Oral History Transcript — Dr. Jules Gueron
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Interview with Dr. Jules Gueron
Jules Gueron; April 21, 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:By the way, before we start, I have a couple of questions that occurred to me... just very brief questions. Exactly, when did you join the Cambridge group?
Gueron:In December '41.
Weart:In December '41, O.K.
Gueron:Of course there were some negotiations before.
Weart:Right, O.K. now... I just wasn't sure, just the date. And when you were in Imperial College, what was it you were doing there?
Gueron:I was doing general chemistry trying various catalysts of oxidation...
Weart:Oh I see just doing research... I see... I wondered
Gueron:It was under the general war program of the British...
Weart:I understand, I understand... One other thing, this is a little more complicated problem, do you know what the feelings of Halban and particularly Kowarski were towards ICI before the problem of the move to Canada came up, particularly the problems involved with ICI attempting to take over reactor work, were you at all in those things?
Gueron:No, no... because when I came in, the Tube Alloys organization existed. It was not all, but it existed. I quoted to you the Kammer limerick, and it sums up the situation.
Weart:How did Kowarski react to all that?... Did he talk about it or was it sort of in the past already?
Gueron:Oh no. In fact that was probably the beginning of the split, because clearly Halban was drifted away from Kowarski, from the time the negotiations began with people other than the scientists who considered them as vile to junior fellows, on a somewhat more or less equal level. When Halban started being boss and bossy...
Weart:How did Kowarski feel about ICI? did he have any relations with them?
Gueron:No, he had no dealings with them, as far as I know. Halban had these. If the shoe had been on the other foot, I don't know how Kowarski would have felt.
Weart:I see... well that's pretty clear... One other brief question, I think we've passed it in here... this movie," the Bataille de l'eau lourde", was that distributed around Paris?
Gueron:Not only in Paris.
Gueron:It was a big success.
Weart:I see, a commercial film.
Weart:I wondered because Allier has written that he doesn't want the film to be considered a commercial film... I don't understand what his feelings are there... he was in it of course.
Gueron:I don't know... I never saw the film... I thought the whole business was a rather low level of advertising. And after all, while the Allier episode was, let's say, happily concluded and a feat, the whole business after that, of the bombing of the plant, the sinking of the ferry, were unnecessary.
Weart:Yeah I understand. Those were the only questions I had. So we can get on to your comments... It's at page 524.
Gueron:Well, I have not heard this, but if Joliot really said that, it was rather naive.
Weart:That he could help England release herself from the grip... but may it not be that Joliot was in fact rather ignorant of what the relations had been in England and so forth...
Gueron:Well, early '46 he could not have been...
Gueron:No... ignorant... because after all he had seen [Francis] Perrin and Auger extensively. And we arrived... I arrived in February '46... Kowarski very soon after and Goldschmidt a few weeks later.
Weart:I see... Page 525.
Gueron:Well, the patent business. Yes of course it was Joliot's problem, with a possible link to SEDARS of which we have already spoken very much. But you know, these things have very funny fallout. For instance, the French patents were not recognized in the US, but they were in Germany. So at one time the CEA got royalties from GE-built reactors operating in Germany.
Gueron:Not built in Germany, imported.
Weart:I understand. Crazy.
Gueron:I don't think this put France out of energy trouble, but... You see, this whole negotiation about the patents, of course Joliot put some pride in it... I don't think Perrin... well he dealt into it, I don't know the details and finally the man who took it over and I think bond it up completely was Rocard.
Weart:Rocard... I didn't know he was involved.
Gueron:He was on the Comite de l'Energie atomique. He was supposed to have good links and a good understanding of the industrial life; he got involved with I don't know which firm of attorneys in this country [US]. They probably promised him monts et merveilles. This of course, you know my doubts.
Weart:About the statement of Joliot's.
Weart:Well maybe it would just be better to say that this is what Joliot said rather than...
Gueron:Yes ... but this is what you say of course. But even if he had admitted that he was interested in military applications, this should not have been a reason to deter pursuing the patents if he had genuinely thought [???]
Gueron:Well, it was not usually, but always. You see, we took turns. Joliot and Irene had gone at the beginning but they never went back. They were not well received and they didn't like to be badly received. So Auger, so long as he was in the CEA, which was not very long, and then Perrin, Kowarski, Goldschmidt and I took turns.
Weart:Were your views on all these matters pretty much the same, the four of you?
Gueron:Oh yes. We definitely wanted to have an international system set up. We were more or less skeptical. We did not have exactly the same hopes or lack of hopes at various times. But we worked very well. And during all the time these negotiations lasted, Parodi was the head of the delegation, a very fine man. And we mostly dealt with De Rose who is a very intelligent and hardworking diplomat. As Kowarski once said, France was represented by Kowarski, Russia by Alexandroff, Canada by Ignatiev, Poland by [???] Well, there is no question that the bomb was alluring to the French public opinion. It's a kind of macho.
Weart:A macho thing.
Gueron:I was very surprised when a small car owner in the country side spoke of it to me spontaneously.
Weart:He didn't know who you were or...
Gueron:No... I don't think so.
Weart:It was the feeling: we have to have a bomb too.
Gueron:No, it was not so much that as: we are good enough to have it.
Gueron:Well, I thought there might be such an intention. But if you could question me, my answer was "there has been an official declaration by the French government in the UN.”
Weart:Never mind what else was going on behind that.
Gueron:Well, I would never commit myself, even indirectly, beyond that.
Gueron:I had my fears.
Gueron:Yes: I don't remember that they were so many of them.
Weart:No, probably not very many.
Gueron:And they were junior ones. It's only later that we had the Buchalet business.
Weart:I don't know that Buchalet business.
Gueron:Well, later when Guillaumat came in and established a military liaison committee, and first his special group of…
Weart:Oh, that special group of military workers.
Gueron:You see, this is perhaps a bit too short. Rocard held the reserve rank of Admiral in the French Navy,
Weart:Oh, I didn't know.
Gueron:the only one at that time... because of all his development in electronic integration and so on. Relations with industry, I would say there were more at that date between the chemists, the metallurgists and the mechanical scientists than there were between the physicists and the industry. But this did not last. So, you see, certainly these things were intensified in this country because of the various wartime activities. They had been somewhat intensified in England before the war or just after the First World War by the creation of the research associations which were deliberately intended by the British to push the industry into cooperation. These things existed but were not very active, they were not very active, very ebullient until the second war, and then suddenly they found that they had the infrastructure and they had a boost. In France it was not so clear, except... I have described the beginning of the Centre National de la Recherché Appliquees. But you should not overdo the lack of relations.
Weart:OK, I understand what you are saying. Perhaps I make it too strong.
Gueron:Yes. You see, you cannot say here for instance that the General Advisory Committee of the AEC had a system for extended support. There were some people from the industry on the GAC but the support was not a system, it was commanded by personalities.
Weart:Would you not say though that on the CEA perhaps there was less of that mutual meeting with industrial and particularly with military and political leaders than it was for example in this country?
Gueron:Well, with political leaders I would not say that. After all we came directly under the Prime Minister, just as the Chairman of the AEC came under the President.
Weart:And were there a lot of coming and going and meetings with these people?
Gueron:Generally, there was an Undersecretary in charge and he presided the meetings of the Comit‚ de l'energie atomique. But it depended on the persons. But how many times I have been in Guillaumat's office when he was called or called Gaillard on the phone. Indeed, at this stage at least there was a close relationship. Sometimes we had a Minister or Undersecretary who really cared and then there was a good exchange. Some other times the man in charge at the Cabinet level didn't give a damn.
