although I didn't work on the core of the H-bomb project, I was fully
aware of and excited by what was going on, and the fission bomb
projects I worked on benefitted greatly from the added staff and
illustrious visitors. There were some two dozen test explosions,
ranging in yield from Mike's overwhelming 10 megatons down to a
complete fizzle that accomodated Fermi, who had said a year or so
earlier that we were obviously not pressing the technology far enough,
since we had never had any failures. I worked on all the fission bombs
that were tested during that period--sorting and selling new concepts
and revising predictions in the light of test results. One of the
tests was of the SOB (Super Oralloy Bomb) that had corresponded to the
biggest circles I had drawn on the photographs of Russian targets and
sketches of the Iron Triangle. Its test was something of an
anti-climax, since it followed the H- bomb test.
One of the most fascinating projects of this period was not a nuclear
weapon, but a device that could be usefully incorporated into them.
Its description is still classified. The entire cycle of design,
fabrication, and proof testing was completed at the laboratory itself.
Although Richard Garwin, Carson Mark, and I are named as the inventors
on the patent, it required a considerable joint effort of experts in a
variety of fields, as well as many of the unique facilities at Los
Alamos. One of my most vivid recollections is the image on an
oscilloscope screen of a sudden rise of a green tracing that went off
scale and instantly showed the project had been a success. That test
was about a fifteen minute drive from our house. Norris Bradbury
announced it with great excitement at the laboratory staff meeting the
following day.
One activity related to the bombs involved many of the Los Alamos
residents who were not working at the laboratory. It seemed natural to
expect Los Alamos to be a prime target if nuclear war broke out. A
frequent question was "What do we do if that happens?" My descriptions
to Caro, and sometimes Clare and Kathy, of what might happen to us if
we didn't take shelter or evacuate the town in time were apparently
terrifying, and Caro became a persistent advocate of civil defense.
Along with several dozen other residents, I spent much time exploring
the town's canyons, culverts, and utility tunnels, looking for easily
accessible shelter. We finally decided that rapid evacuation of the
town made much more sense than identifying or building shelters. The
laboratory and AEC officials had come to the same conclusion, with the
result that there were two evacuation tests while we were living
there. Both tests were unrealistic in that the times were
pre-announced. But surpisingly to many, more than 90% of the residents
managed to drive several miles away from any likely ground zeros in
less than 20 minutes from the start of the test. The tests were
officially considered successful enough to warrant placing evacuation
route signs along the main streets. No-one had much to say what would
happen out in that wild country after an actual attack, however.
In the fall of 1952 pressures mounted for me to finish getting a PhD.
I was offered a laboratory fellowship, which amounted to keeping me on
full salary while I was at graduate school. Hans Bethe suggested I go
to Cornell, where he would be my main advisor. I could hardly refuse,
although I was still fearful of a bad performance, and was reluctant
to leave the laboratory for a year and a half when so much was going
Caro, Clare, Kathy, and I arrived in Ithaca early in January 1953 and
returned to Los Alamos in May, 1954, with my degree in hand and a six
month old son Chris. I remember that time as a happy one. Our family
skeleton in the closet had mostly been left behind in Los Alamos,
although I did return for six weeks in the summer of 1953, while Caro
and the girls stayed with her parents in Buffalo, and Bethe's frequent
trips there provided a link with what was going on. Intensive studying
for two months before I took the oral exams for candidacy got me past
the obstacle I had tripped over at Berkeley. My thesis, which was an
extension of work on the optical model of nuclei started with Serber
at Berkeley, proceeded fairly easily. My final oral exam, given by
Bethe and two other members of the faculty, was hardly a star
performance--Bethe, with characteristic kindness, said that most
students who did that well on their thesis did better than I had on
their final exam--but I passed. We immediately returned to Los Alamos,
not because I had formally agreed to do so, but because I was still
very eager to get back to the projects on my ever growing list and
felt an obligation to offer some return for having been supported
through graduate school.
While I was at Cornell there was another type of explosion, the
effects of which are still propagating. Ground zero was the hearing
room of an AEC board of inquiry set up to hear testimony of many
witnesses concerning Robert Oppenheimer's loyalty to the United
States. Although absolved of charges of disloyalty, he was judged to
be a security risk, and his access to secret information was
terminated. Edward Teller played a key role, along with former AEC
Chairman Lewis Strauss and several prominent scientists, in bringing
about those hearings and in affecting the Board's final decision.
Everyone I heard discuss the hearings at Cornell--for months this was
a dominating topic of conversation there--was furious at Teller, as
were an overwhelming majority of the people at Los Alamos. Soon after
I returned from Cornell, Teller spend several weeks at Los Alamos,
setting up individual appointments with many members of the staff,
especially in T- Division, to explain his actions and testimony. I
spent about two hours alone with him. I found none of his arguments
pursuasive, but remember a deep sadness at seeing what was happening
to this person who had been a tremendous source of inspiration to me.
Unlike many of his colleagues, I continued to seek his counsel and
enthusiasm about many subjects afterwards, while always feeling, as I
still do, that he did Oppenheimer a great injustice.
The excitement of work at Los Alamos stayed at a high pitch for the
next year and a half, when concepts that were just a glimmer before we
left for Cornell completed their cycles with spectacular success. What
I think of now as a Pandora's Box remained open but hardly depleted.
We made great progress in the directions of basic extreme limits, but
there remained big jumps not yet taken, and the significant new
possibilities kept multiplying. Out of the box had come Ranger A, B,
E, B2, and F, followed by Greenhouse Dog, Easy, George, and Item,
then, not in the order they appeared, Scorpion, Puny Plutonium (which
Duncan MacDougall insisted on calling "Petite Plutonium), Naked
Freddie, Mike (a deceptively friendly name for the first H-bomb), SOB,
Viper, Scorpion, Bee, Hornet, Wasp, Bussard, Zombie, Hamlet, Thor,
Brock, Davy Crockett, Shrimp (hardly a fitting name for the huge
explosion that resulted), I worked on some important aspect of all of
these, playing a more creative role on some than others. Art Sayer's
group in W-Division provided local friendly competition to T-Division
in the developement of smaller fission bombs. Another dozen or so
tests during this period were of devices I had essentially nothing to
do with. By 1954 Livermore Laboratory had begun to share substantially
in releasing more objects from the box, concentrating at first on
H-bomb developments.
Most of the concepts I worked on found their way into stockpile,
bombs, artillery projectiles, missile warheads, depth charges,
torpedoes--a far broader spectrum of nuclear weapons than existed in
1949. But some of the concepts, though successfully tested, never
appeared in the U. S. stockpile because they didn't fit into U. S.
military plans as they later evolved. I have often wondered if any of
these rejected concepts have been independently pursued by other
countries with objectives different from ours.
