Oral History Transcript — Dr. Jules Gueron
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Interview with Dr. Jules Gueron
Jules Gueron; April 15, 1978
ABSTRACT: Conducted to discuss a draft of Weart’s book, Scientists in Power. Much of the time is spent on minor textual comments, but there are also extended remarks and reminiscences; French science in the 1930s, in particular Gueron’s career in physical chemistry, the rise of the Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique (CNRS), and the relations of Jean Perrin’s circle; the chain reaction work of Frederic Joliot, Lew Kowarski, and Hans von Halban in France, 1939-1940, and with Halban Kowarski in England and Canada, 1941-1945, with emphasis on political relationships; and the French Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique (CEA) from 1946 through the 1950s; in particular, contacts with industry, personal relations, Joliot’s Communism, and steps towards the nuclear bomb. A number of other technical and political matters involving French scientists 1930-1960 are touched on.
Weart:Let me just check the recording. Is this recording, no something is the matter... there ok, it's recording... I should say for the tape recorder, we're resuming the next day, which is April 15th...
Gueron:Ok yes... we already mentioned...
Weart:Oh, about Cogniot.
Gueron:You see of course you have in this town two rather different categories of people. You have the silver spoon boys, you have the people from the clan, and to some extent the silver spoon boys were also playboys. It doesn't mean that people like Halban and Goldschmidt could not be extremely serious, extremely hard working, extremely purposeful, but they were fundamentally playboys in that... they chose.
Weart:They chose to do it.
Gueron:They simply refused to do things which were not of primary interest to them. This was menial tasks; this was good enough for others. When they had chosen to do something they did it, but they had this sort of lordly attitude that things are good for me and things are good for others.
Gueron:It's a very fundamental thing you see.
Weart:That's very interesting, yes... true. Page 169, why indium?
Gueron:The case seems to me somewhat analog to the case of indium.
Weart:Oh I don't make clear what's happening there. It's not clear to me either why [???] thought it was...
Gueron:You see, I can't see the point of indium here you see, and here you just give a reference without...
Weart:Ok, I'll try to make that more clear.
Gueron:Except that this scene...
Gueron:This other note mentions something about an isomerism case in case of indium. Does this mean that they were imagining that they had to deal with a case of nuclear isomerism?
Weart:Yes I'll try to explain a little more clearly. Chapter 6 note 27... oh I see note 28 is skipped somewhere... ok thank you. Page 181... Well it says it's a question of how you talk about it. They question whether they should [???] a nuclear [???] this a quantum mechanical effect in any case. So it's little difficult to describe in one word... Past the nucleus. Page 183. Cross section of uranium for neutrons is simply...
Gueron:No it's not a problem; the cross section is really physically an area.
Weart:Oh ok so I should say it measures the probability rather than it is the probability... it's a good point... with atoms diffusing in solutions or gases. Page 184.
Gueron:I would say rather reacting. You see, the point is that the general theory of chain reactions did exist. But... what does this mean? [blinking]
Weart:Oh it's blinking. Ok.
Gueron:You see, the theory existed. It was not... In physical chemistry, in the works of Hinschelwood, Semenov and company, it was not couched in terms of cross sections, but in terms of mean free path, which is...
Gueron:But neither of these people had the slightest idea that this existed. And later on, I don't know why the specialists never were called in. I was the only the chemical-kineticist in.
Weart:And that was more or less by accident.
Gueron:Yes. Hinschelwood, as far as I know, was never approached.
Weart:Interesting. So when did they become aware of this theory, they never did become aware of the physical chemistry?
Gueron:I told them.
Weart:You told them, I see.
Gueron:But I was not a theoretician myself. It's really very surprising, this foreign language system into fields of science.
Weart:Oh I see, that they didn't speak each other's language. How far did the theory go? Did it go to the extent of being able to...
Gueron:The whole idea of critical mass.
Weart:Of critical mass?
Gueron:You see the volume to surface ratio for gaseous branching chain reactions, the minimum size of an explosive crystallite; all this was becoming commonplace in physics and chemistry.
Weart:I see, I see... ok that's the same point there. Page 185.
Weart:Yes, I haven't mentioned uranium 235 yet, that's right.
Gueron:And in fact at this stage it was not clarified, it's only later.
Gueron:It was easy, as I said.
Weart:For a chemist?
Weart:To make the separation?
Gueron:Yes. There was this fortunate specific reaction of uranyl ions in double acetate, and in a crystalline form and therefore practically no absorption. This was chemically an easy job.
Gueron:The only trick was this Szilard-Chalmers which everyone overlooked. But in the purely chemical sense it was nothing.
Gueron:Yes, you see, you have said a few pages earlier that all these people were familiar with the general theory of diffusion.
Weart:I don't say it quite that strongly.
Gueron:You have said it quite clearly. And here you show how strange it was to them and how they were molded in the beam image.
Weart:I see, which is more close to the truth.
Gueron:You see the physical chemists were working with chaos. The nuclear physicists were working with particles, with beams. So there is something...
Weart:T o be changed back there when we talked about it before.
Gueron:Yes, you see, then here there is this particular error, but as I said yesterday, this overlooking the Szilard-Chalmers effect, and therefore the systematic under-evaluation by a factor 2 or more of the capture cross section of 238...
Weart:For slow neutrons.
Gueron:Yes, for slow neutrons... put everything out because it introduced a fundamental inconsistency. You see they could not reconcile their integral experiments, with the, let's say, the four factors formula, because they overestimated the f, because they underestimated åc.
Gueron:Semenov-Hinschelwood. The chemical chain reaction theory.
Weart:How is this spelled by the way?
Weart:Semenov. I see. They could just have looked it up in a text.
Gueron:Yes. It was all there. At that time, I don't know whether, I haven't gone to the text of the papers. But the dense metal, nobody knew anything about the metal at that time.
Weart:You mean as to how dense it would be and so forth.
Gueron:It was known that it would be dense, but up to that time I don't think any solid, any molded piece of metal had ever been prepared.
Weart:I'm not sure; I think very small quantities had been prepared.
Gueron:I think Peligot had prepared, long before, small amounts, but he had obtained mostly in pulverulent methods. The point is that uranium is so easily oxidized, when you produce it, except under the conditions we know now, you get small grains which get such a resistant oxide skin that the droplets are like solids and they don't fuse.
Gueron:So I think you should check or mention here that the dense metal may be an issue.
Weart:The dense metal, if it could be obtained. Page 212. Page 217. It's not exactly.
Gueron:There may be cadmium in it.
Weart:But it's not cadmium.
Gueron:Well, probably you have the whole budget but... I'm not sure you are not overdoing it a bit.
Weart:Overdoing the size of Joliot's budget you mean?
Gueron:No, the exceptional size of these sums.
Weart:Oh I see. Compared to the laboratories?
Gueron:Yes. It's just a feeling; I have no figures to quote. Simply you see at that time I was nothing and when I asked Laugier for 15 000 francs...
Weart:He went along. Page 226.
Gueron:It's not; you see this split was all through everything in France.
Weart:The political split?
Gueron:Yes. The appeasers and the fighters.
Weart:Went through every party.
Gueron:Yes. It was not only the radicals and the socialists. It was really a wide open split, all over.
Weart:I see, so to single out the radicals and the socialists...
Weart:I see. It's page 228...
Gueron:Except the communists. Then they would shift as a block.
Weart:Yes. Page 229.
Gueron:I would simply cut off "found.”
Weart:I see. It's always mixed in uranium ore.
Gueron:It's necessarily there you see. If you say found it may mean that it's an accident. Here again.
Weart:The question of measuring the cross sections. This is page 241. Magnan?
Weart:I don't know about that.
Gueron:Well, you mention Magnan later on, you see. The nickname for Magnan was titane fission, because he pretended that had discovered the fission of titanium. But you see this shows really how lots of these people, who were nuclear scientists by trade, didn't understand kinetics. You see, for a nuclear physicist to imagine that he could have discovered the fission of titanium, which is just at the top of the masses defect curve, is really showing a complete...
Weart:I had no idea that he had even suggested that, that's funny. By the way did you know Constantin Schulawski. He did a patent on...
Gueron:No I don't know him, but he was, if not a friend, a familiar of the Perrin and there is no question that he took out, independently of all this, a patent for liquid-metal-cooled reactors.
Weart:Whatever became of Schulawski, does anybody know... nobody seems to know what happened to him.
Gueron:[Francis] Perrin should know.
Weart:I should have asked him. He was a friend of the family, that sort of a thing; did he work in their lab?
Gueron:I don't know exactly, but they had some connection. Maybe he was among the followers, you know, adorators of the Jean Perrin.
Gueron:We may come back to this.
Weart:There is Kowarski's statement on page 265.
Gueron:Yes but it's a fact that they were very crude in theory. And very late in the day, far into '42, Halban never understood the exponential experiments of Fermi. Even with Placzeck at his elbow.
Weart:It's not easy to understand, it takes a while to work...
Gueron:You need diffusion theory.
Gueron:You see, I remember Halban coming back from a trip to the US, when we were already in Cambridge flooded by the fortnightly reports from the Metallurgical Lab.
Weart:Oh, did he get those?
Gueron:Oh yes we got them. And we were trying to make Halban and the others understand that if they wanted to negotiate they had to do it right away. We were overwhelmingly beaten. The initial advance simply disappeared by the hour. And Halban haughtily replied "yes yes they are working a lot but we have the simplicity of the spherical symmetry.”
Weart:Of spherical symmetry. I see.
Gueron:He simply did not understand. And Kowarski, who had more intuition, but who never could integrate a first-order differential equation, was also out of his depth, while in his qualitative intuitive way he played by subtly with qx and qe.
Weart:I see, but of course neither one of them came anywhere near something like the "age" theory.
Weart:I don't think anyone else... the Germans never came anywhere near to Fermi in the way they analyzed their experiments.
Gueron:No. The Germans never went anywhere at all. Mister Jungh is a public danger. I call his book the junk book. And he's at the present time spreading more junk about environmental problems.
Weart:Yes I understand he is writing an anti-nuclear book. Page 269, confusion is possible... I might make it seem that they were- Joliot-Curie, Jean Perrin, Langevin were fellow travelers. You're right, I must be careful of that. Because they certainly were not at that time... I'm glad you point out these subtle points that could be misread. Let me attach a note before you follow. On page 699 I had "tout.”
Gueron:I'm not sure that Bachelet was the director of the Arcueil annex.
Weart:I'll have to check that... not important anyway. Page 276...
Gueron:Yes with larger amounts of uranium, a higher ratio of uranium to hydrogen.
Weart:I see. Do I have it the wrong way around? Ok. I'll check that.
Gueron:Yes. I think that it would be rather increasing ratios of hydrogen to uranium you see because it was easier to have a moist paste than to have a [???]. So I guess that the natural way to, the line of least resistance would be to start with a rather compact moist oxide.
Weart:And to add more water to it.
Gueron:Yes... I'm not sure.
Weart:Ok I'll check that. Page 291.
Gueron:Yes, it's always the same you see. As they expected a much bigger effect, and they had — they did not question their capture cross section, then they put everything on the resonance. Really you see, it was a small thing but it pervaded the whole image.
Gueron:And in the case of these samples, according to the ideas of the time, there was no fission. Therefore we didn't go through the purification. We just measured and corrected for the 23 minute decay. In some cases, I found more 239 in this purely resonant-activated sample than in those which had been chemically processed. Therefore it was obvious that something...
Weart:... something was lost...
Gueron:There was a loss in the chemistry.
Gueron:And from then it was very easy.
Weart:It followed very quickly.
Gueron:So you might check, I don't know whether there was something in the note.
Weart:Yes, I know where that goes to... I'll check on it.
Gueron:I remember one day I was walking with Kowarski in Cambridge shortly after I had joined and he was expatiating on the four-factor formula and so on and so on and so forth; and lumping to improve the resonance effect. And I told him "Yes of course, and in the same way you improve the fast fission factor.” He jumped and said: "Who told you that?" I said "Nobody told me. It's obvious." He said: "Truth out of the babe's mouth. It took us months to figure that out. And you [???] .”
Weart:Chapter 10. Dautry.
Gueron:It was not the National Rail Service, it was not national at the time.
Weart:That's very true you're right.
Gueron:And he made his name not by getting it back on its feet after the First World War, but...
Weart:First he... I'm sorry, go ahead... building it during the war.
Gueron:Yes. He was the one you see who in 17-18 built the transverse line running parallel to the front in a record time and in incredible conditions. This is what...
Weart:What made his name?
Weart:Ok I'll change that. Definitely. Page 300. About the German program.
Gueron:I don't think it ever was a major plot.
Weart:That they didn't have enough heavy water. They still wouldn't have gone very far. I see your point.
Gueron:You see there is one German report from Paris that we got in '44 from the Alsos mission. You see, the reports were sent back to all the labs, including the Montreal lab. And there was one report on the famous incident when they started a reaction between heavy water and powdered uranium metal.
Gueron:And you see what was really to me very revealing of the conditions they were working under. This happened, and it started to heat up, to fume and to boil. And Dapel very carefully relates... Then, after they had analyzed the question a number of times: should we point it to the notice of Heisenberg. Yes, they decided they should. But he had started this seminar. So they waited for the seminar to finish. And my reaction at the time was "Gosh. If it had happened here, in thirty seconds I would have jumped to Cockroft's office” and he would have been there and I would have hardly have to knock on the door. But not wait three hours for the seminar to finish. This to me was typical of the difference. For them it was some by-product.
Weart:I see... wait until he finishes his seminar, it's not that important...
Gueron:In this particular instance they lost something like half their heavy water and practically spoiled all the fuel, tens of kilos of uranium powder they had. And mind you they only had uranium powder.
Weart:Page 322. I don't know what they expected to get, certainly they weren't going to get a ton of pure metal from metal hydrides that year.
Weart:Gedon [???] was not that old at that time?
Weart:Ok. Page 328. Page 339 heavy water again. Page 344. Once again. That Peierls [???] could have known, or should have known about this critical mass already.
Gueron:Yes. This is a true ex post facto.
Weart:That they couldn't have built an isotope separation plant in 1940.
Gueron:Well, this certainly. But at the time they did not feel I think hampered by lack of resources. Especially as their calculations were overoptimistic always because of the same reason. They really imagined that they would have an operating machine like this.
Weart:I see... it's 349. Page 350.
Gueron:Well, it depends. When you say centralization, of course the reader will understand organic administrative structure. In fact it was nothing like that. It was simply the clannish system.
Weart:Yes I see... ok.
Gueron:Because practically there was nuclear physics nowhere else. A little in Lyon, with Thibault. A little cosmic rays with Leprince Ringuet. But people would not have been interested in such trivial things as the development of fission. It's a matter of nuance. Well, it's a small matter of coherence. You speak I think of 530 cubes of one cubic decimeter, of one litre, so that makes one ton.
Weart:And Halban said they had several tons. Well I think Halban was wrong and that he was misremembering. This note on page 715, maybe it's not even worth saying that.
Weart:I see the point.