Weart:Tell me though, did the nature of these contacts, these sort of the structural nature, the extent of these contacts change around the times, let's say between '49 and '52, was there a definite change in how much contacts there would be with industry or politicians or the military?
Gueron:Well certainly, but my guess is that it's not because Joliot left.
Weart:— That was part of an entire change.
Gueron:It was because the evolution of the CEA after ZOE of course had to turn that way.
Weart:I see. That's really clear. I'll change this.
Gueron:This of course was more or less related to the Daniels project.
Weart:Beryllium? To the Daniels project? What is the Daniels project?
Gueron:It was the first project in the US. It never materialized. It was to have been a beryllium oxide pile.
Gueron:It could be better than [???]. It was not a remote chance that some uranium could be squeezed out. With the Belgians, at that time of course the Congo was still producing. With the Portuguese, it was mostly commercial, hardly at the government level. We had these Mozambique people trying to dump these minerals and these ores on us, and we were short on time so we bought some.
Weart:I see, that's these very starting orders.
Gueron:Yes. I would not really call this negotiations. It went once to the point where Dautry and I went together to Portugal, I went to Portugal a number of times, and when Dautry went of course he had to show he was not simply the boss of a small firm. He had to be received by Salazar but this was not negotiations.
Weart:I see, so: talks with Belgians and Portuguese rather than necessarily with their governments.
Gueron:Not only from the academy.
Weart:I see, the scientific council or the group of people from other places also.
Gueron:Yes you see the academy would not have been big enough.
Weart:I see... to find just the people that you wanted.
Gueron:But I think it was very badly done, because Joliot very openly and to some extent in a despising manner said: well we have to have these old boys in to get their support. I don't think it was the way to do it.
Weart:I see, it was clear to everyone that the scientific council was just a figure head kind of thing.
Gueron:You should be careful that people don't confuse the Scientific Committee which was our small group and the Scientific Council.
Weart:I see, that's very true.
Gueron:Especially in French because both were called "Comit‚ Scientifique.” You see, our scientific committee, you said it earlier clearly of course, was in fact the executive group of the Comit‚ de l'energie atomique. There was no architectural style in Chatillon.
Weart:Maybe one can do without that phrase, every architectural style represented. A little pretentious in fact. That's true; it's just a bunch of sheds and so forth. 552
Gueron:Later on there was a building effort in Chatillon as there had been in Saclay.
Weart:Is that high geography there's theory.
Gueron:The Saclay business. There had always been some kind of dream of extending the left bank out of Paris. The left bank is where the universities were. Of course, it's not true anymore [???]. Lots of people lived in the near suburbs in that direction, which was and to some extent still is, a very pleasant one. The Joliots had a house at Sceaux.
Weart:Yes. I noticed that all these installations were sort of lined up down towards the south, I didn't say anything about it but even Le Bouchet and so forth, they're all...
Gueron:Ah, Le Bouchet that was different because it happened that we had a poudrerie which was available.
Weart:I noticed that almost everything fell within that same direction.
Gueron:Yes there was something deliberate, it contained a measure of policy, it also contained a measure of personal convenience for Joliot and his wife. And it has drawbacks. Now the Saclay plateau is rather populated, with the extension of Orsay, the new Ecole polytechnique, the new Ecole Supérieure d'‚lectricit‚ and a number of other things on the Saclay plateau or nearby. But I remember at one time of desperate difficulties in building, that Dautry told me: "After all, if this plateau has been uninhabited for centuries, it must be that it is uninhabitable." It is also true that at that time the French universities were, and most of them at the present time are still, unfit to manage big machines.
Weart:So that they would have to go under the Commissariat.
Gueron:Yes, see you couldn't imagine in these early years of the Commissariat to have a university manage even a small experimental reactor nor a very big accelerator. There was not at all the administrative, and if I may say so, intellectual-sentimental infrastructure whereby you could farm out a big operating contract to a university like you did here. In fact it's not only that we regained control that very few of the people except those involved in the accelerators cared. A bit later when I was Director of Saclay, I tried to push something like the Oak Ridge system of summer fellowships for University people. No success.
Weart:Nobody was interested?
Gueron:No. Either they wanted to be completely their own masters, or they just would have liked to have money for them to do just what they wanted, or they were considering us as unwelcome competitors and would have no dealings with us.
Weart:This is sort of an academic jealousy?
Weart:But then that is quite typical, isn't it, of the way things were in France even before the war, with laboratories not communicating with each other too much?
Weart:So in that sense the CEA was treated as another university laboratory would be.
Gueron:No, definitely worse.
Gueron:Because we were in the limelight, we were fashionable at the time, we were rich, comparatively, and to these people who had attained what here you call "tenure", we were upstarts.
Weart:In the academic sense?
Weart:It's very natural of course, very normal.
Gueron:It was not much...
Weart:The confusion was not much or...
Gueron:No, there were not so many people; it was to some extent a way for Joliot to have his henchmen there, to give them some extra money. But it never was very important.
Weart:I see. That's 534 still.
Gueron:I don't know when Joliot said that, and I don't think there was any confusion at the start.
Weart:I think it was a question of how they were to be paid and so forth, it was a matter of administrative...
Gueron:Yes. The rules about multiple salaries were not so clear at the time. In fact even Joliot... See, I can tell you an anecdote. At one time, and it also shows the kind of relationship that could exist between university and industry... at one time in my physical-chemistry department we were starting a very serious, for the time, mass spectrography section. I had a very good man whom I had sent to be trained abroad, in Canada.
Weart:Now when is this, around what period?
Gueron:It started in '47.
Weart:And this is from Strasbourg... Oh it's from the CEA, I see.
Gueron:[???] And there were also people in the accelerator group who were interested and there were also people in the Institut du Petrole who started being involved and then there was a bid by the reigning electronic industry which was called at the time CSF, Compagnie de telegraphie sans fil, and headed by Ponte a good man who was a Normalien but had shifted to industrial physics, he had been one of the first in France to make electronic diffraction experiments. So we had a bit of a fight as to whether we would build the machine or would contract it. And there were two things on this, finally we had it parted out...
Weart:With whom was the fight?
Gueron:Well, we wanted to build it ourselves because we thought we would do it better. Right or wrong. But the Committee decided that we should make a contract for it, the firm made an offer which I explicitly told them was a foolish offer: they couldn't do it at that price.
Weart:A low offer.
Gueron:Yes... And when they, soon after this contract was placed, Joliot told me "Look, you should go and see Ponte. He has spoken to me about [???], he wants to see you.” So, I went to see Ponte. Ponte started speaking vaguely about possible radiation applications and offered me a consultantship. I said no. I'm in the CEA. I have just signed a contract with your firm of which I am responsible from the CEA side. I can't accept a mismatch. But Joliot sent me to him.
Weart:Interesting... you don't know that Joliot knew this was going to happen but you presume so?
Gueron:Then it's not the only thing, you see. They had lots of difficulties, as foreseen, doing this. They were very late in delivering it, they would not have made it without our intervention which they at the same time needed and resented. And when finally the thing was done, they asked for the proper price. I told them, I told Joliot and others that we knew from the start that they had underbid, it's their funeral, and we shouldn't give them a cent more. ([???]Beside, they [???]).