Early in 1955 several people started exploring ways that the vast
quantity of neutrons released by an H-bomb explosion could be used to
produce two of the main ingredients of nuclear weapons--plutonium and
tritium--much faster and at much lower cost than at the production
reactors near Hanford, Washington. The basic idea was to surround an H
bomb with a blanket of natural uranium or lithium that would capture
whe neutrons to produce much more plutonium or tritium than originally
present in the H- bomb, and bury the explosion deep enough to contain
the explosion products for subsequent extraction of the valuable
products. John Wheeler, one of the prominent theoretical physicists
who had worked on the form of the H-bomb that worked, proposed placing
the explosives and their blankets deep in the ocean, and capturing the
explosion broducts in huge plastic bags placed on the surface. At
about the same time Fred Reines, who had played prominent roles in the
laboratory in both T-Division and J- Division, had made estimates of
the depths required for containment of explosions of various sizes in
various materials. (There had not yet been any underground nuclear
explosions.) His idea was to use nuclear explosions to produce
artificial reservoirs of very hot rock, similar to some of the hottest
natural geothermal deposits, and extract electric power from turbines
using steam formed by pumping water down to the hot rock. We discussed
the probable results of burying large explosions in ice, and concluded
that several megaton explosions near the bottom of the Greenland or
Antarctic ice caps would be contained by the ice, and the explosion
debris would remain in solution in a large reservoir of water inside a
cavity several hundred feet across. This led to a variation of
Wheeler's idea, which I called MICE, standing for Megaton Ice
Contained Explosion. It's function was not to produce power, but to
outproduce the Hanford reactors dramatically.
John von Neumann, who had just been appointed as of the five
Commissioners of the AEC, took a strong interest in the proposal, and
set up several meetings of appropriate glaciologists, chemists, and
physicists to explore the idea further. From then until we left Los
Alamos I spent about half my time working with great excitement on the
project. When Caro and I started talking seriously about leaving, the
MICE project, including the inspiration from working with von Neumann,
became the strongest single attraction to keep me from leaving. By the
middle of 1956, however, von Neumann had been hospitalized for cancer,
which killed him the following year. MICE died with him.
In the spring of 1956 Caro and I started having long conversations
about our present situation and options for the future, sitting on the
back steps of our four bedroom duplex overlooking a half acre of very
green lawn bordered by ponderosa pines. I was as absorbed in my work
as ever. Our fourth child, Robert, had been born in Los Alamos a year
earlier. Clare and Kathy had started school. We had frequent happy
family times in the magnificent high country close by-- pickniking,
camping, skiing. I was getting five weeks of vacation a year, which
allowed us to visit both our families--in Buffalo and in Mexico
City--and explore much of the United States. The mechanics of living
in this government town were undemanding. An AEC contractor provided
our house, for $84 a month, and looked after any maintainance
problems. We felt secure; I had gotten several big raises since
getting my PhD, and all needed medical services were provided at the
new Los Alamos hospital at no cost to us. We had a superb collection
of classical music on records, supplemented by a local music station.
I had joined a very active little theatre group, and built some of our
furniture at the well equipped shop at the high school.
In spite of all these and other settling influences, however, we both
felt restless and talked more and more of moving. All my work was
secret and, outside a small group of people at Los Alamos, was not, I
felt, being recognized sufficiently. I still had no reservations my
work on the bombs, even though the Korean War had demonstrated, by
more than 2 million casualties, that our bombs had not removed
devastating wars from the human scene. But I was getting interested in
other uses of nuclear energy, and I felt sure I could make major
contributions that did not have to be kept secret. Caro, especially,
but I, too, had misgivings about continuing to raise a family in an
artificial community with such a narrowly focused reason for being.
I didn't start looking for another job; a rapid sequence of events
starting late that spring made it quite clear to both of us what it
should be.
Freddy de Hoffmann had left Los Alamos a few months earlier with a
charter from General Dynamics Corporation to start a new division, to
be located in the San Diego area, which was to be the company's major
entry into the development of nuclear energy. Edward Teller played a
major role in setting up this new enterprise, partly because of his
friendship with John Jay Hopkins, the head of General Dynamics. By the
beginning of the summer of 1956, they had recruited an impressive
group of people, largely from the national laboratories. Among these
were Marshall Rosenbluth, whose work at Los Alamos on weapons and
controlled thermonuclear fusion had dazzled everyone who knew about
it, and Robert Duffield, a nuclear chemist with a well established
reputation. Edward Creutz, a highly respected experimental physicist
who had worked on the Manhattan Project was appointed director of the
new laboratory, and I had a chance to spend some time with him at Los
Alamos while General Atomic was being organized. He and Freddy offered
me a summer consulting job at the new enterprise, complete with a
rented house for our whole family, across the street from the beach at
La Jolla. I accepted the offer with no hesitation, and with great
enthusiasm from Caro.
It was a wonderful summer, and a big turning point for our family. The
bombs were left behind, but the talent assembled at the former
schoolhouse on Point Loma in San Diego rivalled Los Alamos in its
heydays. The enmities caused by the Oppenheimer affair somehow did not
seem to interfere. Edward Teller, Hans Bethe, Glenn Seaborg, Freeman
Dyson, Kenneth Case, Marvin Goldberger, Manson Benedict, Tom Pigford,
Peter Fortesque, and others others who had played important roles in
the development of nuclear energy in the United States and Europe
worked creatively with the small but impressive group of people
already hired as regular employees of General Atomic. Three projects
were formally set up: an inherently safe research reactor that had
been originally suggested as a project by Teller; a nuclear power
plant for merchant ships; and a search for an ideal nuclear electric
power plant. I chose to work on the safe reactor project. A huge
benefit of that choice was working with Freeman Dyson, whom I had
gotten to know slightly at Cornell. That project was the first of many
intense associations with Freeman that are in the top drawer of my
life's chest of treasures.
About half way through the summer it became clear to me and to Caro
that the time to leave Los Alamos had come and the place for me to go
to work was General Atomic. Freddy de Hoffmann and Ed Creutz made an
offer I would have accepted even if the salary had been the same as at
Los Alamos. We started looking for a piece of land on which to build a
house, and I sent a telegram to Carson Mark saying I had taken the
offer and hoped to finish up loose ends at Los Alamos in the fall. We
returned for 2 1/2 months, and left early in November for San Diego in
a new station wagon with our four children and a Mark cat. The cat,
perhaps with a longing to go back, climbed the highest branch of a big
cottonwood in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where we stopped for a picnic.
Not even the local fire department could get it down. Sadly, but not
looking back, we left it there. The bombs and the cat were left
behind, but the bombs reappeared later in La Jolla, in different

CHANGE OF HEART Chapter 3 - La Jolla

The next year was an extension of the good times and exhilarating work
of the summer. We rented the same house in La Jolla Shores where we
had spent the summer, bought a one acre lot near the top of the La
Jolla hills, and drew up plans for a dream house. When its high cost
forced us to aboandon these plans, we bought a less pretentious in the
La Jolla foothils, where we lived happily for six years.