Gueron:I have a number of things, and I think it would be better if I say a few things disconnected from the text and we'll find them back in the text later on.
Gueron:The main points are the relationship of Halban and Kowarski, with the French authorities, in particular with the Free French. It is clear that they took it upon themselves to say that in England they were France. And, perhaps helped with the influence of Labarthe, perhaps a little with Laugier, who either had to choose to join De Gaulle, or had come into opposition with him, and of course the British might have been embarrassed, if they had put themselves, and what (water[???]) they had to bring, in the French Forces. But the deliberate avoidance at this stage of making any link with the French Forces is something which cannot be bypassed in a book like yours. You simply don't...
Weart:I see your point.
Gueron:You simply by-passed the whole thing, and politically it is of the first importance. After that they more or less formally joined the Rapkine mission, but this was years later.
Weart:It was much later... yes.
Gueron:And meanwhile I was the only one to have some inkling about it but I was not involved at the time. I know that occasionally I told Kowarski that I thought this was a mistake. Then when I joined, they had to have formally the agreement of the Free French because I was in the organization and I had to be officially put at the disposal of the group.
Weart:When did you join by the way? Immediately after you got to England?
Gueron:No, it was in December '41, at the time of the first expansion. And then, when we were transferred to Canada, because of all the trouble that had existed before, then I wanted a change of status. That is, I had been detached to the British and during, in England, I was paid by the DSIR, but when going to Canada, I formally asked to be there in my capacity as a member of the Free French Forces, paid by the French and so on. And this led to an exchange of letters, which I don't have here. My archives are not in as good order as Kowarski's. But which are mentioned although somewhat elusively in Margaret Gowing's book. This was the first formal exchange of letters between the British and the French on the subject. Giving a sort of general, broad imprecise recognition. But, of course one cannot reconstruct things, but it is a fact that it was a deliberate attitude and action of Kowarski and Halban not to join, and I think this was a political act of the first importance.
Weart:Did you ever discuss it with them?
Weart:Why did they say they had not joined? Don't know. No.
Gueron:That's obvious, but they couldn't say it. You see, this is all linked with the general outlook about the war. Of course De Gaulle was a general, and we were not particularly favorable to generals, all of us. The situation was different but I can give you by the way of analogy another thing you see. I think early in July '40 there was created an Association des francais de Grande-Bretagne. The main points of the statutes were that could be members of the Association only those Frenchmen who were residents of the United Kingdom before May ‘40; the implication was obvious you see. When the Germans come, you have to distinguish between those who can be just shot and those who are legitimate. Well, years after, the Association des francais de Grande Bretagne welcomed all the Free French and coped out to De Gaulle, but at the time you had to be very careful to separate the grain and the chaff, the franctireurs, who could be summarily shot, and the good, legitimate bourgeois. And there was something of that in Halban and Kowarski's attitude.
Weart:That they were above all that so to speak. They were what, that they were more legitimately there somehow than the Free French?
Gueron:Yes. They are subservient you see. We'll come to extensions of that because at one time at the peak of the Halban-Kowarski fight in England, I thought that the only way to keep both of them into place and also to preserve the French interests, would be to have Joliot arrive. And at that time I went to see Andre‚ Philip who was Commissaire … l'Intirieur in the Free French cabinet. [???] I explained to Philip the situation, how damaging it was to have the two main Frenchmen at loggerheads in front of the British; how it was damaging for future French interests that the Free French [???] was completely out of the scene, and that one way might be to bring Joliot out, at last, because then he would have the authority both over the two grandes coquettes and vis… vis the British scientists. And I remember very well Philip telling me "I see. Joliot was number I don't know how much on our list of people to extract. After what you tell me he is first." Of course I could not record that at the time in any paper. This was really highly irregular as towards the British. I could not record it in any personal note and after the war, a number of years later, I wrote to Philip, reminding him of this and asking him whether he had any records of this in his notes or any recollection of it. And he answered me that he had no recollection and that all his personal papers had been lost because when he came back from Algiers to France in '45 or in '44 the crate containing his personal papers had been accidentally dumped over-board when unloading in Marseilles [this loss of government archives is also mentioned in Cordier's "Jean Moulin", volume 3]. So the episode can only be vouched for by my personal recollection. It cannot be substantiated by any material.
Weart:Well Biquard does record in his book that Joliot was approached by people who wanted him to go outside, to leave France in order to take part in scientific work abroad so. Did you ever talk to Joliot about it, whether he was approached?
Gueron:Yes, but Joliot was very hazy about this, you see. And I also showed him, at a time when it had not been made public, the exchange of letters about my joining to Canada, between the Tube Alloys and the Free French Forces. And Joliot said "Oh that's very interesting, can you give me this set of papers?" so I told him ok, that's my only copy and here they are for you but give them back to me. You could not xerox at that time. He never gave them back to me. By chance I found a spare copy and I have it somewhere buried in my archives. But that shows you the sensitivity you see and how there were plenty of things which people didn't like to say very much. But you see all this question of the involvement or non-involvement of the Free French, at the time, with the self-assumption by Halban and Kowarski, because at that time they were in full agreement on that, of French sovereignty, is not something you can just bypass. There was something very deliberate.
Weart:All right, I'll take note of that, you're quite right.
Gueron:So that's one of the major points. We shall find it recurrently along the text, but it's really something focal to my mind.
Weart:I accept that.
Gueron:An incident shows how the British and Americans were sensitive about this. When we had established the Montreal lab and when the protocol of exchange with the Metallurgical lab was drawn, I was refused access to the Metallurgical lab because I was a Free French employee. I had of course access to all the reports; I was not barred from the visits of the Metallurgical lab people to Montreal. But I was not authorized to visit Chicago.
Weart:Ok, I see.
Gueron:So you see, these were, of course it is not important per se. But it shows that the political implications of all these things were perceived very early. Of course, probably the British were very happy that Halban and Kowarski took this stand. Maybe they encouraged it, I don't know exactly. But nevertheless, it is a political act.
Gueron:Another thing which will come somewhat repeatedly is the genuine politically motivated misinterpretation of the American expansion by Halban. I had talks with Mrs. Gowing and later also with Michael Perrin on the subject. And they disagree with me. Therefore I'm stating the disagreement (for the record [???]). But it's perfectly clear that for all of us in the team in Cambridge, receiving I told you these fortnightly reports from the Metallurgical lab, we knew that we were losing all the time, that, say at the end of '41 and early '42, we were definitely in front, and that within six months this was finished. Now we were under the unanimous and very deep impression that Halban either did not understand that, or deliberately misled Ackers and Perrin. I remember one visit I had with Ackers once I don't know exactly, it must have been somewhere in the summer or early fall of '42 and I expressed this idea to Ackers, and he said "but look, look, even your own work on capture cross-sections, which has such an advantage.” I told him "No, you are wrong. It was an amusing piece of work, and of course I corrected an error which lots of great people had made. At the present time it means nothing, it's finished, all this is way bypassed.” So you see an incident like this, to me shows that either I'm right in saying that Ackers, either spontaneously or by Halban's influence, misread the situation, or that he was a leader of this category who thinks that some things are better not said nor admitted nor implied to certain low echelons. But you see Mrs. Gowing in her book very specifically states that Ackers and Perrin were fully conscious of the rate of American progress. She repeated that to me. I only can say that from the point of view of the team in Cambridge, it was obvious that Halban either did not understand or refused to admit that we were hopelessly left behind...
Weart:I can certainly see that...
Gueron:... and that he managed to mislead the top echelons of Tube Alloys, or if not to mislead them at least to coax them into taking the attitude towards the team that: "your fears are without foundation.”
Weart:It makes sense to me. I've seen Fermi's fortnightly reports also and they are very impressive of course. I can imagine while reading them no matter what position Ackers and Perrin and so forth took, that you would still have a stronger image of how rapidly Fermi was progressing... because I think they couldn't have read these reports with the kind of understanding that you had.
Gueron:But at least Halban should have. It was very obvious that Halban did not either understand or wish to understand. Kowarski understood, but...
Weart:I can accept that, as the interpretation I would put as you say he didn't wish to understand, he was so caught up in his own plans that he really couldn't...
Gueron:Obviously, it spelled his doom.
Weart:I beg your pardon?
Gueron:Obviously it spelled his doom.
Weart:Yeah... in fact that's interesting because Margaret Gowing... two people raised a question with me in later chapters, we'll get to it, where I said that when Halban arrived in Montreal he was still hoping to be the first to build a reactor and Margaret Gowing questioned this. Could he still have hope at that time, do you have any idea?
Weart:He couldn't have...
Gueron:He might say it for the sake of moral, I don't know, but...
Weart:He would already have known by the fall of '42.
Gueron:Well, you see, you saw one exponential pile [???] criticality. You see when he said at that time: "Oh these experiments are difficult to interpret, they are not clear. Our spherical symmetry is so much more beautiful."
Weart:I see. Another question about that by the way, when did you first learn that the pile had gone critical, in Montreal?
Gueron:I can't say exactly because... I'd sailed from Britain, I think on January 15th '43.
Weart:So you weren't there yet...
Gueron:And we were three weeks at sea. [???]. Of course when we arrived in Montreal it was black out. But we knew very quickly you see because Goldschmidt and Auger had kept their connections with [???]. Unofficially of course but... but you see these two features, the assumption of, practically the assumption of French sovereignty, and either the misunderstanding or the deliberate squashing of the conscience of the American rate of progress I think are dominating features of this period up to '43. And has had, is politically significant.
Weart:Ok, I have some feeling, I say something in there about the one but very little about the Free French and you're quite right I have to... I was well aware that they had not joined the Free French but it seemed like obvious in reading it... but you’re quite right something should be explicitly stated in there, they did not join the Free French, I'll do that.
Gueron:And not simply by overlooking it. It was...
Weart:No. Not that they didn't know that they were there, they chose not to join the Free French... yeah by all means.
Gueron:Which is more personal and psychological. We generally speaking, and I personally very much, were more than shocked, we were disgusted by the personal behavior of these boys. That in the midst of the war, with this kind of responsibility upon them, Halban could take time gallivanting, dropping his wife, who married Plazcek, which Kowarski who had a sickly hate-love for Halban could not wait to do the same. See, he had to have the engagement between Kammer and Kate Freundlich broken, he had to discard his wife. This was to us disgusting, absolutely shameful.
Weart:Us meaning yourself and the British workers who were there.
Gueron:Yes. And me particularly, I was especially sensitive as a Frenchman to...
Weart:I see... in fact you were the only other Frenchman there, were you not?
Gueron:There was Auger.
Weart:But he was not in the...
Weart:Oh I see, you're talking about when you were in Montreal now, not when...
Gueron:It started in Cambridge. You know the famous story about the former Mrs. Halban and Bohr.
Weart:Yes, I've heard that one. That's interesting. I never heard it pointed out to me that a relationship between Kowarski's divorce and Halban's. It's very interesting.
Gueron:It can easily be denied, but to me it was obvious you see. The sort of psychopathologic relationship of Kowarski to Halban of envy, love, hate. It was obvious.
Weart:I can see that.
Gueron:Else Halban was a nice [???] girl. Nothing. But Dora Kowarski was a marvelous person, much better than he. She had supported him physically, materially all during the difficult times. Really it was a shame.
Weart:Very interesting, very interesting.
Gueron:You mentioned some of my disagreements with Kowarski and Goldschmidt in France. I remember once at a more than acute period, Goldschmidt came to me and said "Look, things can't go on like that between Kowarski and you. You must have it out. I've talked to Kowarski. He wants to speak to you." I said ok. I'll speak to him. And we had a long walk and talk in the foss‚ of the Fort de Chatillon. And Kowarski told me very simply: "You see, with all the problems we have, with my divorce, I had a choice. Either to commit suicide, or to destroy you. I chose to destroy you." Of course here again I have no witness.
Gueron:He was very, and he still is, very much of a Dostoyevskian character.
Weart:It's very difficult to convey his character, particularly when he was still alive and so forth. Neither Halban. I don't say nearly everything that people have- I don't say nearly as much as people have said to me about Halban. What you've said gives me a much clearer picture in fact of that period.
Gueron:Really, silver spoon and playboys. In part. And as I said when we started I will be highly critical of people but with the general background that nevertheless they are or were first-rate people.
Weart:Yes I understand.
Gueron:But you cannot ignore all this psychological background. I remember at one phase of the Halban-Kowarski fight, Halban took me for a walk, and said "Look, you must back me, you must help me with all this and after all think of the future, all these people who have, this included Auger and Perrin and so on, you see, who are out of our team, all these people after the war won't exist. Who will be left in French science, you and I.” It was very gross flattery and I told him that I didn't share his idea. Well, we had a number of talks in this vein. And one day he told me "I have problems with you, you see, because I tell you lots of things and we discuss and well, you don't react, I think you are agreeing, and then suddenly I'm against a wall." It was true. I didn't care to argue with him when he said such stupid things as: we'll be the only two left in French science. But when he thought that because he had said that, he could induce me in doing the most stupid things with Ackers and the most hateful things with Kowarski, he had to see [???] I didn't favor that kind of game.
Weart:How did Halban react to opposition as... [???] What sort of reaction that he had, would he back off or would he get more aggressive?
Gueron:He backed off, he got aggressive, he went around you. After all why did he appoint Paneth as head of chemistry?
Weart:I don't know.
Gueron:First because he had seen that I was no henchman, and second because having refused to get into the American group, he wanted to beef up his team with names.
Weart:Ok, I understand.
Gueron:Paneth was an extremely nice man, whom I think had done remarkable work. He could perfectly have had part of a Nobel, but when he joined us he was a man getting old before his time... the chain of isotopes from uranium to plutonium.
Weart:I see. There was a little too much for him.
Gueron:He was finished. A fine gentleman, full of good ideas and of good stories about his former scientific life, and a highly respectable one. He brought a number of very good people, but he himself was nothing. We had impossible fights with him and Goldschmidt. I remember one day, one morning we were in the lab, Goldschmidt, he and I. They had a very heated discussion and Goldschmidt who was a bachelor at the time, who used to live more or less in the lab, and while arguing heatedly, he was finishing his breakfast. He had a pot of honey and was dipping his finger in the honey, sucking it. And Paneth, old Viennese gentleman looked on, horrifyingly. And Goldschmidt was misled, and asked him: do you want some?
Weart:That's funny because I thought that Goldschmidt himself came from a fairly, perhaps not refined, but a reasonably good background.
Gueron:Oh yes of course.
Weart:He was married into a wealthy family... Goldschmidt got married during the war or...?
Weart:He met his wife during the war, did he or afterwards?
Gueron:He met her during the war I think, but he married after. She was the widow of a man who was I think more or less a grand-son or a grand-nephew of Alfred Dreyfus.
Weart:I see... by the way Halban did he marry in Britain was it and then brought his wife across to Montreal?
Gueron:No. Else came over from Cambridge with us in Montreal. In fact we were on the boat with her little girl, but the intrigue with Placzek was already under way.
Weart:I see... ok... well maybe we should get done with the text more.
Weart:We'll get to see some of these things in more detail... 355.