Gueron:Not very pleasant, but it occurred.
Weart:Were there various things of this sort going on?
Gueron:Well, I told you about the first unsubstantial draft contracted with Societe des terres rares, the way they were introduced, all the cloud of what the SEDARS really was. So, there was a bit of a slight mafia... You see, it's not things which have to go into history books. It's a matter of nuance.
Weart:No, but I have to know about it so that I can make sure that what I say, if it doesn't tell everything, at least it's not wrong... 536.
Gueron:Yes. Well, that's true. I told you of some similar episodes myself. Joliot was at ease when he was certain that he wouldn't be questioned.
Weart:Very interesting, this is in 536... What do you think about this feeling which also appears in Laurence Scheinman's book that the polytechniciens sort of wanted to make the CEA a polytechnicien's stronghold and under Joliot it was not such.
Gueron:I think I would be more nuance. There were very few polytechniciens in the business. The only nuclear-physicist polytechniciens were the old De Broglie and Leprince Ringuet who have nothing to do, either of them, with fission. I always said that Leprince Ringuet wanted to have been High Commissioner. He would have liked the aura but certainly not the bother. In addition, Leprince Ringuet and Auger were certainly not on very friendly terms before the war and still less after.
Weart:I didn't know.
Gueron:Well, political differences, the fact that Auger had gone... see they were both working on cosmic rays before the war, they were the typical polytechnique-normale opposition and after the war where Leprince Ringuet had been very carefully preserving himself or even collaborating a bit. There was also the problem of the Academie des sciences. See, Leprince Ringuet was in the Academie long before Perrin and Joliot and he's even now at the Academie francaise...I mean long before Perrin and Auger. In fact Auger was elected only last year, which to my mind is a double scandal, first that he was not elected before, and second that at past 80 he accepted such an election. But then you see, among the first batch of people whom we took in the Commissariat in the fall of '46 were a block of bright young polytechnicians. Either they had been recommended to us by Ullmo who was a polytechnician, a rather rich man in himself, in a matter a mathematician, a man interested in the history of science. I had met him first before the war when I attended the seminars of Henri Behr — you may know the name — which was extracurricular lectures on the history of science. And Ullmo, Kowarski and I, and he directed to us a number of young bright polytechnicians of the promotion. But you see people like Bloch, who died not long ago, Messiah, Horowitz, Trocheris who are really preeminent people in the CEA. We took them as cub graduates. Prettre steered to me Roth who is now one of the top nuclear physical chemists in France. So there was no hostility, that we had not the same proportions of polytechniciens as there were in more established and more statutory Corps, that's true, but we took very good ones, without any qualms at all. Later on there was some invasion.
Gueron:Yes. On the administrative side, on the [???] side but apart from Lescop and a few like that, they were good men. And you see Dautry was a polytechnicien. He didn't try to invade. There is a bit of overdoing in all these things. You are speaking of [???]
Weart:Yes, political history. I should make that clear. It's 537... 538.
Gueron:I would not translate "autorit‚" by...
Weart:How would you translate "autorite"?
Gueron:Assertiveness or weight.
Weart:Weight, that's good, I'll go back and look at that again. I certainly don't know how to translate it... 539.
Gueron:No [???] Administrateur general. No, it was not because Joliot was more a scientist; it was because Joliot had become a kind of symbol.
Weart:Because of his prestige.
Weart:He was very hard to touch.
Gueron:Yes. And in fact I remember that around this time, I had a private interview with De Gaulle, and told him that even if he came back, it was after he had founded the RPF, it would do at that time, if he came back to government, to my opinion, more harm than good to remove Joliot. He didn't tell me what he thought of my advice, but he received me.
Weart:More harm purely because of the public's reaction and so forth?
Gueron:Yes, which in fact I overestimated because as we shall see Joliot's ouster hardly made a ripple in the service. Those parts of communist policy with which he could agree strongly. I don't think that giving evidence at the Kravchenko trial was something at which he could spontaneously agree strongly. I gave you this and other examples of his being obedient even in small matters, I can't know to what extent he had to put pressure for that.
Gueron:Well, you check the dates, '50 seems to me late for the Fuchs business.
Weart:Pontecorvo from Britain to the Soviet Union.
Gueron:Yes. Is it also as late as '50?
Weart:I'll check that, that was my impression that I can easily check.
Gueron:There was a nuclear physics conference in Oxford at the time and this is where Pontecorvo failed to show up and I remember we were uneasy from the very first day that he was not there at this meeting.
Weart:My impression was that those things happened in fact after Joliot's dismissal, they didn't have any effect on...
Gueron:No, I don't think so...
Gueron:You see, the main business was very early in '46 or '47... but I have not the impression that there were three years between May and Fuchs. I have not checked. As we said, it was clear that the Americans misread the feelings in Europe and that they made a rather tactless and ruthless use of people who had been collaborators because they felt, they imagined, that these people would be efficient and subservient. The amusing thing is that De Gaulle, anti-American fundamentally as he was, made the same thing. When he founded the RPF, practically it was a moral amnesty to all the French right which had been politically outcast.
Weart:It's very interesting that De Gaulle became the leader of the Free French because the feelings of so many of the Résistance people...
Gueron:It was not easy to have the résistance accept him as the symbol. It was not "giving France", it was the MacMahon act.
Weart:To say France makes it seem too specifically directed at France.
Gueron:I think so.
Weart:OK, I see your point: "he refused to give anyone, any other country.” That's a good point.
Gueron:Except the special arrangements with Britain, Canada and to some extent Belgium. Well, radioisotope, the episode is a bit stupid and embarrassing but, the point was that Strapps [???] refused the shipment to Norway, because it had been the military development lab of Norway... that was the pretext, and after that the whole thing started inflating.
Weart:I'm not sure whether I won't skip the whole business; it's very complex actually.
Gueron:Yes. But I think this gives an exaggerated view: first that it was specific to France and the embargo on radioisotopes was after all not very long and the British always produced and sold. And we started doing it also very quickly after the ZOE started, so it's a bit out of proportions. It's true that you yield particulars, but for lots of non-French people you should be careful to state that this has nothing to do with Jean Monnet. A footnote saying that the name of Monnet is common in France and that the various Monnet you name have nothing to do with Jean Monnet who was the first Commissaire general au plan.
Weart:Maybe I'll just remove the name Monnet from there, you're right it could well be a distraction.
Gueron:That's your opinion. Different expressions of a single person, obviously a single person, with a single set of beliefs, this you might [???]...
Weart:but a single ambition perhaps.
Gueron:A single person.
Weart:I understand your point... ok note 17 on page 765 Julian Viana [???] with a B. Ok I'll check that... 546.
Gueron:Yes it's a problem of political nature, [???]
Weart:Of administrative nature, yeah I understand your point... 547...
Gueron:Can you speak of the Soviet Union at that time?
Weart:Oh I see, that at that time you wouldn't even have been aware of any competition with the Soviet Union, that's a good point.
Gueron:By the way, our first Director of Mines was a polytechnicien.
Weart:Savornin. I see.
Gueron:He was a kind of bandit but...
Weart:What happened because he didn't stay too long, did he?
Gueron:No. I don't know exactly what happened, but the man was a bit unsettled and there was something in his past I don't know.
Weart:I see, some personal thing.
Gueron:Yes, but he was a polytechnicien. Well, you see, at the start these people only, mostly looked at the gamma rays.