I spent most of my working time on the safe reactor project, looking
for extremes of inherent safety, simplicity, and low cost. Dyson made
several visits and extended his analyses of the "warm neutron effect"
that was the key to the reactor's safety. This was inherent in the
nature of the zirconium hydride-enriched uranium fuel and the
arrangement for cooling the core with water, rather than any
mechanical safety devices. If anything went wrong, and the fuel
started to heat up excessively, the neutrons maintained the chain
reaction less efficiently, and and the reactor power would
automatically stabilize at a safe level. Marshall Rosenbluth made some
important modifications to the theory, and these were tested
experimentally by a group at Brookhaven National Laboratory, under the
guidance of Andy MacReynolds of General Atomic. Martin Stern and I
worked on the details of the reactor design with Stan Koutz, who was
the engineer in charge of the project. Brian Dunne was responsible for
setting up and operating an experimental mockup of the facility in one
of the first buildings of the new General Atomic laboratory being
built in La Jolla. The research reactor that emerged from all this was
called the TRIGA, which stood for training- research-isotope
production reactor- General Atomic. The time from the start of the
safe reactor project to initial operation of the first TRIGA at the
new laboratory facilities was less than 18 months. There are now x
TRIGA reactors operating in y countries. During that period I returned
several times to Los Alamos as a consultant, catching up on
developments in the weapons program and making a few suggestions as
follow-ups of some of the work I had done there. But my attention had
almost entirely shifted to peaceful applications of nuclear energy.
The most exciting time of my life started early the morning of October
4, 1957, the day after the Russians placed Sputnik I in orbit. The
news had prompted me to think as hard a I could about the most
impressive space project the United States might carry out. I set as a
goal the exploration of the solar system with spacecraft capable of
taking people as far as the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, and
bringing them back to earth. The engines obviously had to be big and
powerful to supply the needed energy. The most powerful and compact
sources of energy available were nuclear explosives. Stan Ulam had
recognized this ten years earlier, and had done some rudimentary
estimates of the numbers of atomic bombs needed to propel payloads to
the speeds needed for following ballistic trajectories half way around
the world. The question was whether an arrangement could be found for
getting to much higher speeds and protecting a space ship and its crew
from the radiation and the shocks from a series of nuclear explosions
close to the vehicle. Project Orion started at General Atomic the
following day, with the objective of answering that question. Within a
year it looked as though the answer was probably "yes."
Freeman Dyson was one of the first people I talked to about the
project. In the spring of 1958 he decided to take a year's leave from
the Institute for Advanced Study to work full time on Orion. Freeman
was an internationally known theoretical physicist, so his association
with the project was a huge help in establishing its technical
credibility. But more than that, Freeman's uncanny skill at sorting
out and clarifying complex situations kept revealing the main problems
and their solutions. Within less than a year Freeman and I and a few
others were seriously planning expeditions to Mars, Ganymede, Titan,
and dozens of other distant worlds. We designed Orion spaceships for
carrying more than 100 explorers, along with vehicles for descending
from orbit to the surfaces of these worlds, and returning to the
mother ship for continuing explorations or returning home. Planning
such expeditions was so exciting that it was sometimes difficult to
focus attention on the mundane tasks organizing the technical work,
convincing others that Orion was likely to be practical, and keeping
the project financed. What Orion could do was much more interesting to
me than how it worked, nearly the reverse situation from my work on
the bombs. I never had any interst in flying bombers or launching
missiles, but I desperately wanted to be a member of the first Orion
The project proceeded vigorously through 1962, started going into a
coma in 1963, and finally died, with some twitching signs of life, in
1965. The cause of Orion's death was generally diagnosed as the
Limited Test Ban Treaty, which forbade nuclear explosions except
underground. The actual cause was the reluctance of a few people in
Washington to "running before we have learned to walk."
The nearly eight years when Orion was at my prime focus were also the
most unstable in my search for accomodation to the nuclear age. The
project started with no attention to any possible military uses. But
it was "born classified" because relevant details about the nuclear
explosives were secret. NASA was not established until late 1958, so
initial major funding of the project was under a contract between the
Defense Department's new Advanced Research Projects Agency and General
Atomic, starting in July 1958. A year later the government authority
and funding for the project was transferred to the Air Force. NASA
participated only peripherally in the project for the next several
years, largely because no-one in NASA amangement knew much about
nuclear explosives, while many people in the Air Force did. One of the
consequences of this was that I felt forced to conceive and promote
military uses of Orion to help the Air Force justify spending money on
the project.
This was a time of vigorous debate about military uses of space, other
than the generally accepted use of satellites for surveillance,
communications, and navigation. Orion, with its huge payloads--ranging
from hundreds to thousands of tons--and capacity for maneuvering in
space, looked to some like the way for the United States to establish
overwhelming military superiority over the Soviet Union. To others it
had no potential military role whatever. For several years I was
caught in the middle of this debate, wanting more than anything else
for Orion to open a peaceful new era of human exploration and vigorous
cooperation between nations, yet, to keep the project alive,
half-heartedly supporting Air Force claims that, as the Strategic Air
Command's General Thomas Powers put it after a briefing at General
Atomic, "Whoever builds Orion will control the world."
The nuclear explosives that propelled Orion spaceships were quite
different from any explosives that had been developed for military
purposes. Their function was to transfer momentum to the ship without
damaging it. We quickly found that the explosions could not be
contained in any kind of a chamber. They therefore had to be
directional, propelling inert material upwards towards the bottom of
the ship, which was a flat, circular plate we called the pusher. A two
stage shock absorber system was mounted on top of the pusher, to
spread out the transfer of momentum to the more fragile parts of the
structure that contained the nuclear explosives and the spacecraft
itself, acting in much the same way as an automobile's tires and shock
absorbers. The explosives had to be designed in such a way that the
imnpact of inert material moving upward from each explosion was spread
out enough to avoid shocks that would damage the shock absorber
system. The temperatures of the inert material stagnating against the
pusher had to be low enough to avoid excessive vaporization and
melting of the pusher surface, but high enough (in the vicinity of
100,000oC) to correspond to much higher propellant velocities than can
be achieved in chemical rockets. Furthermore, we had to place
materials around the nuclear explosive charges in such ways as to
suppress the release of neutrons and gamma rays towards the ship, to
avoid overheating and excessive needs for shielding to protect the
crew and sensitive parts of the space ship. Designing to meet all
these conditions required using the computer programs developed at Los
Alamos for designing nuclear weapons, with some major modifications.
We were fortunate to hire Burt Freeman from Los Alamos' T-Division to
take charge of this key part of the work on Orion. Getting government
permission to use the computer programs at General Atomic was not
easy, but we succeeded.
This approach to the design of highly specialized nuclear explosives
revealed new possibilities for nuclear weapons in which the attention
was on the enhancement or suppression of selected effects of their
explosions, rather than simply the yield, weight, and size of a
warhead or bomb. Morris Scharff, who had come to the Orion project
from the Livermore weapons laboratory, investigated some of these new
possibilities, especially for use in ballistic missile defense
systems, and led an Air Force supported program along these lines at
General Atomic. All of us working on Orion wee enthusiastic about this
work. I found myself re- immersed in the nuclear weaponry I though had
been left behind at Los Alamos.
At the urging of the Air Force's Captain Donald Mixson, who been
designated as Orion's project officer, we built two models of Orion.