Gueron:Here again you see what is very difficult to know, how people made decisions at that time. There is a story that Joliot would have come but that Irene was bitterly opposed was bitterly anti-British. It's true or it's not, I don't know whether you have heard.
Weart:It's interesting; no I haven't heard that story before. From whom did you hear this?
Gueron:Probably more or less directly from Kowarski. Perhaps from Halban but I'm not sure.
Gueron:I don't think they were a hundred.
Weart:Well not all scientists, but a variety of people. Scientists and others... I see, ok so that needs to be rephrased.
Weart:A hundred and more French COMMA, scientists and others COMMA.
Weart:Yes, ok. 356... 357.
Gueron:Yes. I think...
Weart:This point you already told me, that you tried to get Joliot out of France.
Gueron:Yes. Well you see, there is no question that... I think it would have been the case.
Weart:That it would have brought to a very different situation.
Gueron:Yes. But you cannot exclude the fact that Joliot's selfishness might have antagonized the top British people.
Weart:Even as De Gaulle.
Gueron:To some extent yes.
Weart:It's the same sort of difficulties.
Gueron:You see I don't know what kind of working relationship Joliot could have established with Chadwick.
Weart:I see your point because already he had this chauvinistic personality.
Gueron:Yes and in addition he had missed the neutron.
Weart:Missed the what?
Gueron:The neutron. And he had missed fission.
Weart:Oh I see, so with Chadwick specifically it would have been difficult, that's interesting.
Gueron:And you hardly can imagine two more different personalities. Chadwick, caustic and reserved, and Joliot aggressive and... I was of this opinion of course, but...
Weart:Things would have been different but we don't know just how.
Weart:Ok. Yes here it is page 363. He was approached and perhaps some of that has to do with what you told me. Because it was explicitly to work with scientists abroad.
Gueron:Yes, you see I have no idea of what happened. I was somewhat connected with the French secret service in London, but not for this you see. Because in London first I worked in the Imperial College, on some chemical problems. But on the side I had created the Free French sabotage lab.
Weart:Is that so?
Gueron:And when I joined the nuclear team, it was agreed with the British I would have my Saturdays and Sundays, and these two days I worked in London on my sabotage lab.
Weart:I see, in terms of what, how to make Molotov cocktails, that sort of things.
Gueron:Yes, incendiaries, explosives...
Weart:Well, then you can tell me, maybe you have it marked out here further on. We'll get to it when we get to... I have a question for you, it's interesting.
Gueron:So I came from Cambridge every Friday evening, I had an assistant there who later came into the Commissariat, a Belgian girl, a PhD, and one or two lab assistants, or trainees who were going to be parachuted in France and carried out our recipes and so on.
Weart:I see, very interesting. Did you have any echo you know, before you went back, that Joliot was in the resistance, was in the front national?
Weart:No idea, I see. There's the reasons he gave for refusing.
Gueron:You see, after all he could do nothing at that time for the revival of the French science. He could not have known deeply in himself that the uranium was the big thing and that it could not have been abandoned.
Weart:He couldn't have realized that it was more important for him to be abroad in fact, he couldn't have known what was happening.
Gueron:Yes. If he didn't, it was for political reasons. Going way beyond that.
Gueron:At least that's my opinion. Again that's not something I can substantiate by documents.
Weart:Page 361. I should mention Thalmann.
Gueron:But you mention him I think one or two pages later.
Weart:Yes but I notice here you have it spelled with a Thael or was it Thalmann?
Gueron:He was an Alsatian. I think... I'm not sure, but I think that's the correct.
Weart:What was his first name?
Gueron:I don't know. I don't agree here because...
Weart:About the Germans.
Gueron:I remember that even during the war, Wirtz I think or Strassman and Zellman-Egebert published papers in Naturwissenschaft which I saw during the war, in Montreal, where they gave some sketch of the properties of neptunium.
Weart:Neptunium yes but not plutonium... Here, page 366.
Gueron:Yes, but you see they could not have studied neptunium without knowing that it was a beta decaying element.
Weart:Ok, right... so they came quite close.
Gueron:So you should nuance... and of course Haldemans and von Weizsacker.
Weart:Oh they predicted it.
Weart:Ok, so I should nuance it... 367.
Gueron:Well, Peyrefitte, I gave you the quotation.
Weart:Oh right, the quotation of Peyrefitte... at the bottom here... this is a reference to the newspaper.
Gueron:Yes, you know, this was nothing very original.
Weart:Oh, the attacks on Polytechnique. No, it went on for generations.
Gueron:Georges Claude, in particular.
Weart:I didn't know he was one of the polytechnicians... but a lot of people.
Gueron:No, Georges Claude was from the Ecole Centrale and he is supposed to have answered after the first war to someone who asked him how we could render Germany harmless in the future, he's supposed to have answered "Transfer the Ecole Polytechnique.”
Weart:I should make it clearer there that Joliot's attitude towards the Ecole Polytechnique was not his alone, that a lot of people shared it.
Gueron:Especially among the non poly...
Weart:Especially among the non-polytechnicians. Page 368... some show of independence here you'd rather say.
Gueron:Yes. That's a matter of opinion.
Weart:371... What do you know about this SEDARS?
Gueron:This is a very dark story. Have you seen Denivelle?
Weart:No. I haven't seen him.
Gueron:You should if you get an opportunity, I'm not sure he will tell you much, because Denivelle is a very tight-lipped man. To what extent he had been connected during, before and after the war with the secret services, I don't know. I suspect that he was not without some links with them. But Denivelle, who is a very intelligent and active man, had a hold on Joliot and Dautry. I mentioned it in the letter to [Francis] Perrin I gave you yesterday.
Weart:Yes, but you didn't say much about it. What you mean had a hold on them?
Gueron:To some extent he managed them. So either the hold was because he gave, he was of great use to them, and did a lot of the everyday work or perhaps a bit of the dirty work which always has to be made to some extent, not the kind that Echard would do, more high-brow.
Weart:Negotiations and contracts and so forth.
Gueron:Contacts... Or it was the SEDARS. Because the SEDARS involved people with whom Denivelle was engaged. We never were clear about this, and Joliot was extremely discreet about this. I don't know what Goldschmidt told you about this...
Gueron:... but we felt, we talked of it more than once, that in fact Joliot had promised the patents to the SEDARS. And then after the war he was embarrassed.
Weart:But who were SEDARS aside from Joliot and Denivelle, these other people would have been industrialists?
Gueron:Oh sure. Only. In particular there was Pechiney.
Weart:Pechiney... of course.
Gueron:Raoul de Vitry, the boss of Pechiney, who were to quite an extent the bosses of the Society des Terres Rares.
Weart:Yeah sure... it was connected... I see.
Gueron:And I think Denivelle was very instrumental in all these things.
Gueron:It's a very dark thing you see.
Weart:No, I looked and looked for papers, documents for that. Nothing.
Gueron:Nothing... And Joliot, talkative as he was, never said a word. So, well, you mention it, that's true. To what extent would you be entitled to say that there might have been in this thing much more than meets the eye...
Weart:Well I once expected...
Gueron:and that the outcome of the war changed the whole picture, I don't know. But even if it was tacitly agreed that all this was a matter of the past, if what we think is true, it cannot but have weighed very heavily on Joliot.
Weart:Weighed on him why, because the people he was dealing with were the kind of people that they were, or because he had promised the patent?
Gueron:We'll come back to [???] on a piece of [???], but this is really the minimum minimorum you could say about it.
Weart:That there is more going on here than...
Gueron:You see, why was Denivelle the first General Secretary of the Commissariat?
Weart:I understand... 372.
Gueron:This is misleading. If you mean bombs, chain reaction...
Weart:That says explosive chains of uranium...
Gueron:You mean bomb or simply divergent chains?
Weart:I'm stuck there because I never saw the original. All I've seen is this translation that general Groves turned out and it is not a very good translation as you can see from the style. So I don't know what the original... I see what you mean. Page 377.
Gueron:They were not confused. The communists had been organized since the German-Russian pact.
Weart:Ok so here and also and where you underlined the Germans... it's a question of oversimplifying the political history.
Weart:And then down here the national front.
Gueron:You see and at the time what did they mean by French independence, from Germany or from Britain?
Gueron:I told you what I thought. To be very unkind, I think Joliot was an arriviste who bet on the wrong horse. On the other hand, as I told you, he was caught in the psychological atmosphere of the party as a fraternity you see. Something like the Lions or the Phi Beta Kappa, I don't know.
Weart:I see. 386... already one should notice...
Gueron:You know who Labarthe was.
Gueron:Labarthe was very much engaged in the CNRS, he was a mechanical engineer, and he had gotten some celebrity by claiming that he was the man who had cured the Normandie. You know the Normandie was the prestige flagship. And apparently at its first full power tests at sea it developed impossible vibrations. Labarthe whose specialty it was, apparently embarked with his vibration analysis apparatus, located the vibrations and after that they were more or less put to right. It was his fame at the time or at least his claim. And when the CNRS took over the Bellevue laboratories, which had belonged to the Office des Inventions, Labarthe was instated as the Directeur du Groupe des laboratoires de Bellevue. Which was rather an achievement for a young man. Labarthe was a very active fellow, very vocal, and he joined the Free French at the start and was appointed by De Gaulle with the grandiloquent name of Directeur des services techniques. But very quickly he started politicking and got in contact with Amiral Muselier and there was an enormous to-do and they were both kicked out, after some roman feuilleton business where Muselier and Labarthe were imprisoned. Now of course Kowarski knew Labarthe. And what role Labarthe played in keeping them aloof from the Free French, I don't know exactly, but they certainly met in London in the early days.
Weart:I see. That's very interesting.
Gueron:They kept seeing each other. I don't know to what extent Kowarski and Halban informed Labarthe, or what influence he had, but he certainly was not one to push them towards...
Weart:This was after Labarthe had already broken with the Free French.
Gueron:This occurred very quickly.
Weart:I see, I see very interesting.
Gueron:Yes. We were in the old Cavendish.
Weart:You were in the old Cavendish laboratory. That was one of the things I wanted to ask you, not in the Mond.
Weart:It's page 387. Page 388.
Gueron:I don't think whether we bought counters, because I think that when I arrived in Cambridge, I knew something about vacuum technique, being a physical and inorganic chemist. One of the first things I did was to improve the counter-making set up.
Weart:I see, they had built them.
Gueron:Yes. I cannot vouch...
Weart:That's right. In fact I think you couldn't buy counters in those days. You built your own.
Gueron:At this stage, this is purely hypothetical. It's not until the very end of '40 that plutonium was recognized. Just one detail, hadn't you better speak of millibarns there?
Weart:Oh good Heavens. Why?
Gueron:Because I think it's more usual.
Weart:Well at the time they were using centimeters square. And I don't want to have to explain what a millibarn is.
Gueron:Ok, but then I think it would connect better if you put 5*10-27.
Weart:Oh I see ok... I'll have to think about that anyway.
Gueron:Did he stand aside, was he sent aside?
Weart:Was he what?
Gueron:Was he put aside, did he stand aside, was he put aside?
Weart:This is in page 397. Kowarski...yeah ok... were you there already when these patent things were being...
Gueron:No... but I heard a lot about it.
Weart:Well, what do you think, did he stand aside or was he put aside from the patent negotiation?
Gueron:I think he was probably not very at ease in these milieu, where Halban on the contrary thrived. Halban was so vain and (glorious to be??). But I think that was the beginning of the separation between the two you see. Kowarski felt relegated.
Weart:Kept out of it so to speak.
Gueron:Yes. About these things we had with us a good theoretical physicist who was a witty boy also. Kammer, I don't know...
Weart:Oh Kammer, I haven't talked with him...
Gueron:Dick Kammer. And he made a very famous limerick. It was currently rumored that Mc Gowan had once said "I bet on the horse Halban." The limerick was: There was Hans Halban a young horse, Who had a new kind of force, The force was still latent, But he had a patent, So ICI bought it of course. And I think it sums up rather well part at least of the situation. Yes, the symbolism of the patent application situation was pervading. It was part of the policy of charm of Halban.
Weart:This is 398. So you would agree with what Kowarski says here that it was not so much the patents themselves, as the patent as a symbol.
Gueron:Oh sure. Mind you, Kowarski played that also, until he subtly changed because that was part of his being adamant. But I can remember when we started the second extension of the team, that is, preparatory to go to Canada, when the people from ICI started coming in, you see. The way Halban played these things. I have an anecdote which is very typical. On I don't know what new patent or addition to the patent which was drafted. I was a co-author. It doesn't matter. Then one day I was not a co-author anymore, but Newell was. Newell was the ICI man who was drafted to become chief engineer, and he had to be put in a nice atmosphere. He had nothing to do with the patent. But you see, that was part of the childish politicking of Halban.
Weart:Did you have the feeling that Halban liked to bring in now this person and now that person so that everyone else would be coming in and out but that Halban would always be in there?
Gueron:That was part of it of course, but it was obvious that we wanted to go in Canada and build something. It was necessary to have people from industry, to have experienced engineers. It was perfectly reasonable to have these people. No one objected to that. But Halban overdid it. These people should have been an addition to a team which had experience. And his way of pushing these people rather on top of the old team was a somewhat childish reaction to try and to suppress the rebellion.
Gueron:I don't know to what extent you have documentary evidence to the details of this point.
Weart:Oh the Dupont connection... no I don't, the things I've seen just say Dupont, it doesn't specify whether it's US or Canada. 399. Page 400. Tube Alloys was in the DSIR. Yes ok.
Gueron:Yes, you mention it later.
Weart:I mention it later.
Gueron:But here it appears in a completely independent department...
Gueron:... which is not the case.
Gueron:Yes. Twend (?) was a chemist. Well you see that's the anecdote that when Sir John Anderson, this was a little before my time but the anecdote was current, but when he was dated to visit the old Cavendish and see things, he was shown a trace on the oscilloscope. So, strong with his knowledge of his youth, he said "Ah, [???].”
Weart:I see. 402. Yes. This business of the relation between Halban and Kowarski, there was a... well tell me... as you saw it when you arrived, of course by that time they had already have been moving apart.
Gueron:Yes. There is no question that Halban did the politicking, he had charm, he could speak of the bases of the subject and to people who didn't know it very deeply at the time, new comers like me and so on. He had some appeal, he had charm, he was intelligent, he spoke clearly but very quickly you could see that this was sales talk and that the man with whom you could talk substance was Kowarski. Of course, his faults, his failings were very quickly evident but his sense of the physics, of the basic points and orders of magnitude was very impressive. But he couldn't go into the details of the theory, and all the experiments, clever as they were, as you actually point out, were very poor. First, because there was this question of homogeneity of the slurries. It became better when we started mixing with hydrogen-poor plastic powder. But mostly, we had weak sources and the tails were enormous. And the uncertainties due to extrapolation were really the damning factor, and the one which justified the skepticism of the Americans when they looked at the details later on. You see, I don't think they could have overcome the friction.
Weart:Even under Joliot?
Gueron:They might have been kicked into obedience.