Weart:The prospectors in the field.
Gueron:Yes. And others. And they translated that into uranium content by assuming radioactive equilibrium. And I had innumerable fights with Roubault, because we always found much less uranium, and he didn't like to have to admit that uranium had been leached out and that it would not stay in place; therefore their results were always in excess.
Weart:I see very interesting, is that what usually happens?
Gueron:Well it was what happened in this particular type of terrain. Looking for gamma rays is of course a very good qualitative method but you cannot assume radioactive equilibrium in secondary deposits. If you have pitchblende, that's different because it's mostly primary deposit and things have had time to settle. But in secondary deposits where you have quite a movement of water, radium will be fixed and especially if the water is slightly alkaline; and in surface where it is oxidized and the U6 [???] of uranium is soluble...
Weart:Reference page 772 note 6 is in the wrong place. It should have been attached to note 7. Thanks for pointing it out. You told me about this before. Page 550... but it was not [???]
Gueron:This was Ertaud's group.
Weart:Oh. On 552 rather than you, who did the exponential experiment... it was under Kowarski essentially?
Gueron:Essentially. Ertaud was in charge.
Gueron:You know, all this was really very much a translation of what we had done or learned during the war.
Weart:Taking over what the British did. I should make that more clear. This is Terres rares again.
Gueron:Yes. Really, the firm was dumped on us by Joliot.
Weart:This is correct that Terres rares had ties with Pechiney.
Gueron:Yes, they had a tie. It was not so much because there was military value. After all, you see, they were doing the pre-reactor business, not the post —.
Weart:So, it must have been realized that anything having to do with reactors has military potential. There must have been problems of secrecy.
Gueron:There might have been problems of industrial ownership but that's all, this was the [???] in the original contract... But I don't see military points...
Weart:I see, production of pure graphite is not exactly a military secret...
Gueron:This was not pure graphite.
Weart:This was something that other people have mentioned to me, that you were trying to develop a different process.
Gueron:No. You see the British had developed the process by calcium reduction... [???] which has the advantage that if you get a big enough load, the reaction heat is enough to make uranium and you have a first and immediate casting. Now it was known that the Americans during the war had at least tried to use magnesium which is much easier and cheaper to produce in the proper quality than calcium. But when you make magnesium reduction you cannot start the reaction as in aluminothermic one by just igniting at a point, and the heat of reaction is a bit less so that you don't get a cast ingot right away. You have more or less, a sort of dispersion of uranium in the gangue, the scories, in the molten salt, and you have to remelt. So that I held that, as we were really starting developing the thing we should try to see whether the magnesium route could be arranged, especially as there was no calcium producing industry. You have to establish the process, you have to check the purity, you have to build up the plant. But you see, you cannot say that a new method different from the American process, because it was an American process different from the British one.
Weart:... I should say that you tried to develop magnesium reduction... it's much more exact.
Gueron:Yes, but you see Pontecorvo not only did tell him that, which everyone knew, but Pontecorvo gave him the idea...
Weart:I see, Goldschmidt didn't tell me that.
Gueron:Check with him, but my recollection is that it was Pontecorvo's hint. We had, I think around Easter '48, Oppenheimer was in Europe and he came to visit us and we showed him ZOE which was under construction. He politely asked when it would be critical and we told him December, and we know that when he came back he said "they claim that they will be critical in December, but if they are critical two years from now they'll be happy.” We were critical in December '48. But you see, this is hearsay...
Weart:You were not sure...
Gueron:No we were sure, but it is very typical of the way Americans think you see. Even a man like Oppenheimer and others were to some extent so surprised at what they had achieved in such a short time that they couldn't believe that others could do it... and they misread the British, they misread the French, they misread the Russians and they were always surprised at the swiftness at which people did catch up.
Weart:That's a good point to me.
Gueron:You don't use the oxide.
Weart:To sinter the oxide... let's see now, well ok, to sinter it.
Gueron:It was not exactly hydrogen but cracked ammonia.
Weart:Cracked ammonia, I see.
Gueron:When you say pellets here, readers will think of pellets of present reactor fuel.
Weart:I see, so whereas actually they were... one might say cylinders or something like that.
Gueron:Well, give a size or say they were much bigger than those used now in reactors, and could be so because there was no heat or power.
Weart:557. It says... one might mention the reflector, the neutron reflector.
Gueron:Yes we had a graphite reflector.
Weart:Yes, sort of like... a graphite reflector... Page 558.
Gueron:There's no question that this was a day. We had been in the building a good thirty six hours nonstop. But, something happened not long after that which shows how we were, and how you can be, misled. We were very gratified at the time by the fact that ZOE had gone critical at the calculated level. We were happy, we didn't want to boast too much about it, but it gave us real confidence. Not long after, we wanted to make an experiment and withdrew one fuel rod. We confidently expected that of course we would need, if even we reached criticality at all, a definitely higher level of heavy water. Now we had a safety on the control panel of ZOE by which you could not actuate the heavy water pump for more than thirty seconds.
Weart:It's a question of getting a certain amount of...
Gueron:The man who made the experiment, I think it was mostly the Surdin people at that time, said that it was too boring to pump up a few tons of heavy water by having to push the button every thirty seconds. So they shorted this safety. Our reactor actually, was under-moderated...
Weart:Under moderated, meaning...
Gueron:Meaning that we had a ratio of heavy water to uranium which was less than the optimum, so that the agreement between our calculated level and the observed one was a compensation of errors. When we withdrew one rod...
Weart:It went up.
Gueron:And we caught it just in time. We might have had exactly the analog of the later Yougoslav incident.
Weart:How did you stop it?
Gueron:The point was that it was touch and go. But we noticed it was getting pretty good well below the level. You see, people have said we shall need a higher level therefore we can short circuit the safety until we reach the previous level, and then we'll go slow.
Weart:I see, it wasn't that the heavy water was in and you took the rod out. Fortunately you would let the water out and then withdrew the rod. If you would've withdrawn the rod with the heavy water within, then you would have really been in trouble.
Gueron:Yes. I don't think anyone told you that story.
Weart:No... When was this, a few months afterwards?
Gueron:A few weeks. Yes, I told you about that.
Weart:Yes, you've told me about that. I very much appreciate your confirming, you can see I put it in sort of without definitely saying it was Joliot's because I didn't know, what you've told me was very valuable for that.
Gueron:Well, anyhow you see, you could never make an appointment with Joliot. He never kept a timetable.
Weart:Did he ever discuss with you his difficulties with the Communist Party during this period when he said he would keep the secrets and they objected to that?
Gueron:No, we didn't want to discuss his relationship with the Party. We disagreed too violently.
Weart:You have I gather a very low opinion of the communists.
Gueron:No, not as individuals.
Weart:No, but of communism I should say.
Gueron:Of communism as a present political system, certainly. It's a dictatorship, I can't stand dictatorships. And in addition it's a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy, compounding the guilt.
Weart:563. You mention Lysenko. I've got to look up this Lysenko trial. Lysenko, he always seemed to skirt around...
Gueron:Yes, he has been careful, but Prenant was not... was fully pushing Lysenko. In fact I remember that when the first literature of that kind I read was before the war, a small book by Prenant who was known as a good biologist and who was the son of a rather famous French histologist, I think, and he had written a book called "biology and Marxism.” I must say that it was the first time I had seen this kind of crude reasoning that Marxism proceeds by dialectics, that science proceeds by assumption and correction and what we would call error signals and that therefore science is essentially Marxist. I was very angry at the time but I just can't believe that a scientist of repute could write such trash.