The first was a flying test model three feet in diameter that we
succesfully flew at the aboandoned Atlas missile test site at San
Diego's Point Loma. It used five successive 2 1/2 pound high
explosives to propel itself up to about 250 feet. This test model is
now on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The other
model, about eight feet high, was a wooden model of Orion converted
into a space battleship that had the nuclear fire power equal to that
of the entire Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile system, and
was also bristling with Moe Scharff's new types of defensive nuclear
weapons. The model was put on display in a classified room in the
Pentagon for several months, and later shown to President Kennedy when
he toured Vandenberg Air Force Base not long after he took office.
Kennedy was appalled, as were many who saw it in Washington. I
concluded that making that model was a serious mistake, something that
Dyson had seen from the very beginning.
A very different view of Orion emerged in 1959, when Niels Bohr was
invited to General Atomic for the dedication of its impressive new
laboratory complex in La Jolla. Bohr became aware of Orion and, even
though the project details were still classified, quickly convinced
himself that it made sense. He saw it as a way to combine global
nuclear disarmament with a cooperative project with the Soviet Union
to explore the solar system. Marshall Rosenbluth and I spent almost an
entire night discussing this possibility with Bohr in his room at the
Del Charro Motel. He also sadly recounted his unsuccessful efforts,
starting in 1941, to keep nuclear energy from being developed for
military purposes. His promotion of this grand vision of Orion was cut
short by his declining health and his death in 1962. The cold war
climate then was such that our efforts give life to this vision
These tensions were increased by another series of related events that
started in the fall of 1960. Trevor Gardner was appointed by General
Curtis LeMay, then the Air Force's Chief of Staff, to be chairman of
what was called the Air Force Space Study Committee, charged with
developing a detailed plan for a U. S. space program. Gardner had been
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for R&D and, together with
General Bernard Schriever and John von Neumann, had played a key role
in starting the U. S. intercontinental ballistic missile program.
Rumors about Orion had reached Gardner. Soon after he set up the
committee he invited me to his office in Pasadena, California, where
he ran a small firm, Hycon, to manufacture photographic surveillance
equipment. He knew more than I expected about Orion, and we
immediately hit it off. By the end of our meeting he had asked me to
chair a working sub-committee of his Space Study Committee, to provide
the bulk of the technical basis for a long range space program plan. I
accepted, even though the time pressures of Orion were already
extreme. Shortly afterward we arranged for the Los Alamos Study Group,
as the subcommittee was called, to gather for about two months in a
set of offices set aside for us at Los Alamos, to prepare our
technical report to the main committee. We had a three day break at
Christmas, but otherwise we worked without letup most of December and
January. The group included Robert Truax, Bruno Augenstein, Amrom
Katz, Richard Garwin, Keith Brueckner, Robert Mathias, Robert
Buckheim, John Barnes, Morris Scharff, Thomas Burford, Addison
Rothrock, Ralph Cooper, and Robert Fox, representing high technical
expertise in most fields of space technology, drawn from aerospace
industries, government laboratories, and universities.
We presented our report to the main committee at a 13 hour meeting on
January 18, 1960, at Air Force facilities near the Los Angeles
airport. Members of the committee besides Trevor Gardner included John
Tuckey, Stan Ulam, Harold Brown, William Foster, Randolph Lovelace,
Arthur Kantrowitz, William Baker, Charles Townes, Charles Lauritsen,
Frank McClure, and Conrad Longmire, collectively representing more of
a management orientation than the Los Alamos Study Group. I presented
an overview of findings and proposals, which included establishing a
lunar base by 1967, and was followed by reports on specialized topics
by members of the group, including military space strategy, men vs.
machines in space, anti- satellite systems, nuclear explosions in
space, Orion, nuclear rockets, ion-propulsion, ultra high temperature
materials, orbital rendezvous techniques--all enough to daze the
hardiest experienced committeman. Dick Garwin wound up our
presentation by one statement: "Briefings for people who can read
should be abolished."
It took another four months of gruelling work in Los Angeles and
Washington to produce the report as it was delivered to General LeMay
and Robert McNamara. LeMay thought it was wonderful; McNamara and
Harold Brown, who had to resign from the committee to become Director
of Defense Research and Engineering, thought it was excessively
militaristic and provocative. The report was classified top secret,
and its distribution severely limited. It had no discernable effect on
the U. S. space program, military or otherwise. We had rejected the
method that was used for the Apollo landings on the moon as
unsuitable, compared with several other alternatives, including Orion.
I spent a great deal of time with Trevor Gardner during that period,
and we became close friends. He viewed the Soviet Union as a
relentless threat to the United States and Europe, and argued in the
strongest terms for making sure we kept well ahead of them in the
development of new military technology. Yet, at the same time, he was
a strong advocate of arms control, and had much to do with the
establishment of the U. S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in
1960. (William Foster, one of the members of the Gardner Committee,
was named by President Kennedy as the first head of that agency.)
Trev's pet project, which was never pursued, was an arms control
surveillance satellite jointly operated by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
Harrison Brown, whom Gardner had asked for help in preparing the
committee report had seriously suggested that henceforth all satellite
surveillance photographs of both countries (photographs that were and
still are super- secret) be delivered once a week to the United
Nations headquarters, for study by anyone who so desired. Gardner
applauded Brown's proposal, but it never made it into the report.
Trevor Gardner was a doer, always direct, skilled at cutting red tape,
yet with an amazing breadth of knowledge and interests. He seemed to
know everbody worth knowing who had anything to contribute to national
security in its broadest sense. He was an alcoholic who had taken
control of the disease, drinking innumerable cups of black coffee when
the rest of us were drinking martinis. (He once remarked, while
looking directly at his attractive Swedish wife as she tasted a bottle
of wine she had ordered for the rest of us at a table in Harvey's
Restaurant, that he had traded liquor for sex.) His self discipline
was evident in the way he tirelessly devoted himself to causes he
believed in, even against heavy odds. For these and other reasons I
joined forces with him again in the fall of 1961.
The United States and the Soviet Union had declared an informal
moratorium on all nuclear testing in November of 1958. On September 1,
1961 the Soviet Union broke the moratorium with a 150 kiloton
explosion in the atmosphere, and followed it with fifty more tests by
the end of the first week of November. One of these was a monstruous
explosion with a yield of nearly 60 megatons, by far the biggest
nuclear explosion ever detonated. The U.S. followed suit, starting
September 15, but only with ten low yield underground tests in Nevada
by the end of the year. Thoroughly alarmed by this turn of events,
Trevor Gardner, General Schriever, and Vincent Ford (a close associate
of Gardner and Schriever, whom I had also gotten to know and admire
during the hectic months of the Space Study Committee deliberations)
stimulated General LeMay to set up a committee with the cumbersome
name "Committee on the Assessment of the Implications of the
Resumption of Nuclear Testing by the Soviet Union."
Retired General Nathan Twining was appointed as committee chairman,
with Simon Ramo as vice chairman. Gardner engineered my being named
assistant vice chairman (with no clarification of just what that title
meant). Other members of what instantly was called the Twining
Committee included Trevor Gardner, Edward Teller, Stan Ulam, John
Foster, retired General James Doolittle, David Griggs, and Hans Bethe.