Gueron:But, and this is what I hoped, but I was perhaps very naive, because once Halban had tasted power, he was drugged on it. If Joliot had come back I'm not sure that Halban would have, at that time, accepted Joliot's [???].
Weart:I understand, I can well believe it.
Gueron:Kowarski probably would. There was an old fidelity, an old dog to master relationship.
Weart:Oh yeah, even after the war he accepted that.
Gueron:To some extent.
Weart:To some extent.
Gueron:And at that time probably he would, especially as it would have been more palatable to him, than to count out to Halban. But I think for Halban it was really past.
Gueron:Yes, well that's the appreciation of our position.
Weart:Vis a vis the United States.
Weart:That's interesting; you gave me a much more vivid picture when you were telling me the bi-weekly report from Metallurgical laboratory. Because I easily imagine the impression they must have made. Every two weeks.
Gueron:We hardly had time to swallow them before the next one came.
Weart:Yes. 407. I see, "to work at last under Fermi was my most cherished dream, et surtout ne pas tre subordonn‚ … Halban.” Very good point. And Halban had a single goal, to direct a team which would be the first to create a divergent chain reaction. You see I can't quite read that.
Gueron:The ambition for the return in France. That's the anecdote I mentioned.
Weart:Oh I see to return as the leading man in French science.
Weart:And then again to mention, yes this would be an excellent place to bring in that even at this stage, they still had not joined the France Libre, at the bottom of page 407, yes that should be mentioned there.
Gueron:Well I don't know exactly at what time they negotiated with Rapkine the working arrangement...
Weart:No that was later on, I mention it later on in the text, at this point they still regarded themselves as... Here you have a mark here. 408.
Gueron:Yes. The exact quote was: "Get me God on the phone. Make it priority."
Weart:This is very good.
Gueron:You see, this is incomplete.
Weart:No, the person who told me that didn't tell me the first part of that. Ok. And again on page 409, the Free French were not included in this arrangement.
Gueron:Not at all, and you see this was practically about the same time the Tube Alloys negotiated on my assignment to the Free French. So it was very clear that there was a deliberation both on Halban and Kowarski's and on the British side.
Weart:I see. Page 410… does not mention these clauses. An admission that after some reflection, he welcomed and resented. He mentioned that to you at the time. Were you aware of that at the time...? Perhaps one should say an admission that he resented but after some reflection welcomed. Or something like that. Subsequently welcomed.
Gueron:Well you see, he welcomed not being involved but he resented. Probably he would have been glad to refuse, but he was mostly peeved...
Weart:that he was not even asked.
Weart:At the bottom, I see you feel I've been too kind to Halban. Some other people told me that too.
Weart:In Halban's case it was for personal problems.
Weart:Not monetary problems?
Weart:Here again, it would be true to say would it not that he had no reservations about nuclear reactors, he was quite happy to see many of them built.
Gueron:Well of course.
Weart:Did he talk at all about, you know, one sees a lot in the papers about how reactors would transform world industry, did he talk at all about what sort of world one might expect when we have lots of reactors?
Gueron:Not so much.
Gueron:Kowarski liked to say that he was one of the very few who had, new Promethe.
Weart:But to Halban that was not so serious, that part of it.
Gueron:Well, he certainly was proud of it. But he was not given to this kind of talk, like Joliot you see.
Weart:I see, ok. Note to myself page 731 note 5 to check the dates on...
Gueron:Yes. It may be '41.
Weart:I'll have to check that. Note 9.
Gueron:Not exactly, it makes U239, which...
Weart:Which makes [???]. Page 736. This is Grove's view of these people. But you do not agree with Grove's assessment of Kowarski?
Weart:Ok, neither do I. Start of chapter 14.
Gueron:It was a long time. You must specify what part of '41 you want to speak of, early, middle, end of '41, they were very different, the year was a very evolutive one.
Weart:Ok, certainly I can say by the end of 1941, I could say that.
Gueron:Yes... perhaps even by the beginning, but you should specify.
Gueron:If you mean the Simon pile's group probably that's correct. Of the tail.
Weart:On page 417 you say that. By the way this measurement you must have kept repeating, to try to get it better.
Gueron:Yes but it was not so easy.
Weart:No matter how many times you repeated, you still had problem with the...
Gueron:First we could not repeat it so often, and the main improvement of course was in trying to have a better homogeneity. And therefore having a better geometry of the sphere, having a better definition of the hydrogen to uranium ratio and the homogeneity of the mixture, this is where Kowarski introduced this idea of using small plastic balls, marbles. We had to improve all the counting equipment, from the counters to the detectors. We could not have an external medium big enough, and intense enough neutron source to make the tail more definite.
Weart:I'm surprised; I would think you could make a very large bath and get a very large quantity of radium in the middle of there.
Gueron:There was not so much.
Weart:In Britain, I see.
Gueron:You see, I don't recall exactly, but as far as I remember, and you could only use a gamma beryllium source, which is not very intense, because we didn't want to have too many fast neutrons.
Weart:Of course of course I see.
Gueron:So I think the best we had was a one gram radium in a beryllium block. It was not very much. For the cross section work, we used alpha beryllium sources, mixed radium and beryllium powders, which were of course much better neutron yield.
Weart:I see, but fast neutrons.
Gueron:Yes. It didn't matter.
Gueron:While here we definitely wanted to avoid too many fast neutrons. Because...
Weart:Yeah I understand. Page 420.
Gueron:Well, was it the Americans' decision to leave Halban outside the States?
Weart:That they would not work... I guess that should be rephrased, not to welcome Halban and except under their authority.
Weart:427. On patents. Spivak? I don't know this Spivak.
Gueron:He was the man who got the patents for the hydrogen sulfide exchange process for heavy water.
Weart:Oh I see, I didn't know that story.
Gueron:He certainly managed to extract a lot of money.
Weart:Is that so, I didn't know.
Gueron:I don't know exactly how he did it, but this is a clear example where the patent policy of the Manhattan project went awry.
Weart:In most cases certainly, they didn't get anything from it. I wonder how Spivak did it, it would be interesting. Page 428.
Gueron:You see, my point is that the British refused to send Halban. Only Halban engineered the refusal.
Weart:Well yeah. You don't think that the Germans could have bought heavy water.
Gueron:Completely out of.
Gueron:By the way, do you know how I could get a chance to get hold of a second hand copy of Alsos?
Gueron:I'm not sure. You see, the time scale was so compressed that leisurely exploration, it could have saved money of course, if you had been able to continue at a leisurely pace. But once you had the tomorrow deadline of the wartime, you have to try everything.
Weart:You have to buy everything anyway, that's a good point.
Gueron:You see the leisurely approach was that of the Germans, and that's where it landed them, nowhere.
Weart:I see yeah... I see your point yes.
Gueron:It's true that you were very slow in starting, the British were quicker, but they couldn't do anything about it.
Gueron:Are you sure about this question of leaving his family?
Weart:Let's see, I think Gowing has it in her book, I can't remember what documents I've seen.
Gueron:You see the question when we left was that they wanted us to get out of this poisonous atmosphere of Cambridge quickly and to start work in Montreal quickly. Now from this point of view we either could be put on planes, where there was very little space available, or we could be put on the Queens, which traveled without escort relying on their speed to avoid surprise. But neither on planes nor on the fast ships were families allowed. This is not the same as keeping the families hostage.
Gueron:And the implication here is hostage.
Weart:I hadn't thought of it that way.
Gueron:So you have to check about it. No, you see, I see this very clearly because I was in a difficult situation, because I wanted to do my job and not to make personal problems, but I was in the difficult position that, as I told you, I had come alone, and thanks to Rapkine who had obtained American visas, my wife and my 2 elder boys, the third wasn't born at the time, he was born in Canada, managed to join me in September '42. And I can assure you...
Weart:I see, just illegally through visas and so forth came out through Spain or something like that...
Gueron:Yes. Portugal also. And I can assure you also, the way people like Ackers and Perrin, although I had my differences with them, managed things you see. Well just one day coming back from the lab in Cambridge I got a phone call they said they were in London and would join me the next evening. I had no previous notice. All right, and the next time I saw Ackers, I thanked him for giving me his assistance in all these things and I told him "You know I was surprised because all people arriving from France generally are put aside for a few days for debriefing, it was called patriotic school, a kind of humane detention place, for a few days before they were let free. I told him that it was very nice that my wife and children were spared this and even when they landed in Pool, they had not a cent. They were told "Ok, just leave your passports. Here's some advance, when you refund it, we'll have your passports sent along.” I told him it was very nice, but how did it come? And Ackers told me very simply "Well of course I had them cleared beforehand."
Gueron:I had them cleared beforehand.
Gueron:This is something.
Weart:They took care of you.
Gueron:Yes. They could perfectly have done nothing more than having the visas granted, the priorities for the plane from Lisbon to England arranged, and that was already a lot. But they went to this kind of care, which means that they did not take lightly the personal problems. They were not hands and fist brutal rulers. They were very considerate indeed.
Weart:Did your family go with you to Montreal?
Gueron:Yes, and then you see when the question arose of transfer to Montreal, I told Ackers "You know how they joined me, we were separated, a grave danger to them for nearly three years. I don't want to go without them." So he managed for us to be on the same ship. But therefore I took a slow ship. That was the only possible way and we were a lot on that ship. There was May, there was Bauer [non, GG], there was Mrs. Bauer, there was Mrs. Halban and quite a number of others.
Gueron:So you see, this question of the family, I think you should phrase it very carefully, because in my mind the problem was not to keep Dora and the girl as a kind of, for exerting leverage on Kowarski. It was probably much more a question of fast ship or plane, and the regulations not allowing families on these.
Weart:Ok I'll check into that. And then here about the rebellion on which I chose to say very little about. Perhaps you can tell me more about that.
Gueron:Kowarski's stand was that we should have gone to the States and be merged into the groups. This was quite true. To what extent his motives were purely factual or to what extent this was for him the only way to escape Halban's tutelage, obviously there was a mix. But then you see he took the stand that by this there was no work for us and that therefore we should refuse to go to the. Quite a number of people sided with him. I strongly opposed that. I told him that this was not a matter of deliberation, that whatever we might think of Halban and whatever misgivings we might have about the policy he had induced Ackers to follow, we were in war time, that there was an order and that there was work to do. To which he always replied "What work?” And my answer was that it might not be the work we felt best but we were ordered to do a number of things and it was war time, we were not even in our own country and we had to go. Gradually most of the team sided with me. It doesn't mean that we were dropping Kowarski, and in fact I had a rather extensive correspondence after arriving in Montreal with Ackers and Perrin about what to do with and for Kowarski. Really we were in very human terms with these people, you could speak your mind to them and they replied in a very considerate manner. They didn't eat their words, but it was a man to man relationship. Even if the situation of authority was not contested, and I did not contest it. But I claimed my right to speak my mind and they didn't object to that. To me it was perfectly improper for Kowarski, in the situation we were in, to refuse to go or to raise rebellion. There was the full opportunity for speaking your mind, and presenting your arguments. And a rebellion during wartime was, especially outside your own country, was shocking.
Weart:And how did the others in the lab see this?
Gueron:I don't know to what extent I persuaded them or they were more or less weak.
Weart:How did they see it originally? Did they say this is simply a personal matter of supporting Kowarski or did they...
Gueron:No. You see, there was a great deal of fact and of grounds for opposing Halban. We all felt very keenly that the situation was completely misjudged. But, this being so and having had the possibility to speak our mind, personally I couldn't see how you could not abide by the decision which was made. Yes this is entirely true.
Weart:Halban's feeling that Kowarski had instigated the rebellion?
Gueron:It was true. Except that Kowarski had very good reasons, to oppose a move. No reason to my mind of starting a rebellion.
Weart:We're on page 438 now.
Gueron:No, you see this went much beyond that you say. First there was Kowarski and Halban, plus a few lab assistants or very junior scientists. Then after they thought they had proved the point, there was the first extension to refine on that. This is when May came in, when I came in and a number of others. Then, this was the start of the buildup of the Canadian laboratory. So it was the second expansion and an expansion which brought in the engineers. So you had a legitimate expansion due to the program, however contestable it was, and at the same time because of these general circumstances, the increased reliance of Halban on people outside a somewhat factious team. And at the same time, building up an independent team outside the US, he wanted notoriety. He understood that was not enough in front of Fermi, and Compton and so on.
Weart:So he needed more things or people.
Gueron:So he started looking for prestige.
Weart:I see, and if he can be in charge of prestigious people then this adds to his prestige.
Gueron:So you see, that's how he got Paneth, that's how he got Auger.
Gueron:To some extent Pontecorvo, who was the co-signer of the first Fermi patents.
Gueron:And of course he had to get the ICI people, and the ICI people obviously were emanations of Ackers and Perrin. And he felt doubtful of his own breed, his own species of scientists, and then he collared them. But it's not simply taking out a few more people. It was really the second explosion of a successful team.
Weart:I see, ok that's a very good point.
Gueron:Plus a political complexion. And in addition he wanted to be packed, so that he would not have too many uncontrolled seniors coming in. See, this is also why he took Placzek on full time.
Gueron:Placzek also was a name, much more than Halban. Yes, this comes again with the problem of the early joining or not joining the Free French you see. In London at that time the main French personalities, apart from the officials who came back to Vichy, where Laugier and Monnet. Laugier chose to go to America. And Monnet, after having talked with de Gaulle, and left Pleven, who was one of his assistants with de Gaulle, also chose not to join the Free French. You cannot forget that when you discuss the situation of...
Gueron:... Halban and Kowarski. Yes, eventually he became...
Weart:Vice-president of France forever.
Gueron:But you see, France Forever also came in rather late in the day, there was really no more risk of a speedy or even of a German victory at all.
Weart:439. And Brillouin.
Gueron:Yes. Brillouin was there aussi, but you speak of Brillouin later on.
Gueron:Well you see Rapkine had already done a lot of work, in particular with Holweck and some British people on extricating scientists from Germany and from German-dominated countries. So what he did was a continuation, he had already a network of relations with the Rockefeller foundation and so on. It's not a sudden vocation.
Weart:I see. And then also on 439 Edouard Rothschild.
Weart:That was not Rapkine's original idea, to join the Free French?
Gueron:I don't think it was. Rapkine died very early. In fact we buried him, he was buried the very day the Chatillon pile got critical. But to what extent you could usefully speak to his widow at this stage I don't know. But Rapkine certainly went to the States; he was not committed to the Free French. He became so later, but I really think that at that time his main point was humanitarian, extricating people and of course avoiding the Germans making use of them. But I don't think that he had a specific allegiance to the Free French movement at that time.
Weart:I see, how many relations... were you working with Rapkine at this time or were you following a different...
Gueron:Well I was not working with Rapkine, but I had known him for many years in Paris and of course I was very much involved with him because he was the one who managed to get the Rockefeller invitation and the visas for my family.
Weart:I see, I see... but I mean in terms of your own work, your own going to Cambridge and that sort of things...
Gueron:No... no connections. So it's not soon, it's after quite a while.
Gueron:They didn't have a special relationship. Had they?