Weart:It's always astonishing to me the kind of things that some of these people write. I understand that feeling.
Gueron:So I think you should check because these are really touchstones of either of a mental attitude or of the pressure of the Party.
Weart:Yes, it's on 563, I really must check this. I don't know where I'll find it. I must check about the Kravchenko business.
Gueron:The Kravchenko business, that's clear. There was a trial and there is no question that Joliot testified.
Weart:Right, I'd like to find this testimony and read it.
Gueron:I think it was in the last days of the trial but I think really he was pressured to. But about Lysenko and his relationship with Prenant who was a Party fellow, it might be a bit more difficult to check but I think it would be worthwhile.
Weart:I'd like to find exactly what he said at the Kravchenko trial, it must be on record somewhere.
Gueron:It's certainly on record, but where you can get it...
Weart:That's my job as a historian.
Weart:He was actually still alive at that time.
Gueron:Funny man, very funny man.
Weart:He was very shy and withdrawn I believe.
Gueron:Terribly shy, he hardly could bear to hear himself speak in the lecture room. Yes, [???]...
Weart:Your point here, I gather, is that Joliot's statements were simply the Party's statements rather than necessarily his own.
Gueron:Yes, but this was a very general feeling. Well that's true in this country [USA] as well. After all there was a great influence of the Goldsmith-Rabinovitch crowd. But, here you see, you can't reconcile that.
Weart:No, but it's clear that he said it. What exactly he would've done is another question.
Gueron:No, the problem is not what he would have done, the problem is that he very probably had made another commitment before, and never said "I have said this, I'm sorry I said it, I am now of a different opinion.”
Weart:According to some Peyrefitte's testimony "Je vous ferai mon General votre bombe", or whatever.
Gueron:As I told you, in some cases, he tethered very [???]
Weart:But not on a wide scale?
Gueron:No, not on a wide scale. He had resigned. Sure, but...
Weart:I don't say why.
Gueron:We had to quite an extent [???]
Weart:Yes I know, in fact I've been thinking I'd just change that to say that this "secretary general" had become vacant and leave it at that because I don't want to get into this business about... it's a little too sordid.
Gueron:Yes. It's a way of expressing but it's not simply that he left. It's that the way these people, himself, Joliot, Dautry accepted these ambiguous conflict of interest situations, reflected on the state of affairs in France. I can give you a personal case: my son has, in the last few weeks, been appointed Director of nuclear fuel at Con Ed. He had to point as a possible conflict of interest that I am now a consultant with FRAMATOM which is a French Westinghouse licensee. It's perfectly all right. But that Denivelle was more or less an appointee of the Terres Rares, that the SEDARS business was never clarified, shows you the difference, you see.
Gueron:Yes. And this of course led to Denivelle being an extremely negligent General Secretary. And like Joliot and Dautry, he was more often absent than present. And this kind of multiple laxity was what we could not accept.
Weart:I understand. But you say this was sort of typical of the kinds of relations that prevailed in French industry.
Gueron:No; this was the sort of things which prevailed in coteries. And to quite an extent, we, full-time Commissariat and with our war time education were [???] so that whether you should say here that there was some major conflict on organizational problems, on problems of relationship, of multiplicity of jobs, of conflicts of interests...
Weart:I suppose one could say... had resigned in a matter of conflicts of interests with his industrial connections or something.
Gueron:It's not exactly in a matter of... but why should you not say, as when you speak of the fact that Joliot and co. had also full-time professorships, with the restriction that this didn't mean very much. Why could you not say somewhere that the problems of multiple positions and if conflict of interests as they were well understood in America, in the US, and, as they are more and more now regulated and understood in France, were still in very hazy condition and that this had some connection with the "malaise" in the CEA at the time. I'm not trying to dictate.
Weart:No, no... I understand your point...
Gueron:But there really is something there and if you can find a polite way of hinting at it, I think it would have value.
Weart:It seems like an important point to point at this ambiguity of relations, with industry particularly.
Gueron:Yes. The trouble with Lescop was that he was an alcoholic.
Weart:I've been told...
Gueron:Well, not a drunkard, but he was permanently sub drunk. But there is no question that he was the spear head of the military in the CEA. Here you have an ambiguity because probably it's not the CEA's budget, but the budget as a whole.
Gueron:You have to check that there was a specific problem with the CEA but it was usual in these difficult political times that the budget could never be adopted according to schedule and that for a number of months and sometimes even for the better part of the year, one lived on what is called the "douzi emes provisoires" which meant that month by month the amount corresponded to last year's budget.
Weart:So there are actually two problems here, one is this normal delay or whatever and the other the CEA getting its own budget approved eventually, no doubt that's correct.
Gueron:The CEA's budget at that time was at the most two or three lines in the Prime Minister's budget. You have here the naive astonishment of Scheinmann at the inexistence of parliamentary control.
Weart:I must say nothing is harder than to untangle a French budget, especially if you try to do it from the "Journal Officiel.”
Gueron:I don't think the US budget is much easier to read.
Weart:At least it doesn't go through so many... well ok, it has its problems too, you're quite right.
Gueron:Gaillard was also involved with Le Plan. You say nothing about the relation or the absence of relation between the CEA and Le Plan.
Weart:The 5 year plan.
Gueron:Yes. Well, not the 5 year plan, but the organization.
Weart:It's true; I don't know anything about that.
Gueron:And it is true that at least during the first five years there were no relations. This was due to quite an extent to some personal hostility of Perrin and Auger towards Jean Monnet. There was certainly some error of appreciation by Monnet and his group of the priority of scientific development. But it seems that the Commissariat, as a technical advance body, and Le Plan as an advanced body in administrative and policy making technique, should have found links. And they did not at the time certainly because of the personality of Joliot and because of Perrin and Auger but mostly Perrin's personal opposition to Monnet. After that, things arranged, and Le Plan did consider the Commissariat, we sat in the Study Commissions of the Commissariat au Plan but certainly... you think it would be worth mentioning in some footnotes?
Weart:I'll have to think about that.
Gueron:Gaillard had been involved in Le Plan. He was among the junior members of Monnet's etat-major.
Weart:It comes up again, when the next five year plan comes in.
Gueron:Yes, but I'm speaking specifically of the first.
Weart:And then of course there was the inflation, which should be mentioned.
Gueron:Yes you see, it was called the Comit‚ Scientifique but in fact it meant le Comit‚ des scientifiques, and that's what it was. It was the general business of the CEA. It's not so much Surdin and Dautry who were opposed...
Weart:On the architecture?
Gueron:You see here again there was a bit of the mafia. Dautry had as a kind of favorite son, a fellow called Cassan who was one of the few men who was a polytechnicien and had an architect diploma. Because as you know in France architecture is considered a fine art and not an engineering thing, so that a man who gets out of Polytechnique and then goes to school for a number of years. Now Cassan was sort of a spiritual son to Dautry who had pushed him in this direction. And Cassan was certainly a very active and dynamic man, but he was obviously a man of Dautry. Now Joliot had his favorite architects. He had Debr, who was one of the sons of the famous doctor and a brother of Michel, a right-wing politician, he had Chevalier and one or two others. And he wanted them involved. So they kind of made a joint agency, but these people didn't cut with each other. So finally, rather than make a choice between opposite schools, which would have been an open conflict between Dautry and Joliot, they enlarged the whole thing and called on the grand old man Auguste Perret, you have heard his name.