The committee first met on ? and submitted its report to the Air Force
and the White House on ? , 1982. In between was a thoroughly hectic
time for everyone, and some exhibitions of animosity that made deep
impressions on me.
The organizers and most of the members of the Twining Committee
considered it a major triumph to have convinced Hans Bethe to become a
member. He had strongly opposed the development of the H-bomb before
Teller and Ulam had discovered how to make it work, was actively
pressing for arms control agreements between the U. S. and the U. S.
S. R., and had publicly disagreed with Teller, especially regarding
the Oppenheimer hearings. Most of the other members of the committee
thoroughly distrusted the Soviet Union and pressed without letup for
achieving undisputed military superiority over them. They therefore
viewed Bethe's participation as a way to convince a wider audience of
the validity of the committee's findings, which most of the other
members expected to call for a massive increase in U. S. efforts on
nuclear weapon development. I came to regret my own involvement, for
whatever effect it may have had, in convincing Bethe to join the
This regret took full force at one of the meetings of the Committee.
Bethe argued strongly against a crash program on high altitude nuclear
testing, and wanted to moderate some of the strong rhetoric in an
early draft of the report. David Griggs, who had testified even more
severely than Teller against Oppenheimer, verbally attacked Bethe for
his reluctance about developing the H-bomb. The discussion got so
heated that the meeting broke up. My sympathies were all with Bethe,
and I felt an anger towards Griggs that never dissipated.
Some compromises were finally reached with Bethe's efforts to moderate
the report, and he agreed to sign it. Shortly after that he and I had
a long discussion about all this at General Atomic, which he
frequently visited as a consultant. He had decided to withdraw his
endorsement of the Twining Committee's report. I was greatly relieved
when he did this. Everyone else on the committee was furious.
Soon afterward I had a particularly tense experience. President
Kennedy had appointed what was called "The 205 Committee" to advise
him about actions that should be taken by the United States as a
result of the breaking of the moratorium on nuclear tests. The
chairman of this small committee was Herbert Scoville, Jr., who was
Technical Director of the CIA, and it included Jerome Wiesner, who was
Kennedy's Science Advisor. The Twining Committee was asked to present
its findings to the White House committee at a meeting scheduled at
the Executive Office Building. Such a meeting was expected to be
tense, because it had become clear that the Twining report was much
more alarming than the findings of the 205 Committee. I happened to be
in Washington at the time, along with General Twining and several
other members of his Committee, but not including Trevor Gardner.
Twining had a long standing previous committment that conflicted with
the White House meeting. By the time he and I met in a Pentagon office
to decide who would make the presentation to the White House
committee, all the other Twining Committee members had left town. Both
of us suspected that some of the departures were hasty retreats from
an anticipated battle. As it turned out I was the only Twining
Committee member present at the meeting the following day, and spent
about an hour presenting our findings to the 205 Committee. I knew
that Wiesner and Scoville, particularly, disagreed strongly with most
of them. But the meeting went reasonably smoothly, with a few
technical questions and answers, but no noticeable confrontation.
There was no significant aftermath that I'm aware of, the Twining
Committee disbanded, and, as far as I know, it's report had no
noticeable impact on future events. I flew back to San Diego
determined not to allow any future diversions to interfere with my
work on Orion. I did keep in fairly close touch with Trevor Gardner
until a heart attack in the bathroom of his Georgetown
home-in-Washington killed him in 1963. I was a very sad pall bearer at
his funeral.
The Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 showed how close the world
was to the brink of nuclear war. I was in Washington, trying to
sustain financing of Orion. Caro, who had persistenly pressed for our
building a fallout shelter at our La Jolla home, packed our Corvair
van with camping gear and food, and was about to head for her aunt's
and uncle's ranch in central California with our five children, when
Kruschev backed off and ordered that the Russian missiles be removed
from Cuba. Further plans for a fallout shelter kept slipping, and we
never built one, but we were both strong advocates of a serious civil
defense effort.
Productive technical work on Orion started tapering off in 1962 for
lack of a long term committment to finance the project. Practically
the entire Air Force was pressing for turning it into a major program,
but NASA, which was then putting most of its resources into the Apollo
Program, was reluctant to fund more than mission studies, and the Air
Force pressure for the project was resisted by the civilian management
of the Defense Department. Since much of our work on Orion had to do
with gaining deeper understanding of the effects of nuclear
explosions, our group of about 40 people got more and more involved in
theoretical studies of the effects of explosions of nuclear weapons at
high altitudes and in space, a field that had been largely ignored and
was becoming increasingly important. Freeman Dyson maintained strong
interest in Orion, and visited General Atomic frequently after his
first intensive year there, but could not commit himself fully to a
project with such an uncertain future. Most of the time I spent on
Orion after its first three years was preparing for meetings with a
total of a dozen government related committees that formally reviewed
the project. None of these committees recommended abandoning the
project or revealed any insurmountable technical difficulties, but
none of them really helped to shift the project into high gear. The
most interesting details of the project remained classified.
Agreement was reached in 1963 between the United States and the Soviet
Union on a limited test ban treaty forbidding any nuclear tests in the
atmosphere or in space. Our response was to work out a detailed three
year plan for fairly large scale proof testing of the concept, using
underground nuclear tests for development of the needed nuclear
explosives, non-nuclear means we had developed for duplicating the
high temperature and pressure effects of the nuclear explosions on the
vehicle, and mechanical and high explosive tests of prototypes of
complete vehicles. We further proposed that succesful completion of
this new phase of the project could be followed by exactly what Niels
Bohr had proposed--a joint effort with the Soviet Union and other
interested countries to use Orion for exploration of the solar system.
We made a formal proposal in June l964 (?) for joint support of this
three year program by the NASA, the AEC, and the Defense Department.
An uprooting event for our family of seven, now including our five
year old son Jeffrey, started while we were having a liesurely pancake
breakfast at a beautiful campsite by the San Joaquin River in the
Sierras, a good six mile walk from the nearest road. A young man in a
business suit, carrying a large manila envelope, staggered into our
and rather ceremoniously handed me the envelope. He had seen two
rattlesnakes, torn his pants, and was thoroughly bushed. The letter
was from General Harold Donnelly, Director of the Defense Atomic
Support Agency (DASA) in the Pentagon, describing a new position that
had been established for a Deputy Director of DASA for scientific
activities, and asking if I would be interested in taking it. I was
non-plussed. We gave the young man some pancakes, and he trudged back,
warily, down the path back to the road. I put the whole affair out of
my mind until we got back to La Jolla a week later.
DASA was the principal government agency responsible for research on
the effects of nuclear weapons, and was a major source of funds that
supported work at General Atomic work that had evolved from the Orion
project. In the course of that work I had become alarmed at finding
how little anyone understood about many of the effects of nuclear
explosions. We had thousands of nuclear weapons in the stockpile, yet
only the most rudimentary knowledge of what would happen if any of
them exploded. I had become very critical of the way DASA had handled
the weapons effects program, which was a hodgepodge of research
projects with little coordination or efforts to set logical
priorities. In spite of my initial reaction that I shouldn't consider
taking the job, it seemed irrsponsible not to.