Weart:Well I can check my sources... I forgot.
Gueron:You see, December '42.
Weart:Before Kowarski joined, that's right.
Gueron:And that is after the split.
Weart:Between Halban and Kowarski?
Weart:That's right and you know I haven't seen Halban's agreement; I have no idea what he signed with the Free French, which would be interesting to see.
Gueron:Then, you see, at about that time Rapkine had organized the Mission scientifique, but the Mission scientifique was not really formally organized until sometime in late '43 or '44. And mostly after the landing. Yes. I don't know what this [???] was.
Weart:No, neither do I. You see, and Goldschmidt also had joined in a somewhat vague way. You see...
Gueron:Well, he had signed the Free French agreement placing himself under the authority...
Weart:But at what time?
Gueron:At what time, yes. You see the situation of the people who have joined in London in the days were really it was...
Weart:Now there were very few of you in fact.
Gueron:Yes, and those who had done so, late or leisurely, from America.
Weart:You know, to an American looking at it it's just... someone was in the Free French or not, but clearly from your view point it makes a great difference when the person joined, at which point.
Gueron:Yes. When and where.
Weart:And where, yes.
Gueron:Yes, but, you see, why did Halban take on Auger and not Francis who had been...
Weart:Oh I think I mention something about that later on. Goldschmidt suggested it was because Francis had, was one of the patent, one of those who signed the patent and Auger was not. Would you agree with that? You don't know. Why did he take on Auger and not Francis?
Gueron:Fundamentally because Auger had much more of a name.
Weart:Of a what?
Gueron:Of a name. Among physicists at that time, than Francis had. And Francis knew the subject, Auger did not. And clearly at that time Halban was looking for prestige, and carefully avoiding anyone who could be competitive.
Gueron:I don't know what Francis told you about this, or Auger.
Weart:We didn't discuss that.
Weart:Well we did discuss it a bit. He felt that the patents probably played a role in that also. I didn't discuss it with Auger.
Gueron:Now you should set the date clearly.
Gueron:You could easily declare that there was the phase of tracer chemistry and then the phase of ultra-micro chemistry.
Weart:I see, ok. 446.
Gueron:Yes. You see, this comes back to what we had said earlier about harmless forgetfulness of his own hypothesis of a new rare earth series. After all, all Seaborg's success was the implementation of that assumption.
Weart:Of the insolubility of plutonium.
Gueron:No, of the fact that with actinium, you started a new rare earth series.
Weart:And that there it was a rare earth element.
Gueron:Without that assumption he could not have made the separation. All the others had worked on a chemical analogy without the new rare earth family.
Weart:Right, just by following down the periodic table.
Gueron:Seaborg was the only one to act on this assumption, and immediately the results were there. So it's not different from what scientists might have expected. The assumption had been expressed; it had not been acted upon, except by Seaborg. So it was exactly what Seaborg expected. It was very deliberate.
Weart:Ok, now about yourself.
Gueron:I happened to be born in North Africa, but my family doesn't come from North Africa.
Weart:Where does your family come from?
Gueron:Well from my father we are Sephardims, and from my mother we are Ashkenazis.
Weart:So a Mediterranean family?
Gueron:No, my maternal grandfather came from Russia.
Weart:From Russia, I see. So how would one express it? You were born in North Africa?
Gueron:Yes, that was an accident.
Weart:I see. By the way, when you came to France, were you regarded as in any sense a "miteque" or as being a foreigner, in what sense were you treated as one of these foreign people or in what sense...
Gueron:I was not. I was French born practically.
Weart:I see, so you were accepted as being French.
Gueron:Yes. Of course there were periods when no Jew was accepted as French.
Weart:Yes... no, I didn't mean as a Jew.
Gueron:But I mean I was never in a kind of foreign status like Halban or Kowarski.
Weart:I see, I see.
Gueron:So I have not acquired a deep French culture, except as growing naturally through the French curriculum.
Gueron:I was never employed by ICI.
Weart:That's right. You said it was...
Gueron:I was assigned by the Free French forces to Imperial College.
Weart:To Imperial College, right.
Gueron:Literally you can't say that I followed Halban to Canada. I didn't follow Halban; I followed the Tube Alloys team.
Gueron:There's a connotation you see. But...
Weart:You were not a follower of Halban in any sense.
Gueron:No. And here you should insert at least the equivalent of what Mrs. Gowing says about the dealings between Tube Alloys and the Free French about my assignment.
Weart:It might be better to put it back earlier... in talking about the...
Gueron:I don't know, because this is really where it happened because, while I was in Cambridge, OK, I had been detached by the Free French to the DSIR, I had been authorized to sign the Official Secret Act, and that was all. But when transferred to Canada, I was part of the embryo of a political deal.
Weart:I see, so it's at that time that.
Gueron:... underlined materially by the fact that I would then be paid by the French. That was the recognition, you see, the material recognition of a political link and not only the personal assignment of a specialist.
Weart:I see. Was this the only link that the Free French had to the Montreal group, the only direct link at that time, was there anyone else?
Weart:No one else. Goldschmidt was paid...
Gueron:All the others were paid by the British. More or less we all came finally under the Rapkine mission, but I always had a different status.
Gueron:So I think it's here that it would be made, but... It had a little political importance. Laugier, it was very curious. Of course, he was a physiologist; he had no knowledge either of radiation medicine or everything else. But for a man who was a very talkative fellow, he was a model of discretion.
Weart:He was what?
Gueron:A model of discretion. I saw lot of him there, he was very friendly. Never asked anything, he never alluded, he was perfect.
Weart:In terms of eliminating people who dealt with the patent, you agree with that?
Gueron:He was not. Placzek had already come as a consultant in Cambridge.
Weart:I see, I didn't know that. So that he went from Cambridge to Canada?
Gueron:Well, in Cambridge he was a consultant you see, he came for periods. He...
Weart:Oh I see, he crossed the Atlantic back and forth, I see.
Gueron:I don't know whether the divorce was formally just before or after...
Weart:Yes, it may have been after, that's right. I've already been warned to check that.
Gueron:Of course he [Halban, MG] was introduced to her by Goldschmidt.
Weart:Oh I didn't know that. It figures because... I see.
Gueron:Aline de Guinzbourg was a friend of Goldschmidt.
Weart:I see, so this is how Halban met his second wife.
Gueron:Not from France.
Weart:There were none of these from France, just...
Gueron:Apart Auger of course, Auger and Goldschmidt.
Weart:And you. Those were the only ones from France?
Gueron:To some extent you could say that Pontecorvo was.
Weart:I see, but even among the technicians and so forth there weren't any French?
Gueron:Ok, the British realized too late, that's my point, but...
Weart:Halban played a role in this.
Gueron:Gowing's point is that it was not so, that it was the policy of the leaders not to, for keeping up morale, which of course was not effective, if that was the point. But to my mind, there was a systematic, I don't say deliberate because he may have fooled himself, there was a systematic downplay by Halban of the American progress. And Ackers, well, we already discussed that.
Gueron:I don't think this would be ore.
Weart:I see, it would already be uranium compounds.
Weart:That would be restricted... that makes sense.
Gueron:In fact, on heavy water production, there was some exchange. There was some reports coming in Montreal.
Weart:I see, I didn't realize that.
Gueron:Not very many.
Weart:Not supposed to, I suppose they found that if you could...
Gueron:Well, there were some. I remember having something to do with this, because at one time the people from the engineering division came to me to explain to them some of the equilibrium, the column operation and so on. They asked rather awkward and clumsy questions. So I asked them "It's not very clear, show me the things you want me to explain to you.” Ah, they couldn't, because these were reports to which I should not have had access. But they didn't understand the reports; they came to me to explain.
Weart:I don't understand, these were people in Montreal?
Weart:Why weren't you supposed to have access?
Gueron:Because apparently, these parts, these sorts of reports were available only to people in the engineering division.
Weart:I see. Compartmentalization.
Gueron:Yes. Well you are again at the end...
Gueron:Yes, I don't think he took a great interest in theoretical matters. But he might pretend to.
Weart:But not really... yes ok.
Gueron:To make plutonium you don't need a high temperature.
Weart:You just need a high power level.
Weart:456. Yes, that slurry system. Suppose they had built it, let's imagine that there had never been a war and that they had stayed in their College de France and they had done their sphere experiments, and so forth. I imagine they would have tried to build a big slurry reactor?
Gueron:As you know, the experiment was attempted, both with solution and slurry. It was attempted in Oakridge; it was attempted in Arnhem and...
Weart:In Arnhem, no I didn't know.
Gueron:Yes, the Dutch. We had a Euratom association on that. It didn't come to anything because, in the case of Oakridge they had crystallizations which led to a burn out of the... by local accumulation of fission. And in Arnhem they never could get slurry with particles which stood under radiation.
Weart:I see, one could have a made a zero-energy one perhaps.
Gueron:Oh yes, and it was made. It was made in Arnhem. And in Oakridge with the solution, more than a critical experiment was done. But...
Weart:That's where it stopped?
Gueron:Yes. The decomposition of heavy water doesn't matter. You can always recombine.
Weart:It's not the most serious problem.
Gueron:No. The problem is in the fuel, not in the moderator.
Weart:But that was what the problem seemed at the time in Canada perhaps. As according to Gowing's book, I just draw that from Gowing's book.
Gueron:There was not much done on that.
Weart:One abandoned the slurry quite quickly anyway.
Gueron:You see, the slurry would have been interesting in the resonance experiments to have a really homogeneous system.
Gueron:But very quickly it was useless. You see, the word "turned over" may be misleading. It may be read as simply "passed on to", with a disengagement.
Weart:With a disengagement, I see.
Gueron:While it was simply contracting the work. The master of the work remained the project.
Weart:Right ok, contracted out to defense industries.
Weart:Was there ever any feeling... well of course you left before all of this was finished, but I wonder whether there was any feelings such as there was in Chicago, that the engineers were starting to take over, to run things?
Gueron:Oh yes of course.
Weart:That always happens.
Gueron:It was to some degree justified, and to a lot it was not.
Weart:What was not justified, the feelings or?
Gueron:You see, what was not justified was the opinion that we could have done as well alone, without the engineers. It was true they did not appreciate and were long to understand the, let's say, the fine points of scientific background, but we certainly were a bit boastful about our ability to build up the systems you see. We were very conscious that we had gone way out of the usual experiment system and built really biggish things. But...
Weart:This was around the period of ZEEP?
Gueron:Yes, and before, when we started planning NRX, which was quite a time before ZEEP was finished. But nevertheless, we certainly underestimated the problems of construction.
Weart:So there were some people who had the feeling: why are they bringing engineers to...
Gueron:Yes. And especially in Montreal with the background that it was obvious that Halban was playing politics with the engineers.
Weart:I see. So even quite from an early point then, the engineers began to come in.
Gueron:No. He spent no time on basic scientific questions.
Weart:Halban didn't... ok.
Gueron:He made a pretense of, but...
Weart:Yes. By basic scientific questions I suppose... basic is not the thing, basic is the wrong word there. 458.
Gueron:No. The Montreal group could build a reactor entirely on their own. The heavy water of course was a problem. In time they could have got it from Trail [the Canadian heavy water plant]. The uranium they could get from UK. After all, ICI had prepared the first cast ingot of uranium by mid '42.
Gueron:And quite a number of the uranium rods for ZEEP came from UK. I remember very clearly that in '44, in October '44, when I went over to France I had to stop over in UK to discuss uranium appropriation.
Weart:Was it true that in Montreal at that time that you felt that the American connection was very essential if you were going to make rapid progress at any rate?
Gueron:Well, this was the only way we could start working on plutonium and 233. Because they had reactors going and we didn't.
Weart:Also in terms of making rapid progress towards the reactors, you felt that you would be very much retarded if you didn't have this material and so forth from the United States?
Weart:You could have built it but, this held you back, retarded the...
Weart:I see... yes that's wrong, I'll... I understand. 459.
Weart:In fact they probably weren't even aware that there were any of these relationships. 460.
Gueron:Of course you see. What Goldschmidt never said was the real basis of this business.
Weart:Well tell me about that, the basis of it.
Gueron:The basis of it was that we all considered that de Gaulle's politics towards the States was mad.
Weart:That de Gaulle's politics?
Gueron:Towards the US...
Gueron:... was mad. And we very naively thought that giving him a hint might lead him to reconsider.
Weart:You thought his politics was wrong particularly because of the atomic bomb or...
Gueron:No, because his general attitude towards the US.
Weart:I see, and you felt that by showing this case of the American power might influence him.
Gueron:Yes. It was very naive of course, but there is no question that that was why we took the very serious step and risk of engineering that clandestine meeting with him.
Weart:I see, what role did you play in that by the way?
Gueron:Well, I knew Bonneau who was the Free French representative in Canada. First I was administratively subordinated to him, second I'd known him in London before. I had met de Gaulle personally at the time of my joining in June '40 and later on in my capacity of creator of the Free French sabotage lab.
Gueron:So I told Bonneau "Look here, I need three minutes personally with de Gaulle, I won't tell you what about, I need it and arrange it for me.” And Bonneau did it.
Weart:I see. Do you know whether de Gaulle had heard anything about of this beforehand?
Gueron:He could not have heard anything beforehand from Bonneau who didn't know. In general terms he knew of my assignment. And of the general terms of Rapkine's Mission francaise.
Weart:I see. But he didn't have any feeling that fission work was underway.
Weart:But he understood.
Gueron:Simply we were very naive in thinking that...
Weart:That it would make any difference.
Weart:You told him an atomic bomb was going to be built.
Gueron:I told him "You know that this is a possibility, now I don't want to give you anything else except to tell you it's not a possibility, it's a quasi-certainty.” That's all.
Weart:You told him that the Americans were building it, the British?
Gueron:The Americans. The British were of course involved to some extent, and we were involved. I didn't say anything more and he didn't ask me anything more. But Goldschmidt never said why we did it.
Weart:No I see, very interesting. Tell me a little more, what was it in de Gaulle's policy towards the United States that you...
Gueron:Well, you see, he had never swallowed the famous phrase of whoever was Secretary of State at the time, about the so-called Free French. And about the fact that he had been kept out of North Africa, the Giraud business, the Darlan business. The American policy was very bad, because from that time on, they had, and this was even truer after the war, they had a kind of a very gross materialistic trend to rely on collaborators, rather than on the resistance.
Weart:But in terms of de Gaulle's attitude.
Gueron:Well, de Gaulle's attitude was that the Americans preferred Giraud or preferred Vichy. And had opposed him very much.
Weart:Well it was true in fact.
Gueron:It was true of course.
Gueron:But nevertheless we felt that, however true, this could not justify a policy of constant opposition, and that he should make it more realistic, take a more realistic view of things. I think it was very naive, but we were very young at the time.
Weart:I see, I see.
Gueron:And very much persuaded that we were involved in something which had an enormous political future. After all that was true.
Weart:That was true. And de Gaulle should have known about it in fact. For whatever reasons.
Gueron:Yes, well you see, if Kowarski and Halban had come to him first, he would have been officially in the picture.