Weart:He became the architect.
Gueron:Yes but he was very famous you see, he had been one of the first advocates of the bare concrete, he had built things like the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. He was quite old at the time and somewhat [???]. I remember when I was Director of Saclay, we had these reunions de chantier every week or so. One day, it was a bitter cold windy day, we were fighting [???] this, some things badly done, and so on. He stood there, not listening, with a cape. I came to apologize for having him been waiting so long, and asked him whether he had not been too cold or uncomfortable being there, waiting out by himself. He told me "non, j'ai trouv‚ un tr es beau gris.” But the Saclay architecture which was his is very bad. It's much too heavy. Even Dautry felt it. I remember one day when some [???] came to Saclay and asked why the buildings were so massive. Dautry was a bit taken aback and said: "Well you see, in case of nuclear attack."
Weart:It was all he could say.
Gueron:It's not so much Surdin... it was not the architecture of the buildings, but it was the architecture of the architects.
Weart:Kowarski already pointed that out to me. Page 573.
Gueron:There was no problem of creating hazards, but the rumors were all over the place. Carrier pigeons were supposed to be confused when they passed over Chatillon. Things like that.
Weart:So there was a continuous flurry.
Gueron:All these things you see, I'm old enough to remember that as everywhere and always the climate is not what it was. After the first war it was because of "la grosse Bertha", and then it was all these radio waves, now it's...
Weart:... the nuclear.
Gueron:Well it's not that it looked more. It was...
Weart:It was just a scientific research tool. Page 574. I may just skip that business about the reasons for gas cooling, it's a little outside my main subject anyway.
Gueron:The gas cooling was very simple; light water cooling was out of the question with natural uranium [???], heavy water, we might not have enough and the trouble of circulating heavy water, so what was left?
Gueron:These were really decisions of necessity.
Weart:I think I want to cut some of that anyway. It's kind of a distraction. You've already told me about that on page 575. In fact I've already changed that.
Gueron:But you see, this was also an aftermath of Montreal. Because in Montreal...
Weart:You studied compressed gas in Montreal?
Gueron:Yes, because Cockroft had established a number of committees. One for planning Harwell, one called "future systems.” I was in the Harwell planning committee, Kowarski was in the " future systems.”
Weart:Let me start this...
Gueron:I don't remember the contract by heart. Is it ownership of the installation or priority of use?
Weart:I'll go back and check my notes. It's 576.
Gueron:In all these things, you see, there always was an element of theater. The CEA was not Joliot's creature.
Weart:Saying it's more a matter of symbolism that they were joined.
Weart:579. You don't like this dealing about them being at heart more a scientist than a politician. In view of what you've been telling me I understand.
Gueron:I may be wrong.
Weart:I'll have to reevaluate, to rethink this. It may be that I'm going a little too far in what I say; I'm being perhaps too hagiographic myself.
Gueron:It was not only this. You see, Joliot was [???]. He had his henchmen. I think the occasion for this layout was that while I was in charge of the ore treatment systems, he had certainly given out money and directions for some of these people under Bachelet who I considered a nincompoop, to do something else, and... You see, it was impossible to work under this kind of conditions because if people came — this may have some relation, or seem to some extent contradictory with what I told you earlier about Savel and the role of others. But you see, if Joliot gave orders outside what we had decided in the Comit‚ scientifique, especially for people outside the Commissariat, then you never knew where we stood. If these people worked in the Commissariat, it all depended on personal relationships, but if suddenly you found that something you were in charge of, responsible for, was shifted or was duplicated without even your knowledge or any possible influence...
Weart:There was in a sense a problem of lack of contact with Joliot but the problem went beyond just not talking with him or whatever, it was a whole fragmentation of authority.
Gueron:It was the point that Joliot, outside of the Commissariat had a clientele, and that he had essentially no consideration for an orderly process.
Weart:Because of his following or whatever.
Gueron:Because he was himself. Well, I don't think that these things need so much [???] [refers to episode of clash with Joliot] But fundamentally it's true, except that it certainly took him more than half an hour to come and see me, because I had had time to make at least two or three drafts of my resignation letter. He had charm, but I must say that I remember vividly my wife's first reaction to him. It was in Strasbourg not long after the discovery of fission, we went to his lecture and it was impressive. So my wife had come with me. And she told me "Il a l'air d'un gar‡on coiffeur" and there was a lot...
Weart:A look of a gareon coiffeur. That's very cute.
Gueron:A kind of conscious neatness. [Impossible from tape to know who "he" below refers to. MG, 31 August 1992. According to GG, it could be Bidault] Yes he was worn down by politics and by drink.
Weart:Oh is that so?
Gueron:Oh, he was a drunk.
Weart:I didn't know.
Gueron:He finished as such at least...
Weart:Well it could be. He certainly...
Gueron:He's still alive. No, he's not alive anymore, but he was known to drink.
Weart:I didn't know that. Page 588.
Gueron:I don't know. You see, you may remember what I wrote to Perrin in the letter I gave you. The Party dropped him like a hot potato. If the Party had wanted to support him, the Commissariat would have been in a terrible upheaval.
Weart:Even worse than it...
Gueron:It was no upheaval at all. There was not a strike in the Commissariat.
Weart:I see, that kind of a thing.
Gueron:You see, the Party could have engineered what it wanted. If the Party had wanted to take advantage of this,
Weart:Of Joliot's dismissal.
Weart:Yes I understand from what you've said, that's right.
Gueron:To me the important sign is that they did not even try to engineer a major strike in the CEA. To me that meant that they had dropped Joliot. For whatever reason they found him from now on useless. And that Joliot, the blow to him was not so much that he had been kicked out by the government, but that he had been kicked out by the Party.
Weart:Kicked out in the sense of no longer being paid attention to?
Gueron:Yes, you see he had staked his future on politics. And he stopped, at the same time, being a political something, both in the country and in the Party.
Weart:Yes, you make it very clear.
Gueron:The rest was figure heading, Stockholm and the Federation of Scientists, it was not reelection.
Weart:It's not clear of course whether he ever had any say within the Party that is in determining the Party's action.
Gueron:No I cannot say anything about this. My private guess, but I'm prejudiced, is that he did not have. As I told you I think he was a man, a bitter man, with a lot of ambition, that he had made a bet, chosen the wrong horse, and that the Party very brutally, as they always do, exploited him. And when they found that he could not be exploited anymore, they dropped him. Maybe this had something to do with some reluctance over the Kravchenko and Lysenko affair. Lysenko, you must check, I cannot tell you much.
Weart:That was afterwards anyway.
Gueron:No... whether he would finally go, I think he went in very late in the trial, and we had the very definite impression that he did it under duress. And this may have been a part of his getting in the black books of the Party.
Gueron:Yes. I don't know to whom you could talk about that. It's no use going to Biquard, I don't know whether you would try to get Perrin to talk about that.
Weart:But it's not clear if he would know about it either.
Gueron:No, certainly not, but he might have impressions different from mine. Besides, after all he was more intimate with Joliot.
Weart:Finally the questions of Joliot's relations within the Party is something I haven't even attempted to explore. I think there are some things historians will never be able to learn.
Gueron:Yes, but the point that there was a kind of dual correspondence, that he was bent to make use of the Party for his career and that the Party was bent to make use of him. But that he was a broken man, he was cut off from the organizations.