I felt trapped by a situation in which I was being told, in effect,
"If you don't like the way it's working, come and fix it." There was
also the possibility that by working within the government I might be
able to encourage a decision to proceed with our proposed three year
Orion program. My friends at General Atomic all urged me to take the
job. Two weeks later I went to Washington to size up the
situation--meeting with General Donnelly and some of the senior DASA
staff (all of whom were military officers), and with Harold Brown, who
was then Director of Defense Research and Engineering. I came back
thinking I would probably take the job.
None of us liked the prospect of uprooting ourselves from La Jolla and
moving to Washington. Clare and Kathy were happily going to Bishop's
School in La Jolla, and all three boys had made close friends in
school and the neighborhood. We were all having frequent wonderful
times in the Sierras, even in winter, and spending the peak of the
wildflower season each spring at a ranch in central California that
belonged to Caro's aunt and uncle. The La Jolla beaches and tidepools
were a constant attraction all year. Caro was getting ready to apply
to graduate school at San Diego State College. She had invested much
hard work in planting and tending the gardens around our house. Except
for Caro's immediate family, most of our close friends and relatives,
including my mother, lived within a few hours'drive, or less, of our
home. Christmas and Thanksgiving had become times for extended family
gatherings at our home.
I was still thoroughly excited by working at General Atomic, which had
become a major national resource. At least as many stars of science
and engineering frequently visited the laboratory as at Los Alamos.
The salary offer at DASA, which was the highest allowable for civil
service employees, was about half my income from General Atomic. I had
several options on General Dynamics stock which would have to be
cashed in with no tax advantage over ordinary income, since I wanted
to be certain of no financial conflicts of interest in awarding DASA
contracts to General Atomic, where some of the most important work on
nuclear weapons effects was going on. The windowless offices in the
basement floor of the Pentagon were a far cry from the campus-like
arrangements of offices and laboratories at General Atomic.
Nevertheless we did move to Washington in October with all connections
with La Jolla severed, including our house. We spent our first night
in the Washington area in a motel in Rockville, all crying our hearts
out, and thoroughly shaken by the wail of an air raid siren gone
beserk. I have never had such a strong feeling of having made a bad
choice, and wished it could all be undone.

CHANGE OF HEART Chapter 4 - The Pentagon

For the next two years I was again totally immersed in nuclear
weaponry, but this time close to the end of the weapon cycles instead
of at the beginning. DASA had two main responsibilities, and was
correspondingly organized into two directorates. As Deputy Director
(Scientific)--which was my formal title--I was in charge of the
agency's theoretical and experimental programs related to the effects
of nuclear weapons, including underground tests in Nevada and
preparations for resumption of atmospheric and space tests in case the
Limited Test Ban Treaty was abrogated. Army Major General ? , as
Deputy Director (Operations), was responsible for maintainance of the
U. S. nuclear weapons stockpile sites and administrative aspects of
the agency as a whole. We both reported directly to "Sam" Donnelly,
who was an Air Force Lieutenant General. He used the same office from
which General Groves had directed the Manhattan Project. As a result
of the DASA re-organization, I had direct line authority over the
military officers responsible for each of the weapons effects
programs, even though I was a civilian. The reorganization had also
added six other civilian management positions; recruiting for these
was high on the list of my initial tasks. This did not generally sit
well with the military officers they would be supervising. I was
assigned a very capable Navy Captain, George Cattermole, who actually
carried out most of the management details I was responsible for. He
took care of practically everything in the foot or so high pile of
paper that appeared in my in-box each day. It took a while, but I
finally got used to signing documents, sometimes an inch thick,
without reading them.
At first I thought my pushing from within the government to get the
three year Orion demonstration program underway was paying off. For
about three weeks early in 1965 informal agreement had been reached
between the Defense Department, NASA, and the AEC to go ahead with the
project, within the limitations of the test ban. That all came apart,
however, when NASA management decided that Orion, if it were ever
developed, should be preceded by successful use of nuclear rockets,
and they were having their hands full trying to keep that program
going. When NASA backed off from Orion, the other two agencies quickly
followed, and the project was officially dead by the middle of 1965.
Most of the people who had been working on Orion continued to work on
projects related to the effects of nuclear weapons, however, and that
effort in the San Diego area expanded considerably as several groups
split off from General Atomic and started their own enterprises.
What I viewed as my only major accomplishment at DASA was recruiting a
strong civilian technical team that greatly improved the effectiveness
of the work on nuclear weapon effects, starting with Norman F. Wikner,
who had been heavily involved in the related work at General Atomic.
Fred came to DASA in July 1965, and took over my job when I left the
following year.
Frustration and alarm characterized much of the rest of my activity in
DASA. I had several ideas about ways to use very low yield underground
nuclear explosions to simulate several types of effects of much larger
explosions, but didn't have the time or facilities to work them out in
detail, and the DASA staff were not equipped to do that either. DASA
contractors had their own fish to fry. I couldn't get John Foster, who
took over from Harold Brown as Director of Defense Research and
Engineering and was several levels above me in the Pentagon hierarchy,
to take the proposals seriously. Some other ideas had the same fate. I
concluded that middle management in a big organization was not a good
place for me to accomplish anything significant. As I found out more
about the internal workings of the Defense Department I became more
and more alarmed about the pervasive tendency for people to withold
disturbing information from others, especially their superiors,
Congress, and the public. One of the guiding principles seemed to be:
Don't tell your boss about a problem until you have taken care of it
or have a solution to propose. I witnessed examples of this over and
over again, sometimes outside the Defense Department.
An underground test in Nevada vented a considerable amount of
radioactive material into the atmosphere. When Sam Donnelly asked the
DASA officer in charge of the program how things had gone the morning
of the test, the answer was "No problem," even though a few minutes
earlier he had read a teletyped message from the test site with some
alarming numbers about the venting. The last to hear about that
episode were sheep farmers downwind from the site, after the Russians
had picked up traces of the radioactive material thousands of miles
away and the story had hit the newspapers.
One of my jobs was to brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff periodically on
the weapons effects program. I was asked to do this when we had known
for more than a year that the guidance systems of our Minuteman and
Polaris missiles were extremely vulnerable to gamma rays from nuclear
explosions at great distances. When I presented the Joint Chiefs with
numbers that indicated how a rudimentary ballistic missile defense
system, of the sort that was beginning to be deployed by the Soviet
Union, might effectively neutralize our missiles, the chairman, Army
General Abrams(?) turned pale and asked his colleagues if this was so.
He got ambiguous answers. This was one of the best kept secrets of the
Air Force and the Navy. I was never sure whether their Chiefs of Staff
knew it that morning.
The same subject came up several months later, at secret hearings
before the Military Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Atomic
Energy. The chairman, Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson had called for an
update by the Defense Department on where things stood between us and
the Russians in the missile offense-defense arena. The witnesses were
Cyrus Vance, the Deputy Secretary of Defense standing in for Robert
McNamara, who was unavailable; Air Force General Wheeler, the new
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Daniel Fink, standing in for John
Foster, who couldn't make it either; Jack Howard, Assistant to the
Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy; and General Donnelly, with me
there to assist him if needed during a question period. The basic
message from all the witnesses was that we were on top of things, and
there was no chance the Soviets could effectively neutralize our
nuclear deterrent forces, now or in the forseeable future. Sam
Donnelly didn't comment on this, but simply summed up DASA's
activities. He then turned to me and asked if I had anything to add.