Weart:Yes, yes I understand.
Gueron:But anyhow you see when Goldschmidt is amused, and takes pleasure in recounting this story, he doesn't say the principal part.
Gueron:We didn't exchange a word on that.
Weart:No, I know you didn't.
Gueron:See, it had been agreed by Cockroft that we should, as possibilities arose, be given the occasion to go back and make contact. So at one time I told Cockroft "My family is mostly in North Africa, but it so happens that one of my brothers is now serving in the Presidence du conseil...
Weart:Oh is that so.
Gueron:... he had been in the Tunisian campaign, then he had been conscripted as an assistant in the economic section of the Presidence du gouvernment.
Weart:This was in 1944.
Weart:In de Gaulle's Presidence du conseil. I see.
Gueron:He was working as an assistant to Joxe at that time.
Gueron:To Joxe. And I told him, I know that my brother is now in Paris, he will not stay there for long, so if there is any possibility, this would be the best time for me, but it's for you to decide. If I don't go in Paris and see him now, it will be a long time before I can go back to North Africa. Cockroft you know was a very quiet man, and a few weeks later I happened to spend some time in Hamilton, Ontario where Thode, one of our consultants who did mass spectrometry for us and I wanted to go a bit more deeply into this, so I was spending a few days there, then I got a phone call one evening, it was Cockroft saying "come back right away, you are flying over to England and Paris tomorrow.” I went there and when I came back, it was very amusing because I went over flying and came back on the Queen Mary. And I landed in New York with nothing in my luggage except a few dirty shirts, and all the books I could have laid hands on, which had been published in France during the war. And all this covered by a very nice official courtesy letter from the British High Commissioner in Canada. So the customs in New York were completely flabbergasted. I landed and reported to the British mission there, and was told: No, you don't go to Montreal, you rush to Washington, Chadwick wants to see you. So I went there, I was debriefed by Chadwick. And after I had had a long talk with Uncle James as we called him, he said "ok that was very interesting, but I want now you to repeat this to colonel Lonsdale." All right. He summoned Lonsdale who was waiting next door and I repeated my tale to Lonsdale. After that Lonsdale retired, withdrew. And Chadwick said "ok. That went all right. They are satisfied." I told him "How can they be satisfied? I had, I lived at my brother in law's, who is a high official in the Supply Department in France. He was going to be later deputy to Jean Monnet and successor of, of Jean Monnet, sorry, and later President of Euratom. I had long visits with my brother in Hotel Matignon, I happened to be in the Hotel Matignon while the Council of Ministers was in session. How do you know I was not summoned in the Council and blew everything out?" Chadwick smiled and said: "They have their means, they are satisfied, don't worry."
Weart:Who arranged that you should be in the Hotel Matignon?
Gueron:My brother's office was there.
Weart:Interesting. 465. You have a markup here also.
Gueron:That's [???]. No, it was not impossible. Of course you see if Joliot had come, if Halban and Kowarski had been clearly under Free French authority, all this would have been clear. But now, as the fact was that, whatever it was at the start, the French contribution could only be considered as minor. At the stage which was reached.
Weart:You told, each of you together, each of you separately, told Goldschmidt to tell Joliot this, that you were through with Halban.
Weart:Page 469 here, it wasn't just an accident that the top American and British scientists weren't available. You mention about Halban's policy.
Gueron:It's clear that... no it's not only at the start it was very genuine. The British had put everything in radar. And fission at the time was somewhat secondary, so they made use of able people they had there but whom they would not involve in what they considered the first priority job, and in addition would not have been especially competent for that. There's an anecdote on this. Before joining, before leaving radar for coming to Cambridge, at about the same time I went, in the first extension, May went to see Ellis who was a counterpart [???] of Chadwick, who had been more or less his director, his PhD director, to ask his opinion about this changeover, and apparently Ellis told him "you are joining that group, you have to be deloused when you leave.” Not exactly true because we had all the basic chemistry from the Metallurgical lab reports.
Weart:But this was, page 471: "the Americans refused to provide additional information.”... "At this period they were refusing to provide any information": would that be more correct?
Gueron:There was a complete break of communication for a while. But when it was resumed...
Weart:Everything came back.
Gueron:In fact we even had a very special visit from Seaborg who lectured on the whole scheme of actinide systematics and its consequences.
Gueron:A process independently we started from what we knew from the metallurgical lab reports and we expanded on that.
Weart:During this period of breakdown in communications, were you not in effect trying to develop an independent process, or you were simply trying to develop their process?
Gueron:We had no material at the time. We could only do tracer chemistry.
Gueron:We had a very small sample that Goldschmidt had brought back of plutonium 239 which we used. And then later on we got slugs from Oakridge, and then we started extracting weighable amounts, and then developing processes. But on our own, so long as we did not have a working pile, we couldn't do a thing. No you see, this was an extension of the...
Weart:472. May have been late in 1944 that...
Gueron:Yes. This started very definitely in the fall of '44 and I remember very clearly that this started before I left for Paris in October '44.
Weart:They had already found a solvent or they were working on it?
Gueron:No. They were working on it.
Gueron:But it was of course a false discovery.
Gueron:A false discovery.
Weart:It worked, right?
Weart:I'm sorry; it was a false discovery in what sense?
Gueron:In the way that this "trigly" solvent of Goldschmidt in fact worked only because of impurities or hydrolysis induced by the chlorinate. It was very quickly abandoned.
Weart:Oh I see. I didn't know. This was not the method that they subsequently used?
Gueron:No. They used solvent extraction, but with the tributyl phosphate.
Weart:I see, the same that the Americans used.
Gueron:Yes. The same we used in France also.
Weart:I see, I didn't know that.
Gueron:I don't know exactly at what time the Canadians dropped trigly, but I don't think they ever used it industrially. Fundamentally you see the design was not so very different. You use one insoluble...
Weart:Yes it's a solvent extraction... whatever it is. Right. 474.
Gueron:There is no question that we were deeply depressed, at the same time as we were elated at the use of the bomb.
Weart:Is that so, all of you?
Gueron:It was a very hard day.
Weart:Is that so? How were the different people affected with it? The same throughout? This is quite different then from many of the Americans who had done...
Gueron:Well we were not directly involved in doing the thing. Therefore the purely technical triumph was not ours, but the feelings for the consequences we knew long beforehand and the fact was a shock.
Weart:I see. Were there feelings of personal guilt?
Gueron:... No. The feeling of being involved in a new world, but fraught with dangers, and certainly the feeling that the warning explosion in desert ground should have been done. That the first use in an act of war... was too much.
Weart:You had been discussing these things with the scientists in Chicago?
Gueron:No, but we had been discussing among ourselves.
Weart:This idea of a demonstration?
Weart:I see, where did that idea come from, do you know?
Gueron:Maybe it came a bit indirectly from the Chicago and Los Alamos people, although we didn't have very many direct contacts with them on that. There was some of course, but the general idea that doing this without the slightest warning, to that extent, was very dangerous. Whatever the technical achievement, it could not be considered as something elating or satisfactory.
Gueron:Whether they were all American uranium, my recollection is that there were quite a number of British ones. I maybe wrong but...
Weart:It can be checked, yes.
Gueron:You can check it. I was a victim of that.
Weart:Of the Alan May business?
Gueron:Because the sample of uranium 233 he passed on, apparently he had stolen from one I was working upon, and most probably by a lab assistant of mine who was his girlfriend.
Gueron:When I had to realize and to tell Cockroft that I had to hold myself responsible for the loss of half the amount I had and the spoiling by ordinary uranium of the rest, it was not a very happy period for me.
Weart:I see, you didn't know where it had gone.
Gueron:Not the slightest idea.
Weart:It's only much later that you learned what had happened to it.
Gueron:But at the time probably already Steacy who was the deputy director and Cockroft must have known things, because he got my paper and said "We were aware that something was wrong and we know that your paper is truthful."
Weart:You suspected that it had been stolen rather than somehow...
Gueron:I didn't know, but the fact was that it had disappeared. And that the rest had been spoiled.
Weart:I see, it must have been very embarrassing for you. How was the rest of it spoiled? This was...
Gueron:Because in order to dissimulate the theft, apparently they had added...
Weart:You were doing it personally?
Gueron:Just with one lab assistant.
Weart:And at one point you suddenly realized that this is not 233 anymore.
Gueron:Yes. And there was, I don't know, 5 or 10 times more uranium.
Weart:Oh more there, they hadn't added an equivalent amount, they had added too much...
Gueron:You have a 49 somewhere in the text I think.
Weart:Oh gee and I don't have a note 49 to chapter 15 ok. I'll have to...
Gueron:It must be at the end.
Weart:No... ok. I'll have to go back and check that.
Weart:You pay very close attention, I can see.
Gueron:I try to do things thoroughly.
Weart:You know more about the footnotes than I do. Page 479. Jean Perrin, not in the '20s. 480. You mentioned about Langevin becoming a party member.
Gueron:Yes. You know there had been in the Third Republic many young men in positions of power. They were not scientists but they were people from Inspection des finances...
Gueron:... or Conseil d'Etat...
Weart:On that level?
Gueron:Yes. There had been many directeurs generaux de ministeres appointed before they were forty. It wasn't so usual, but it was not so exceptional either.
Gueron:So I think you could tone down this a little. I'm not sure whether he was on close terms with Pleven.
Weart:I'm not entirely sure myself that... I can't remember... one piece of evidence is a letter where, exchange of letters where they address each other as "tu", I'm not sure how much this means in term of close terms.
Gueron:Oh yes it does, it does but I must say I'm a bit surprised.
Weart:That's my recollection. I'll have to go back and check that... I think that's why I said that but I'm not sure. 482.
Gueron:Yes. This was the general follow-up of the CNRS organization prewar. You may note that on this you may find something in the Annual Reviews of Physical Chemistry. A few years ago they asked, you know every year they have an introductory paper in this series reviewing physical chemistry in some country. And I think in the '71 issue, I'm not exactly sure of the year, they had commissioned Magat and myself to write a paper on physical chemistry in France and we expatiated a bit on this just postwar period and the way of reconstruction. So it might be of interest for you to have...
Weart:That's a good reference... Certainly I never would have looked at the Annual Review of Physical-Chemistry for the CNRS...
Gueron:I wonder whether you are not blowing up a bit all these things.
Weart:Joliot's plans for the CNRS.
Gueron:After all it's all very trite to have people go from one place to another, learn here and there. You may say that it was not usual in France. But to consider this as a plan, it seems to me that it implies more novelty than there really is.
Weart:I see your point yeah, it's 483.
Gueron:That's the reference to this paper I told you. I'm not sure that people don't read "looked over.”
Gueron:Those who neglected...
Weart:Those who neglected the role of (oil fields [???])
Gueron:... or misunderstood the...
Gueron:"Overlooked" might be meant as "supervised.”
Gueron:Joliot's labs were there but again, as we said...
Gueron:It's not exactly that.
Weart:This was really electricity rationing rather than a black out.
Gueron:Yes, yes, it was not accidental it was...
Weart:Right, Right ok. When one says a black out in this country it implies all lights going out unexpectedly.
Gueron:Direction, not administrative division. See the title was not Administrator general; the title was Administrateur general delegu‚ du gouvernment.
Weart:Ok which is a little different, I see.
Weart:It's quite different. It is page 489.
Gueron:He was on about the same level as Joliot. Joliot was not delegu‚ du gouvernment. And the Chairman of the Comit‚ de l'nergie atomique was the Minister in charge, the Prime minister, or his Secretaire d'tat.
Weart:But he never came I suppose.
Gueron:And in their absence, the chair was the Administrateur general delegu du gouvernment. So the preeminence of the scientists was not so clear. You had the Directeur du budget.
Gueron:Directeur du budget in the Committee. In the Comit‚ de l'Energie atomique. You had the Directeur du budget.
Gueron:You had the Directeur du CNRS, and you had the President du Comit‚ d'action scientifique. From the start.
Weart:Yes. It's a question of additional delegates, there were delegates in there already. They wanted to add more delegates.
Weart:And Dassault. Later on I say who was in there. Denivelle again. This is page 490.
Weart:Oh yes. We've talked about that.
Gueron:Yes. In a serious difficulty: there were latent difficulties.
Weart:Latent difficulty, yes.
Gueron:You see an echo of that in my letter to Perrin.
Weart:Yeah. Page 491. This is the whole question of the relation of the Commissariat with industry. I'm interested in your views on that, in general.
Gueron:We'll have to speak a bit at length on this. But you see it's not... I think you are systematizing a bit there. Because after all you see, we started from scratch. And there had to be a technical arm, there had to be an administrative structure. And it was very clearly a governmental responsibility. And the Commissariat, by its charter, was "unetablissement public de nature industrielle", this was explicitly stated, and it was the advisor of the government, the Commissariat and both the Administrateur general and Haut Commissaire, specifically stated as advisors to the government on all nuclear matters, including foreign policy. So the industrial nature was in the charter. Therefore I don't think you can say that a leg was missing.
Weart:But in the sense of not having relations, organic relations from the start with private industries.
Gueron:Well, this had to be established.
Weart:Had to be pulled up like everything else so to speak.
Gueron:Yes. But the industrial character was in the charter. So I think you should qualify this.
Weart:Qualify it, yes.
Gueron:We had a posteriori control; we had a mission de contrale. What we did not have was contraleur des dipenses engagees.
Weart:Meaning that you only had posterior control rather than control...
Gueron:Yes, the a priori control was in internal. It was not, we had not an a priori control from the Ministry of Budget. This was because of the industrial structure. Renault, nationalized Renault, or the SNCF did not have, either.
Weart:Ok I understand. It's page 492. So you didn't have to submit the subject in advance to the administration.
Gueron:Sorry, the budget was passed by the Assemble. We did not have to have prior agreement of a contraleur financier not belonging to the Commissariat for committing moneys which were given to us by the budget.
Gueron:But we had to be within the budget. And we had a posteriori control.
Gueron:The question was whether we had in the Committee from the start or not, someone from the finance ministry and from the foreign office. I don't remember exactly.
Weart:Not right from the start according to what I've seen.
Gueron:There was a report by a Commission of American scientists who had been invited by the Russian Academy of Sciences. Early in '46 I think. And I think that either in the report or in a separate report by Irving Langmuir, which was I think published in Science, there was a very explicit warning that one should not imagine that the Russians would be slow in catching up.
Weart:Oh yeah. Groves was certainly... the Science survey was not agreed by General Groves.
Gueron:So I think you should mention that there were better advised people in the States who publicly stated that at that time.
Weart:On 494. On 495. Accommodation with Groves.
Gueron:It's true that we all had a personal agreement, but the accommodation as far as I remember was on the basic terms of exchange of letters.
Gueron:Exchange of letters which were drafted identically for all of us. I know because I drafted them.
Weart:I see. Is it essentially this agreement as I've said here?
Gueron:No, except that this might imply that we had...
Weart:Oh that there were different agreements, I see. The agreement was essentially that you would not publish it or [???] but that you would be able to use it.
Gueron:Yes. A letter from Cockroft which was very liberal, and then he was ordered to withdraw this letter.