Weart:Including the Party, I see what you mean.
Gueron:See, and it's not the scorn of his enemies, it's the scorn and the indifference, the despise of his own men.
Weart:Of his own...
Gueron:Of his own henchmen. You see, if at least there had been a big strike in the Commissariat, he could have said that he was a political victim. But not even that, that show of support.
Weart:The communists could have easily engineered such a strike.
Gueron:At least they could very easily have called a clamor for it.
Weart:And nothing happened, just silence?
Gueron:I don't know, perhaps there was a 24-hour strike. I don't remember, but if there had been something important I would remember.
Weart:I understand, just a symbolic thing.
Gueron:I know this, that he was dropped by the Party at the time. There's, every external sign shows that. This was the end of an era in the history of the French nuclear physicists. Joliot had ceased to be nuclear physicist, had ceased to be a physicist.
Weart:I see what you mean. But if it did stand for the time of a substantial change in the nature of the Commissariat, as you've said, this is because of the natural growth of the Commissariat.
Gueron:No, I think you have a fundamental difference between the liberal reformism trend which is so general among us scientists and the involvement and the actual resigning of judgment freedom which he was getting into the Party.
Weart:I see your point; we won't bring too many things together. This should be separated.
Gueron:You see, it's not that we thought that these things should stay in the hands of the scientists. We knew perfectly well that they were becoming important policy matters and therefore could not be kept in the hands of the scientists. That the scientists needed to keep a hand on them, that's not the same thing.
Weart:Ok, I understand that.
Gueron:No, it's not that we thought it best without getting a new High Commissioner. Perrin did not want to become High Commissioner, at least, so long as Irene was in the Committee. So this meant at least another year. And it's a perfectly understandable feeling. And after that for quite a time he shied. Perrin is a very intelligent and active man, he is not a very hard-working man, he can work, but he is not by temperament a man who wants to work. He had a good life, I don't mean at all that he had...he never had the playboy side of Goldschmidt and Halban, but he had let's say an easy life, he could do what he wanted, even as a member of the Comit‚ de l’energie atomique, he had no onerous duties on him, and he perfectly realized that being High Commissioner was a very high load.
Weart:He never had that driving administrative personality.
Gueron:No. Well, when he was High Commissioner he did the job and I think he came to like it; otherwise he wouldn't have stayed nearly 20 years in the job, although he had problems. But to quite an extent, he had to be kicked into the job. We did it because we didn't find anyone who would have been very concerned. If a man like Leprince Ringuet or Rocard had [???] the job. So I know that at the time of Joliot's dismissal the government went all round looking for the possible candidates. We Canadians were quickly eliminated because they felt that they could not name one of the three, that it would be quite unacceptable to the other two, whoever he was, and there was no one else who would not mean a sort of political vengeance.
Weart:Aside from Perrin who wouldn't do it, anyone else would have a political stance.
Gueron:Yes, even if personally, the man did not have it. Because anyone apart from the three of us would have been so remote from the subject, at the same time as being politically remote from the circle.
Weart:Let's see here you have "visite… De Gaulle.”
Gueron:Yes the one I spoke...
Weart:the one you spoke of before, that was at that time. But that was separate from the... that was before the question...
Gueron:It was before. Must have been in '48 or '49 I don't remember the exact date when RPF was created.
Weart:Well it was around that time yes...
Gueron:Well, you cannot say guerrilla warfare between scientists and administrators. It was very much a guerrilla warfare between Kowarski and everyone else. I was perfectly willing and ready, and so was Goldschmidt, to work with the administration. It didn't mean that we didn't have conflicts on differences with them but we were not doing guerrilla. That the administrators misread this was very clear when I was appointed Director of Saclay.
Gueron:Because clearly at the time, some of the administrators at least, thought that they would have there a docile scientist. And they discovered that I was not a docile scientist. Just as Halban had discovered that he could talk to me but this did not mean that I had adhered to what he said, and that I could have my own opinion and that I stuck to it. And this is why I didn't stay Director of Saclay very long.
Weart:But before this, did you feel that the administrators sort of lumped you with Kowarski, did the administrators look like they were being opposed by the scientists or was it clear that it was simply Kowarski?
Gueron:No, it was clear that they made differences and it was not only the administrators. You see I could hear syndicats, unions. Very quickly we found on these questions of hiring and promotions and so on, very quickly we found that the more radical people in the unions, and the more reactionaries in the administration worked hand in hand to keep everything stereotyped, to prevent any man from emerging too rapidly. And it's a very general phenomenon. So that this certainly is too sketchy. I don't know about that.
Weart:The reference here is, that's Scheinman. Does that seem reasonable?
Gueron:The point is "specifically," and you have to have documentation on this. I cannot...
Weart:That he was in power to fire anyone who refused to carry out assigned duties. I just take that from Scheinman, so I don't have any other document.
Gueron:I think that this power was always present.
Weart:I see, it may not have been some new thing.
Gueron:Was this specifically instructed at that time, or was it simply the normal prerogative of...
Weart:One can always do that, fire someone if he doesn't carry out duties. That's a good point. That's 591.
Gueron:No. It did not demoralize every branch of the CEA. We certainly felt that some of the firings were arbitrary and were demonstrations. In some cases, I don't know if it was then or a bit later when Guillaumat came in, were outrageous when people like Marie-Elisa Cohen was summarily dismissed, she was a communist but she had been deported and, of all the communists I know, I don't know of anyone who is more intellectually honest and devoted to duty than a girl like that, and she did not have a very important post. She was in charge of documentation. But these things certainly irritated lots of people including very clearly non-communists like myself. But that it demoralized every branch of the CEA, certainly no.
Weart:There was some demoralization in some branches.
Gueron:No, there was some irritation, but the real demoralization to my mind, as I wrote Perrin, was after ZOE, when Kowarski, while retaining his authority, stopped working.
Weart:Started looking for a job somewhere else?
Gueron:No, he stopped working, period.
Weart:So this meant that you and Goldschmidt essentially had to take on those tasks, or Kowarski's subordinates.
Gueron:But we couldn't. He was still there. Yes well I told you about...
Weart:About Francis Perrin, yes. Again, this is a very complicated thing, this winter of '50-'51.
Weart:A tremendous lot of coming and going and I say very little about it.
Gueron:Well you know, Lescop and Guillaumat were of the same promotion...
Weart:No I didn't know that.
Gueron:De l'Ecole Polytechnique. It happened also to be the same promotion of my wife's brother and of Pierre Couture who was later to succeed Guillaumat. But while Lescop obviously had ambitions to become Administrateur general and felt great difficulty to being put under Guillaumat, Guillaumat clearly had no great liking or esteem for Lescop, both probably because of his involvement with the Parti Radical and because of his personal behavior.
Weart:Notice I don't say there much about Lescop's leading either.
Gueron:Yes. Guillaumat to quite an extent was a choice of Kowarski for the...
Gueron:Yes. Kowarski had met Guillaumat I don't know exactly when, but he had been very impressed by him. Guillaumat was at that time Directeur des carburants.
Gueron:Of des carburants. My own choice was Hirsch, not because he is my brother-in-law, but because he was a man of enormous industry experience and because he was Commissaire general adjoint au Plan. He had been involved with negotiations, so far as they can be called that, with the British at the time I went to Canada. He was at the time Deputy director for armaments in the French forces. I remember discussing this a number of time with the people in the Commissariat including Leprince Ringuet who pointed out that if Hirsch was appointed it would give me too much power. I told him that we knew how to separate personal from official relations and that if that was the case my feeling was that I should leave the Commissariat, because at that stage I felt it was more important to have a good Administrateur general than to have me. But...