It was after noon, and everyone in the hearing room seemed restless to
break for lunch. Nevertheless I took a deep breath and said I thought
there were some important matters that had not been discussed. For
about the next ten minutes I summarized the same information about the
vulnarability of Minuteman and Polaris I had presented to the Joint
Chiefs. I'll never forget the riveting stares from Scoop Jackson and
Strom Thurmond as I went through this. When I finished, they and
several other members of the Subcommittee asked several questions that
indicated this was all news to them. When Scoop banged the gavel to
close the meeting, I got several icy stares from people who had sat
through the hearings. But others came over, shook my hand, and said
how glad they were I had sounded off. Someone handed me a note from
Senator Thurmond, asking me to call him to set up a meeting as soon as
possible. In the car on the way back to the Pentagon, Sam remarked, in
a friendly way, "If I had known you were going to sound off like that,
I wouldn't have brought you along." The following noon I joined Jack
Stempler, who was Counsel for the Defense Deparment, at a table in the
small dining room used by civilian officials in the Pentagon. He
grinned at me and said, "The Secretary wants to see you about your
performance at the hearings yesterday." He then amiably patted my knee
and said, "I'm just pulling your leg." In both the short and the long
run, no reprisals, no meeting with Senator Thurmond, business as
usual. I think I would have felt better if I had been severely
A hotly debated issue while I was at DASA was whether or not to extend
the Limited Test Ban Treaty to include underground tests, in a
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. I was not only opposed to this, but
would have been glad if we resumed testing in the atmosphere, which we
were prepared to do at short notice. My reasons had to do with our
lack of knowledge of the effects of nuclear explosions, rather than
further opportunities for increasing the yield-to- weight ratios of
nuclear weapons. It was possible to use underground tests to get some
information related to the effects of nuclear explosions in the upper
atmosphere or space, but these tests took a great deal of time and
money, and gave us only small fractions of the data we needed to
assure our weapons could penetrate enemy defenses. Without any more
tests serious questions would remain about the vulnerability of many
parts of our strategic nuclear forces to nuclear first strikes by the
Soviet Union. I was worried that the Soviets had gotten answers to
many of these questions from their atmospheric and space tests between
their resumption of tests in 1961 and their last test before the
Limited Test Ban Treaty, at the end of 1962. Proponents of the
comprehensive treaty argued that there was nothing to be lost by
agreeing to it, since nuclear weapons technology had reached a plateau
set by basic physical limits. I knew this to be far from correct,
wrote many secret memoranda about why, and was thoroughly frustrated
because this could not be discussed publicly, while the "plateau"
argument was widely publicized and believed. I still tend to be wary
of official or media statements about nuclear weaponry, having been
exposed to so many that I have known, without question, were either
false or very misleading.
The main focus of the Pentagon while I was there was the war in
Vietnam, which escalated considerably during those two years. Whatever
remnants that had remained of my belief that nuclear weapons were
preventing major wars disappeared when we started intensive bombing of
military installations in North Vietnam early in 1965. Although I knew
of no official consideration of our using nuclear weapons in Vietnam,
I frequently heard military officers and civilians in the Defense
Department say that we should, as General LeMay put it, "Bomb them
back into the Stone Age." Such talk thoroughly alarmed me, and had
much to do with the major shift in my feelings about nuclear weaponry
that developed rapidly before I left the Pentagon.
In April 1965 I was one of the five recipients of the AEC's annual
Ernest O. Lawrence Award at a ceremony in Washington. The citation was
"For outstanding contributions to the design of nuclear weapons and
for his significant role in the development of the TRIGA research
reactor." My mother, who was too far away to attend the ceremony,
seemed to take pride in the award, but always left out the first
phrase in the citation when writing to others about it. I was glad to
get the award and the $5,000 that went with it, but, by then, would
have been happier if it had been only for contributions to the
peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Soon afterward I found myself thinking about international controls of
nuclear energy aimed at assuring its use for peaceful purposes only.
Part of the reason for this was that my job required commenting on
draft proposals on arms control prepared by the U. S. Arms Control and
Disarmament Agency. I found these proposals too narrowly focused on
measures to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons to countries
that did not yet have them and on proposals that I thought could have
only minor effects on the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the
U.S.S.R. So I started making detailed outlines of the needed parts of
a system of international safeguards against further development of
the destructive uses of nuclear energy by PYanyonePY. These outlines
brought several questions to mind: Why is it that people have only
worried about national nuclear weapon proliferation? How about
sub-national groups, such as terrorists or other criminals? Was it
credible that such groups could make atomic bombs if they somehow
managed to get the needed nuclear weapon materials--highly enriched
uranium or plutonium? Where and how might they get these materials?
Was it conceivable that a black market in the materials might develop,
supplied by theft or diversion from military or civilian nuclear
facilities or transport vehicles? What might such groups do with one
or more nuclear explosives, whether relatively crude ones they had
made themselves, or complete weapons stolen outright from military
stockpiles? I was dismayed to find no evidence that these questions
were getting any attention.
By mid-spring of 1966 I decided to focus on the problems and
opportunities related to international safeguards against the use of
nuclear materials for destructive uses, whether by governments or by
sub- national groups. The logical place to do this was Vienna, the
location of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But I was
leery of joining another beaurocratic organization, after my
experience in the Defense Department, and started looking for some way
to support our family in Vienna while maintaining the freedom to go
about my work however I saw fit. I wanted to be close to the IAEA, but
not one of its employees. After several months of unsuccessful
attempts to get foundation or other private financial support for
studying international safeguards in Vienna, Commissioner Ramey of the
AEC worked out an arrangement for me to go to Vienna for a few months
as a consultant to the AEC and the U.S. Mission to the IAEA, to study
ways of making the IAEA's nuclear safeguards more effective. The
details of this arrangement were worked out by mid-August, and I
submitted my resignation from DASA effective the first of September.
The AEC then arranged for me to visit several civilian nuclear
installations in the Northeastern U. S., to help me get oriented for
my new work.
Before going on this trip I had written an informal unclassified paper
with the title "Notes on Criminal and Terrorist Uses of Nuclear
Explosives," as a way of collecting my preliminary thoughts about such
possibilities. I was therefore especially interested in the safeguards
against theft of plutonium or highly enriched uranium from the nuclear
facilities I visited. I was deeply shocked by what I found at the two
facilities that had significant quantities of these materials. At
Nuclear Fuel Services' commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in
West Valley, New York several containers with separated plutonium
nitrate solution, enough in the aggregate for at least two atomic
bombs, were in a small shack a few feet from an ordinary chain link
fence and more than 100 yards from the plant entrance, where the
"guard" had no weapon of any kind. At United Nuclear Corporation's
uranium fuel fabrication plant in New Haven, Connecticut, the physical
security protection of enough metallic, nearly pure uranium-235 for a
dozen or so atomic bombs was no greater than at the West Valley plant
I had visited the day before. No-one at either plant seemed concerned
about this, since they couldn't imagine anyone wanting to steal these
materials which, they believed, would take something on the scale of
the Manhattan Project to incorporate into atomic bombs. I informally
reported these concerns to several people at the AEC headquarters, but
was too pressed by preparations for our family to move to Vienna to do
anything else about them.