Weart:Yes I've seen that, I just didn't want to get into it. Yes, what did you bring back in terms of written notes?
Gueron:Not very much and we all had a lot in our head.
Gueron:After all we had been living with this thing; we were still relatively young and alert. We were all under forty.
Weart:So you didn't bring back particularly more than Goldschmidt might have done?
Gueron:Probably a bit more because it's a matter of personal character.
Weart:I see. A note book or something like that?
Weart:You still have that?
Gueron:I think so, yes.
Weart:I hope you do preserve your archives, see that they get deposited some place, because even if they're in disorder someday I think it would be very interesting for people to look through.
Gueron:I never had very much archives.
Weart:No, but what you do have from those days should be very interesting.
Gueron:Yes I have to write it up sometime.
Weart:But particularly to see...
Gueron:And I also have the history of Euratom to write which...
Weart:But particularly to make sure that the things don't eventually get thrown out, as so often happens...
Weart:But that some archive receives them.
Gueron:We were not for very long just a dozen people.
Weart:Oh yes sure, sure.
Gueron:I think this may be a bit misleading...
Gueron:because there was a rather clear organization.
Weart:Yeah, that's why I say such formal organization, the chart was not really... well ok, tell me about it.
Gueron:We knew what we had to do. There was a lot of give and take, but the division of work was rather clear.
Weart:Compared with other organizations, compared with more established ones. It's not so different?
Gueron:It was certainly less formal, more mobile, as in every newborn thing. But it was not chaos, not at all.
Weart:These letters of Joliot. In talking in terms of going back to scientific work.
Gueron:Never did. He tried desperately; he pushed up the fact that Martin [? GG] had seen a few cases of ternary fission but... In all these things you must realize that Joliot was a puppet. I can give you a number of examples. The fact that he was under duress, but that he did testify in the Kravchenko trial in Paris. To what extent he could avoid expressing himself clearly in the Lysenko business...
Weart:It was never too clear.
Gueron:No. But I can give you a very simple example to show you how under the thumb he was. I think, late, sometime in '45 or early in '46, I was asked to take part in a radio discussion on energy. It was reasonable to go and explain things to people. This was a kind of round table. Then it happened that among the people invited to take part was Ernest Mercier. You know who he was?
Gueron:Then, I don't know how Joliot heard about that, but he heard about it and he told me "Well, do you think you should go and speak with that man?” "I don't see why not, after all he knows something about electricity; we are going to speak about energy. It's a matter of public education; I don't see why I shouldn't go." All right. Then I got a summons to go and see Marcel Paul... He was at the time one of the, I think Minister of industry in the de Gaulle government and he was a communist. So I went there. Marcel Paul, the Minister of industry explained to me that I shouldn't speak with Ernest Mercier on the radio. And all this was in presence of a certain mister Frolov who was known to be always around in Joliot's lab. So I told the Minister in the presence of Frolov that I didn't see that it could do any wrong to speak of nuclear energy even in the presence of Ernest Mercier. I have no political links and I was going to speak informatively about what I knew about energy including nuclear energy. I left. Frolov dutifully took me in an official car, brought me to my door, refused of course to be dropped first, I'm not to know where he was going. This was a Saturday and on the Sunday morning I got a call from Joliot, at home. He wanted to know how my interview with the Minister had gone, of course he knew, and he said "Really you shouldn't do that. Let me come and speak to you." So on the Sunday morning he came to my home and after some time I said: "Look here. It has nothing to do with the job except that I am asked to speak in my capacity of an expert. If you, as High Commissioner, give me a formal order not to go, I will tell the organizers that I have been forbidden to go and speak. But I'm not going to be persuaded not to. If you give me a formal order, I won't. He gave me a formal order. So you see, first, pressure from him, next convocation to a Minister, in the presence of some obviously party supervisor, then the high Commissioner coming to my home and descending to giving me a formal order not to go and speak on a radio program about energy, because Monsieur Ernest Mercier was on the program.
Weart:But I think there's a question on all this. How much this may have been in agreement with Joliot's own personal convictions and political convictions.
Gueron:Maybe he was. But obviously this was party engineered.
Weart:Yes, clearly so. But of course he was himself a party engineer.
Gueron:But he was teleguided.
Gueron:He was teleguided. All these things, he might adhere to, but he was ordered to do.
Weart:So you were referring here, in page 500 and [???] to his membership in WFSW and so forth.
Gueron:Yes, all this was party orders.
Weart:How did you get on with him? You're clearly not..., I suppose at the time you were not sympathetic to the communists?
Weart:How did you get on then with Joliot?
Gueron:You see, Joliot was a very curious person, he had charm, and you could not but respect his achievements. As I told you I never considered him to be sincere.
Weart:How would he have felt towards you, just someone who has to be ordered to do these sorts of things. It must have been difficult for him to have someone who is quite clearly opposed to the communists, [???] with him?
Gueron:I brought him more than I impeded him.
Weart:I see, ok.
Gueron:After all Goldschmidt was no communist either.
Gueron:And even Kowarski.
Weart:Kowarski, yeah. It wasn't three story, it was higher.
Gueron:Ok. I didn't have time to go and check, but I think it was a six story. You are all wrong here.
Weart:This is 504. OK.
Gueron:Savoie-Hutchison was a subsidiary of Ugine.
Gueron:Yes. Which was a different, at the time you see the main inorganic chemistry big firms were: Pechiney, St. Gobain and Ugine.
Weart:Now how did I...
Gueron:Plus the Office national de l ‘azote, plus Les potasses domaniales.
Weart:I'll have to go back. That's funny; I thought I had seen a letterhead...
Gueron:You see, now all these things, you have: Pechiney-St. Gobain-Ugine-Kuhlman, which are practically all merged but...
Weart:So perhaps at some later date Savoie-Hutchison was connected with Pechiney, but not at that date.
Weart:I see, ok. Page 504. I'll correct that.
Gueron:Maybe they had provided, the problem was not that it was too impure, but that when, at the time, we explored possibilities for graphite the first idea of course was to go to Savoie-Hutchison, to Ugine, first because they were the greatest graphite manufacturers in France, the most important, and second because they were linked with Carbide and Carbon.
Weart:Oh I see, I didn't know that.
Gueron:Which had been the, the suppliers in the US. And when I went to see them, and proposed cooperation, they said "Oh, no problems, we know all about this, we shall have the American assistance, and within a very short time we shall provide you with samples of the required quality." I knew this could not be so. And then I approached Pechiney, and there I found a man who was in charge of the electro-metallurgy division which included graphite, who was not a technician, who was more a man of humanities and the law, [???], but a man who had vision. And this rather unusual, if not unique agreement I could make with them, this establishment of the joint laboratory, which by the way is not so much the Commissariat as you say, because really this was my personal operation, and I had to some extent to push it through the teeth of people in the Commissariat.
Weart:To get this kind of joint laboratory.
Gueron:And to get this kind of private agreement you see. And one day even, I was called before the Comit‚ de l'energie atomique, and some people rather brutally reproached me of having made a gr‚ … gr‚ deal with one company, and not having put them on a competitive bidding. They did not understand that it was a development business, not a purchase.
Weart:I see. So first you approached Savoie-Hutchison.
Weart:And then subsequently formed an agreement with...
Gueron:And they were haughty, and obviously you couldn't go anywhere with them. But, and after that, we could do the job with Pechiney, under these rather unusual and to some extent exemplary conditions.
Weart:I see where was this factory located by the way?
Gueron:Chedde. It's downstream from Chamonix. So you see it's not Pechiney there.
Weart:I see, but it is Pechiney later on.
Gueron:These things were negotiated by Allier, Denivelle and I.
Weart:I see. Why did the Norwegians agree to give you the heavy water? It strikes me as a little strange, I know that they were under American-British pressure and so forth not to, really in a way. Why would they have made this agreement?
Gueron:Well, Allier was on the Conseil de surveillance of the Norsk-Hydro company which was very heavily linked with French capital. There was the pre-war agreement with Aubert, I think he had died meanwhile, or was to die very shortly. But nevertheless they felt linked. To what extent there was some resentment of the British bombing of the ferry...
Weart:That sort of thing.
Gueron:... I don't know exactly, but it's clear that, then of course there was there might have been the influence of Randers who wanted to start a Norwegian atomic development, and who tried a bit clumsily to negotiate a parity agreement...
Gueron:... with the Commissariat. I think he was a bit overreaching and I think that Joliot was a bit excessively despising in refusing it. But this also might have to do with the general political situation.
Weart:Yes, I don't get into the foreign relations of the Commissariat at all; it's too much of a thing for me to get into. Because for that you know you need to have access to documents and so forth which I just didn't have. 506.
Gueron:I think we met once a week.
Weart:About once a week. Ok, I can check that.
Gueron:No. You see, and here again you come on the SEDARS business.
Weart:Let's see it's 506. It was not the Societ‚ des Terres Rares?
Gueron:Well, Joliot asked Goldschmidt and I and the chemists of the place to look for industrial connections. And we felt that it was a matter of fine chemistry and that we should not approach the big firms making heavy inorganic materials, fertilizers and so on. That we should rather go to a firm specialized in fine chemicals. So we first thought of Rhine-Poulenc who was doing pharmacy and plastics, things more subtle than the gross sulfuric acid business. And we could also more easily approach, because Delpine whom we knew both, who had been my boss as a military chemist, was a consultant to Rhine-Poulenc. So we approached Delpine, who started arranging meetings and so on. And then one day, very abruptly, Joliot said: "We shall do this with the Terres Rares." Now the Terres Rares was directed by Blumenfeld who was, with whom the Perrin had been more or less, I don't know exactly how, connected, and Gregoire. We were very peeved, Goldschmidt and I. This put us completely in a false position towards Delpine. We were not at all certain that Terres Rares were good for that. In fact we very soon saw that they wanted to dump on us a dilapidated plant in La Rochelle. We didn't like Denivelle's intervention in that. We smelled a rat connected with the SEDARS deal. All right, so finally it went to the Societe‚ des Terres Rares. But it's not that we approached them. It was dumped on us...
Weart:You were told to.
Gueron:... under circumstances which we felt were somewhat unsavory. Now you see one day, I heard that the next day, the Comit‚ de l'energie atomique would have on its agenda the contract with the Societe‚ des Terres Rares. Neither Goldschmidt nor I had seen the contract, the draft.
Weart:I see, I see. So this is where this whole problem with Denivelle comes in.
Gueron:Yes. So I managed to extract the draft, and I just jumped to the ceiling when I saw that. This was nothing like a contract you see, not a single provision about patents, not a single provision about rights, and really it was, completely shameless. So I, that evening, I took my secretary home to dinner, and we wrote a draft, she typed it, and the next morning the Comit‚ de l'energie atomique had a counter-draft. But you see, the first draft which probably had come from Denivelle, or perhaps straight from Societe des Terres Rares simply was a hand-down to...
Weart:Which draft was finally adopted then?
Weart:What were the circumstances of Denivelle leaving the Commissariat then?
Gueron:It was later. It was later but at one time practically we trod on everyone's foot to have him go. He was never there. He always took the part of industry.
Weart:I see, it wasn't solely this Terres Rares affair, it was general.
Gueron:No, it was general. You see, he was involved with his university duties, he was involved with industrial duties, he had personal involvements, it was permanent conflict of interests. And Joliot, the communist, went along. You see, this is why I say we always smelled the rat of SEDARS.
Weart:I see, I see.
Gueron:We felt these people had a hold on Joliot. It doesn't mean that they were incompetent.
Weart:No, I understand.
Gueron:They did a job, very much under our guidance of course. But all these things were un [???].
Weart:Yes ok, I'll change that, yeah.
Gueron:He's very careful man.
Weart:Yes. 507, your own role.
Gueron:Part of it at least. You know, this conversion with simultaneous melting by calcium, this had been done in '42 in an ICI factory near Liverpool. And it had been done to our specifications, which we had spelled out to the ICI people from Cambridge in December '41.
Weart:Oh, I see. I didn't realize that the Cambridge group was... oh, you mean you had specified the degree of purity and so forth, what you wanted.
Gueron:And I remember that this was one of my first meetings with [Michael] Perrin, Ackers and the ICI people. And when we took out our list of specs, these people, the people from the plant, from the ICI plant, told us: "Ok, that's very nice. Come back after the war." But six months later we had the first fifty kilos ingot, and it was to specifications. So what I had to do, I continued to follow this, all during the Cambridge and Montreal period, but really the work was, all the basic work, both of manufacture and of purity checking, was done by ICI. When I came back in '44, I went to the plant; I saw the men and discussed the progress and the preparation of the rods for the various piles, that's all.
Weart:I see. So you were closely connected with the work.
Gueron:Yes. I had made experiments which even were published very shortly after the war on the corrosion by, and the accidental formation of hydride. By, first, corrosion by water in confined spaces and then, after an induction period, the hydrogen converting the material to hydride. But the fundamental work was done early in the war in UK.
Weart:I see. So then did you set out simply to follow that?
Gueron:Yes. Implications which were never fully discussed. They were. We were fully determined to explore recycling of plutonium in fast reactors and perhaps also in thermal reactors. Except that in the case of thermal reactors, we were definitely committed to natural uranium and therefore the recycling of plutonium in reactors was not of primary importance. In thermal reactors. But the idea of using plutonium, either for homogeneous reactors or for fast reactors, was very openly discussed.
Weart:What about the idea of using plutonium for bombs? How much was that discussed?
Gueron:This was not discussed, openly. The official policy of France was the statement of Parodi, in the UN. Of course we knew that the military wanted it, we knew that Dautry was favorable to it. We had our doubts about Denivelle's position.
Weart:But did you discuss this much among yourselves?
Gueron:At the time, well we were all periodically engaged comme [as] scientific experts to the French delegation in the UN during the Baruch negotiations. We were [???].
Weart:Very much in [???], I see. But you mentioned you knew the military wanted it. How did you know, what sort of...
Gueron:They wouldn't have been the military if they didn't.
Weart:Did you ever encounter a general or whatever who... did a general or a minister or anyone ever discuss this problem with you?
Gueron:Not directly at the time.
Gueron:But how could you have, statutory, the Chairman of the Comit‚ d'action scientifique of the Defense nationale as a member of the Committee, if the question was not considered. And you could not avoid considering the question. Either you came to an agreement or you had to face the problem.
Weart:But it was not that someone came to you and said: "How long would it take you to make a bomb" or something like that?
Gueron:No. Nobody said that, except perhaps de Gaulle to Joliot, according to the Peyrefitte story. Which fundamentally I think is exact. Perhaps not exactly in the terms he says it, but...
Weart:But this story in Le mal francais, that de Gaulle said "I want a bomb built." and Joliot said "D'accord."
Weart:But Joliot never said anything like this to any of you.
Gueron:No. Well, but after all he had patented the explosive device.
Weart:Yes. What was your feeling during this period, which is before Joliot's dismissal and so forth. Did you feel that what you were doing was in fact for purely peaceful ends or did you feel that what you were doing would also eventually help France to get the bomb?
Gueron:I had no doubts that the parting of the way was a very artificial thing. I thought that a formal government commitment voiced in the UN United nations meant something. And I worked as hard as I could during my periods as expert of the French delegation, to push to an understanding on the bases of the control and the development of international agency. At first they were from the Lilienthal-Acheson report. But I had no illusions about the fundamental penchant of Dautry, or the clear trend later of Guillaumat, and even before that of Lescop.
Weart:Did Lescop make it clear or was it just something you could feel because of his orientation.
Gueron:He didn't conceal his wishes.
Weart:I see... he would say it right out to you...
Weart:What did he say specifically? Did he say that he hoped to get Joliot out, to get the communists out?
Gueron:No, it was not that. You know, Lescop was a radical. He worked by other means. But he did not conceal that to his mind the whole talk of international control, of disarmament, was hooey, and you had to have a bomb.
Weart:I see. Ok. 508. That's the same thing again.
Gueron:Yes. After all, we worked under a policy which had been officially stated by the French representative, and at the United Nations.
Weart:So you would in fact agree with Kowarski's statement that the implications were there and were clearly recognized. It was just that you sort of tactfully didn't mention, that what you were doing would lead also to a bomb.
Gueron:No. At that time it "would" not lead to a bomb, it "could.” But the turning point was G3. Because then it was very clear that if you just duplicated G2, it was for quantitative production. And that, it was plutonium-production. This was the clear turning point.
Weart:We'll get to that in fact.
Gueron:This is, I don't know whether it's Koppelmans or Koppelmanas. Because I know that there is a man, I don't say that it's not Koppelmans, but check whether it is not Koppelmanas.
Weart:Ok I will. 754 note 5. And also 755 note 10.
Gueron:Yes, same thing. Analogy.
Weart:511. So Lacassagne was really the leader of the medical, bio-medical services.
Gueron:At least the supervisor.
Gueron:And I don't think Courrier had anything to do.
Weart:Barab‚ and Orcelle.
Gueron:Well, of course they were both fellow members, very nice men [???]
Weart:You know they were party members?
Weart:They were definitely party members. Ok.
Gueron:Well, I haven't seen their card. But Orcelle certainly, and Barab‚ most probably. Barab‚ was more subtle, but... He would certainly not have picked a communist when a more competent person was available, but I know at least one case, the case of Vigier, who was a hazy theoretician, not a very good one, but who was an officer in the army. And there is no question that he had nothing to do in the Commissariat, but that Joliot had him appointed so that he would not be posted in Indochina.
Gueron:This was clearly a party assignment. When you say shortage of machine tools it was not a shortage.
Weart:How do you mean?
Gueron:It was a complete absence.
Weart:A complete absence of machine tools... ok... 512.
Gueron:There was ever a hint that a normalien would be given preference.
Weart:That's something in... ok.
Gueron:And after all Auger and Perrin were normaliens.
Weart:Ok. You don't recall anything about that... all right.
Gueron:No. I know there was some opposition when I first proposed Yvon.
Gueron:Because he was not from the clan. It's not because he was'n't [???] normalien. But he was not from the clan.
Weart:There was opposition from who?
Gueron:Perrin and Auger.
Weart:I see. Not from Joliot.
Gueron:No Joliot didn't worry about theoretical physics. And you had also difficulty with Yvon. But they were training engineers for the officer corps "and" the civil service.
Weart:And for the civil service. Ok. It's page 513... 514.
Gueron:Well you see on all this, it was something very clear and very illuminating for young, inexperienced men as we were. It was very clear that at the beginning we recruited talented adventurers. We had no difficulty, at the beginning, to recruit young people. Very soon after, the bourgeois spirit overcame.
Gueron:Yes. Even among the young graduates. The sort of glory or the sort of prestige of, aura, of the job, disappeared. People started worrying: "Have we got a statute", and a lot preferred a few hundred francs more making paint or other...
Weart:Did they see the CEA as perhaps being unstable or uncertain to survive?
Gueron:Clearly, the general bourgeois feeling overcame the appeal of the new world. And so the second crop of graduates after the first one at the end of '46 was a bit difficult to reach. And after that it settled down more or less. But it was a very clear flux of adventurers and reflux of bourgeois.
Weart:Did you get a feeling that industry, you had a lot of relations with industry and so forth, did you get a feeling that they regarded CEA as something that was outside the regular circles? Again the industry also has a clan to a certain extent. Did they regard you as outsiders in this sense?
Gueron:We worked well with them, or we didn't work with them. See, with the Terres Rares people, once the thing was done, we had a perfectly good working relationship. With Pechiney I managed this really very unusual arrangement, especially unusual for France. In fact the man who did it on the Pechiney side paid for it with his job. Because apparently at some stage, Pechiney top echelons felt that they had been committed and that the returns were slow in coming. That man was pushed somewhere on the side and replaced by someone much less imaginative, and with whom probably I would never have dealt such a contract. But I still think that the first one was the right one. After all without that they would never have had the contract for the graphite for the Japanese reactors.
Weart:I wonder, in general, whether for example some of the opposition to Joliot leading the Commissariat and so forth was because, not only because he was communist, but because specifically he wasn't a polytechnicien, he wasn't a member of the circles.
Gueron:No. Politics was enough. See, after all, if it had been simply a matter of social situation, [???] he was Joliot, [???] a Nobel Prize.
Weart:But that he wasn't playing ball with them particularly...
Gueron:I think that he had played ball a bit too much.
Gueron:There was always this SEDARS skeleton in the cupboard.
Weart:I see. He may have very well been willing to...
Gueron:... who had dealt with him in SEDARS during the war, if there had been any black deal, certainly didn't want anything to come to light any more than he. The whole thing was buried with the utmost discretion. But, as I say, in these deals with the Terres Rares and so on, you felt the thing... Pay scales, these things went rather easily. There had been at the start a kind of tacit if not explicit agreement that we would have the pay scales of Electricite de France which were way beyond the civil service.
Weart:I see, so you didn't have to push hard, it just went along.
Gueron:I personally never had to discuss my pay in the CEA.
Weart:Or the pay of your subordinates.
Gueron:At that time no. I don't know what you call a common engineer degree. We had lots of people from Ecole Centrale which is certainly not a. And PC is not a minor school.
Gueron:And a bachelor's degree in science was not so bad. In fact you know, when it came to recruiting, I very much preferred to have a licenci‚ and train him myself or, than to have a man coming with a doctoral degree from a laboratory which I didn't appreciate. I thought they were deformed rather than formed. You should be very precise. Because at the start we had this 500 million as a kind of doorway, apart from the budget.
Gueron:We had this, it was really a sort of endowment.
Weart:That was for you to spend, I see.
Gueron:Yes. And it was the first, let's say, investment fund.
Weart:I see ok so that has to be... 516.
Gueron:But plus the budget. So you have simply, I can't dictate to you what to say, but I think you should distinguish clearly this endowment which could be refilled, from the budget. Of course all this dwindled because of the inflation, the third expansion, but it was something very peculiar.
Weart:I see, so it was not necessarily all spent the first year.
Gueron:No. What was Echard's role? To what extent was he an eye of the party? To what extent was he simply un homme de main, who did the dirty job for Joliot? At the same time, Joliot's secretary was Echard's mistress. You see, all this was very shady, very unpleasant.
Weart:You had a fight over Echard?
Gueron:Yes. Because at one time, he wanted to have Echard get Legion d’honneur at the same time as Goldschmidt and I. I told him I don't mind, but I don't care to be decorated in a row with Echard. So, if he gets it I will refuse. Joliot was furious. But I certainly didn't want to have my name linked with his in that way. It doesn't mean that I don't recognize what he did. As a homme de main...
Gueron:Before the war, at the time when the work on fluctuations in conductors the work on noise, signal-to-noise, was not so trivial.
Gueron:This is why also of course he had gone into radar. He had been hired into radar. [???] would have spoken of it of course. You see it was very clear that for Auger and Perrin, the primacy of Joliot was irking.
Gueron:Yes. Especially for Auger probably. Auger very quickly detached himself.
Weart:Because of his feeling toward Joliot?
Gueron:Yes. I think so at least. Perrin was perhaps not so clearly reluctant, but he certainly kept himself aloof. He didn't want to make a row or to have too open disagreements, and after all he had no operational responsibility.
Weart:So he just sort of kept out of it.
Gueron:Yes. "Is at the same time true and not true."
Gueron:I had an outside academic position.
Weart:Oh you did.
Gueron:In fact, all during 1946, I taught in Strasbourg. I left Paris by late evening train every Thursday, or every Friday. I gave two lectures and prepared two lectures in Strasbourg the next day, sleeping over on a camp bed in my office. And returned if I could find a seat on the Saturday evening train, if not overnight. Then I got seconded after the end of the academic year '46.
Weart:You got what?
Weart:Oh, from this professorship.
Gueron:Yes. I got leave.
Weart:I see. All during this time you had a professorship at Strasbourg?
Weart:Is this the same professorship that you had left, or was this...
Gueron:No, I was assistant professor when I left, and I was associate professor when I came back.
Weart:I see, associate professor that's matre de conference... I see. But you were on leave.
Weart:Ok. I wasn't aware of that.
Gueron:And Goldschmidt had a kind of honorary, pro forma appointment in the same capacity, to Nancy. But he never exercised it.
Gueron:And this lead to development in Strasbourg you see. Because I kept an interest personally and on behalf of the CEA in the development of nuclear science in Strasbourg. The Germans had put up an accelerator there and Joliot wanted to have it dismantled and set up back in Vitry. I could prevent that and this became the nucleus of the Nuclear physics institute in Strasbourg. Later on I could induce them to make a professorship of nuclear chemistry. That's when Marguerite Perey was appointed there. So it had some consequences.
Gueron:This is entirely true.
Weart:About Joliot not wanting to hear about what happened in Canada and so on.
Gueron:He wasn't interested. He was interested in the politics; he was not interested in the details. He was not interested in the fond des choses.
Weart:In the what?
Gueron:In the fond des choses. In the crux of the matter. It was not the slow failure of his marriage. It was the deliberate failure. The deliberate cancellation of his marriage so that he could...
Weart:Yes. One can't say that.
Gueron:So that he could come up with Halban.
Weart:This is still page 520. OK. This is Kowarski and...
Gueron:Yes. We had done, I told you, all this work on more precise measurement of beta rays, we had studied in Cambridge the self-absorption of beta rays in thick preparations, all this leading to more precise measurement of fission yields, of cross-sections and so on. All this I had done mostly with Broda, but under general guidance of Kowarski and all the reports had been cosigned by him, Broda and myself. At some time, rather early after the war, I obtained from the AEA, from the British authorities, declassification of that work on the cross-sections, the capture cross-section of uranium, which of course had some historical importance, as I explained [E. Broda, J. Gueron and L. Kowarski, Declassified British Atomic Energy Report, no. 45 (1942)]. Kowarski refused to cosign the publication, which I did alone with Broda therefore [J. Gueron and E. Broda, Acta phys. Austr. 5, 414 (1951); see also letter of E.B. and J.G. to Journal of Nuclear Energy in response to the article by V. S. Crocker(1955) MG] because he was afraid at that time of having his name together with Broda's who was a known communist.
Weart:He wanted to dissociate himself that much from the communists. I see. What was your own political views, were you a member of any political party?
Gueron:No, I never was.
Weart:You'll notice that I say something about Kowarski and something about Goldschmidt. But I don't say anything here about your politics because I don't know. And I wanted to ask you, about how would you describe your political attitudes or even or sort of cultural political situation. How did you vote?
Gueron:I generally voted left of center. But fundamentally I am opposed to any dictatorship. Implicit or explicit.
Weart:So, essentially, republican, one would say.
Gueron:Well, probably in this country I would rather vote democrat than GOP.
Weart:Right, right. But by republican I meant "Republican" in the French sense.
Gueron:Yes. But you see for instance in France at the present time I would not vote program commun because I am certain that whatever Mitterand thinks, he could not master the communists but would be pocketed by them.
Weart:I see. But if it were not for the alliance with the communists, you might be inclined to go for the socialists.
Weart:I see. Well apparently a lot of other Frenchmen felt the same way.
Gueron:If only as a counter weight to excesses from the conservatives.
Weart:I understand, I see.
Gueron:Well, you see.
Weart:That's a difficult...
Gueron:No. The point is very simple you see. Both were spoiled children. I took on the jobs which I had to do plus those which they refused to do. Implicitly or explicitly.
Weart:So you got so to speak the dirty work.
Gueron:A lot of it. Yes.
Weart:You feel that I sort of express that here, in a sort of a, you know, without being too harsh on them?
Gueron:Well, to speak very frankly, I'm afraid that this sentence means that I was encroaching.
Weart:Oh no, I certainly didn't mean to give that impression. This would make me then... They didn't feel that you were encroaching either, did they? I never got that impression.
Gueron:I don't know what they felt. Simply at the same time they resented that I had a rather wide role, but they wouldn't want to do a lot of necessary work, which was not amusing for them.
Weart:I see. And did you feel at that time that you were sort of given all of these tasks?
Gueron:Yes, they were dumped on me, there is no question.
Gueron:And they took very great care that the limelight was on them. I didn't mind so much, but I wasn't blind either. The final word was Joliot's, he was the boss but... You see, he had the final word when he imposed the Terres Rares, for instance. But apart from cases like that...
Weart:Usually the decision was made by all of you jointly?
Gueron:The decision was made by us, and the others concurred.
Gueron:Well, Dautry was aging and ailing.
Gueron:Yes. You see Dautry had the reputation of being a very hard driving man. He had a reputation for descending at unheard of hours everywhere and taking people to task. In the Commissariat, he never did anything of the sort.
Weart:I see. By the way isn't it true that he also involved himself to some extent in the relations between the Commissariat and industry and the government in the sense of perhaps bringing some of his prestige...
Gueron:Certainly. But also, either because he was aging and tired, Denivelle had a role.
Weart:I see, so Denivelle tended to play more of a role than Dautry.
Gueron:Perhaps not, but Denivelle really had much more than his role as Secretaire general, and at the same time he did not do the job of Secretaire general.
Gueron:And this was the crux of the conflict.
Gueron:He meddled in things which really were the preserve of the Administrateur general and the Haut Commissaire, and the current administration which he should have done, he did not do.
Weart:I see. That last sentence I think I'm going to do away with, by the way. I think that's unjust.
Gueron:No this is true.
Weart:You think that's true?
Gueron:This is true. When Dautry spoke of "Mes savants.”
Gueron:Personally I had great respect for Dautry. And he certainly relied a lot on me.
Weart:I see, so it did happen.
Gueron:But the point you see, there was no open warfare of course. But as I wrote in this letter to Perrin, the number of times where we could not have either, we could not have both of them [Joliot and Dautry. MG] present and when decisions which had to be co-signed or at least concerted, simply could not be discussed, could not be obtained because they were not there simultaneously. This was a plague.
Weart:And this was because of the tension between them?
Gueron:Of course. Rather than having to fight, they preferred not to be there.
I see. Let me stop this...