Our moving to Vienna, as a family of seven (and two wire haired
terriers), required taking some big risks. My arrangement with the AEC
was for day-to-day consulting, at a rate roughly equivalent to my DASA
salary. The only guarantee about the length of this arrangement was
that it could not be for more than 130 days, the equivalent of working
full time for six months. The AEC covered only my travel expenses, not
those of the rest of the family or the costs of moving our furniture.
We would be on our own in finding a place to live. Although I was
still pursuing several possible other sources of income after the AEC
consulting contract ran out, these were all tenuous. We had enough
savings from our time in La Jolla to pay for the move and sustain us
for a couple of months with no income, but that was it. But the
biggest risk was that any work I did on nuclear safeguards would have
no significant effect on the IAEA or the AEC, and the whole venture
would turn out to be a waste of time and practically all our financial
resources. In spite of all this, Caro and the children all supported
the plan with great enthusiasm. None of us had ever been in Europe. It
was the ideal time for us to live abroad. Clare was still in high
school and Jeffery, now 7 years old, could be expected to remember the
experience. To top it off, Caro and I could think of no country in the
world we would rather get to know than Austria. The children felt the
same, having seen "The Sound of Music" over and over again earlier
that year.

CHANGE OF HEART Chapter 5 - Vienna

From the moment we landed at the Vienna airport the afternoon of
September 3, 1966 until now, some twenty years later, none of us have
had the slightest regrets about the move, and we all think of the next
two years as a high point in our family life. For me, that period
completed a total release, which started about mid-way through my time
at the Pentagon, from an addiction to nuclear weaponry.
It took us six weeks, living in several different "pensions," to find
the house we settled into for the rest of our stay in Vienna. In spite
of atrocious plumbing and a severe landlord whose Wienerisch was
unintellegible on the telephone, we were very happy living in this
Tyrolean style house a short walk from the Vienna Woods. The children
all went to the American- Canadian International School, where they
could learn German but didn't need it for their other classes.
By Christmas I had no doubts that my work on nuclear safeguards was
worthwhile, and I became determined to find some way to continue
working in Vienna after support as an AEC consultnt ran out. I did
much of my work at home, with considerable help from Caro in typing my
monthly reports to the AEC and reacting to ideas as they came up. But
my main sources of information were IAEA emplyees to whom I had been
introduced by officials of the U. S. Mission to the Agency, where I
also had been provided an office. As I got to know some of the key
people in the Agency's Safeguards Division, and they began to
understand what I was trying to do as an interested outsider, the
frequency and intensity of my meetings with them increased. (At the
official social gatherings of people from the Agency and the national
missions to which I was occasionally invited, my status in Vienna was
a source of puzzlement to people I met for the first time. I got used
to reactions from people I was introduced to, especially Russians,
along the following lines: "When I meet an American in Vienna who is
not employed by the Agency or a branch of his country's foreign
service, I assume he works for the CIA." They usually laughed, and I
laughed and said they were wrong.)
The Agency's Swedish Director General, Sigvard Ecklund, was very
friendly gave no indication of doubting my expresed reasons for coming
to Vienna. The same was true of the Inspector General, Allan McKnight,
an Australian who was in overall charge of the Agency's nuclear
safeguards activities, and Slovoban Nakicenovic, a Yugoslav who
directed the Safeguards Division. But I felt closest to matters of
greatest interest to me in conversations with five members of the
staff of the Safeguards Division: Vladimir Shmelev, a Russian; Ben
Sanders, a Dutchman; Ben Sharpe, an Englishman; Carlos Buchler, an
Argentine; and an American, Frank Arsenault. As we got to know each
other confidences grew, partly because I had no official status, and
could express myself freely to them or any of their bosses at the
Agency. As time went by more and more of these conversations took
place over dinner at one of the restaurants near the Agency's
headquarters on Vienna's Inner Ring, sometimes just two of us,
sometimes more, often late into the night. I gave them copies of all
my reports as they were written, partly to get their reactions to my
perceptions of what was going on and what was not that related to
improving the effectiveness of safeguards against the abuse of nuclear
Vladimir Shmelev, a reactor physicist from Moscow who was serving his
second tour of duty with the Agency, was interesting to me not only
because he was the only Russian I knew then, but because he was
totally devoted to his work on new techniques for making safeguards
more effective. We became close friends, including exchanging
invitations to dinner at our homes, and expressing views about many
subjects besides nuclear safeguards.

Outline of Remainder of Book
5. Vienna (Cont.)
Progress reports to AEC on nuclear safeguards
Relationships with IAEA safeguards staff
Proposal to AEC for book on effective international safeguards system
Work for General Atomic on use of non-destructive assay of nuclear
Formation of International Research and Technology Corporation, and
study of threats of use of nuclear explosives by non-national
organizations, under contract with Stanford Research Institute
IR&T Journal on safeguards
DASA-Princeton conferences on long term effects of nuclear war
TBT paper "Why the War in Vietnam Must Stop," and first public
disclosure, by Richard Rovere, of possibilities of nuclear terrorism,
in his New Yorker piece on the war in Vietnam
EG&G investment in IR&T and return to U.S.
6. IR&T/Washington (1968-76)
Initial IR&T projects -- Safeguards studies, urban transportation
systems, development of steam engine for automobiles
Writing of "The Restoration of the Earth" with Charles Humpstone
Study and writing of "Nuclear Theft--Risks and Safeguards" with Mason
Collaboration with John McPhee on "The Curve of Binding Energy"
NRC contracts on nuclear safeguards, and start of collaboration with
Princeton group
Greenhouse agriculture--assessment for National Science Foundation,
collaborating with Univ. of Arizona's Environmental Research
Laboratory Frustrations regarding improvement of nuclear safeguards,
speaking tours, and testimony before Congressional committees
7. Princeton (1976-80)
First year, full time - Logistic complexity, Caro's library job in
"Alternative Strategies for Control of Nuclear Power," with Hal
Ideal nuclear power plant, with Princeton class
Collaborations with Feiveson, von Hippel, Williams, Socolow on nuclear
and renewable energy systems
Study of prospects for worldwide use of solar energy, for Rockefeller
Kemeny Commission, esp. changes in TBT attitude towards nuclear power
Princeton--Prudential ice pond projects
8. Damascus Community Energy Projects
Damascus Energy Study--Appropriate Solar Technology Institute
Damascus Energy Savers, Inc.--Church energy auditing project, radon
9. Nova, Inc.
Prudential ENERPLEX project
Expansion of NOVA
Kutters' Cheese Factory Ice Pond
Greenport, Long Island ice ponds for seawater desalination and
purification of contaminated water
Hydrogen from solar cells
10. Lessons Learned
A summing up of present convictions about nuclear weapons, nuclear
power, appropriate other technologies, and where they came from