Weart:Then instead it was Guillaumat.
Gueron:Yes. I wouldn't say that reactor technology was in a state of confusion. It was in a state of experimentation and development.
Weart:Ok I understand.
Gueron:It's true that nobody could guess which family of reactors would emerge, if any. But it was in a state of...
Weart:I understand... it wasn't an immature state, it was a...
Gueron:It was not groping in the dark. It was really trying to explore alternatives, consciously.
Weart:Ok. It is 594, I understand your point there, I'll change that.
Gueron:Well, everyone thought of breeding. After all, EBR1 was built early enough in the States.
Weart:It was a very common thing, sure.
Gueron:Yes. So here you make it a bit specific to the CEA.
Weart:Ok. Yes in fact the whole thing sounds like it was specific to the CEA whereas in fact it was generally...
Gueron:Yes. He was not Secretary of State for atomic energy.
Gueron:No, he was Secretary of State. You must check, but my recollection is that he would be Secretaire d'‚tat aupr es du premier ministre, and deputized by the Prime Minister who, by decree was the Chairman of the Comit‚ de l'energy atomique... It had become usual you see that there were Undersecretaries of state in the Prime Minister's office and that one of these would be charged with the duties and problematics of the Prime Minister with the Commissariat.
Weart:I see, so one would say he was Secretary of state with responsibilities for atomic energy.
Gueron:He was Secretary of State attached to the Prime Minister and deputized for atomic energy. You see, this sounds like a structure.
Weart:It sounds like there was a specific place for that, whereas in fact it was more fluid that's very... It's 597, yes this whole business about the new reactor plan.
Gueron:Well it was not specifically Kowarski and Goldschmidt, it was the major project.
Weart:So the Commissariat.
Gueron:Yes. You see this, I think, was the turning point.
Weart:The third reactor, G3.
Gueron:Yes, because G1 was an experimental reactor. G2 could be considered as a prototype, and G3 could only be a production unit because it was just the identical replica of G2. At that time I had proposed that if we wanted one more reactor, then at least we should explore a variation. Our design for G2 was a horizontal channel one. I said at least why not if you want a third one why not build a Calder Hall, which is a vertical design and explore the differences or do something else. I was of course turned down.
Gueron:By the Comit‚ de l’energie atomique. But this showed very clearly that the fundamental aim was production and not development.
Weart:But these reactors surely do not produce that much plutonium, It could hardly be considered that much military valuable?
Weart:Still enough to make a bomb?
Gueron:Yes, after all, they are something like 60 megawatt electric.
Weart:Oh I see. Was it generally recognized among the scientists and so forth that this was that sort of a decision?
Gueron:You could not but feel it.
Weart:Did you discuss this with Goldschmidt and Kowarski?
Gueron:It was every day fare. It was clear that there was no formal decision to make a bomb but it was clear that lots of people wanted it, that Guillaumat certainly was not adverse, he went at it in a somewhat slow underhand way but it was clear that he was preparing for it. We could still hope that by that time the government would abide by its UN pledge. But it became less and less probable.
Weart:When exactly, do you recall, when exactly was this decision made by the Comite?
Gueron:Well it was made I think in '51 or '52. This would be easy to check. It was in the first five year plan or the second five year plan of the Commissariat, and the Gaillard extension of it.
Weart:It seems very reasonable... for a duplicate reactor it's clear not part of the development project. It's interesting that people haven't pointed it out to me.
Gueron:When I refer to Calder Hall, in fact G2 could not have been built if a rather good young man in our mechanical department, had not had an alert eye. At one of the conferences in the UK about Calder Hall, I think he guessed or saw a very minute point on a drawing which gave him the clue to the way to maintain the graphite piling up. Well, you know, building up the graphite structure is not so obvious.
Weart:It's a construction problem?
Weart:And the tolerances are very small.
Gueron:It's a construction problem. You have to keep the channels aligned, the whole thing has to breathe, we were beginning to know something about the Wigner effect. In fact we had known about it already in Canada. So it was not at all obvious how you built up this kind of structure which is at the same time skeleton and meat.
Gueron:And whether willingly or not, there is no question that the British gave us help in this: I don't know whether it was a huge wink or whether our man really had a sharp eye. You should here clearly speak of thermal megawatts, because I think the turbine was 5 megawatts electric.
Weart:Ok, on page 598, ok.
Gueron:The project was not in the hands of industrial contractors. The CEA was master of the work for the reactor part; EDF was master of the work for the electromechanical part. But, as was usual in the EDF and in general in big construction jobs, some parts of the job were contracted out; but you cannot say that things were in the hands of the contractors.
Weart:Ok, I understand, that implies simply giving control over to them. However, let me ask you, were relations with industry in terms of contracting different afterwards, let's say in '52-'53, than they had been in '48-'49?
Gueron:Yes, they were different, there is no question that general background of ideas was different with different men, but there's also the fact that up to now, on the one side the industry had been in bad shape, although in cases like the graphite we could do something with them, the first job was reconstructing, second that the CEA had only minor projects.
Weart:I'm interested, given that it's inevitable that there will be real changes as an organization grows and as its things are coming to reality, how you would characterize, how would you describe the change in the relations with the industry that takes place. You must have seen it not only in the Commissariat but in other places also. But specifically here? You see, I'm interested in general in the transition from the laboratory to the industrial thing.
Gueron:There's no question that Guillaumat was much more inclined to deal with industry than were the others. Perhaps not more than Dautry, but Dautry was an aging man, Guillaumat was in the full of his strength. There's no question that he brought in men of his own type, or men with whom he had already worked before, and who were keen to have industry brought in, not simply because it was their ideological trend, but because they understood that we were to build an industry, and that we could not do it without existing industry.
Weart:So in this sense, there would now be in the Commissariat people who sort of came from the industry and who perhaps later on would go back into private industries, it's that sort of a thing.
Gueron:Yes. And also there was a Direction industrielle, which would have had no reason to exist before. But to some extent the relation was clearer and cleaner than that of Joliot with SEDARS.
Weart:I quite understand.
Gueron:I have never seen the contract of Malvesy (?) I don't know whether you have seen it.
Weart:No I haven't seen the contract.
Gueron:Well it would be worth while trying to...
Weart:Yes it would be.
Gueron:Because after all it was a private industry but...
Weart:Clearly there was still a contract.
Gueron:There was a contract and the man in charge was the director of Le Bouchet. Of course he didn't belong to the Commissariat anymore but he was a CEA man.
Weart:Right, now it's clear, it's just a question of shift of where one draws the line, rather than a complete bouleversement. Page 600.
Gueron:No, you cannot say that EdF took over and developed the technology of graphite-moderated, gas-cooled reactors.
Weart:It stayed within the CEA?
Gueron:Yes, it stayed. It kept being a joint undertaking. It was very specifically so in the case of the Marcoule reactors. A bit less so in the case of the Chinon reactors. But nevertheless, who designed even St Laurent and Bugey I?
Weart:The CEA was always closely involved, closely cooperating... I tried to compress things too much there I suppose. The reactors were owned by EDF, but the development was the CEA.
Gueron:Yes, you see in Marcoule, the reactors were owned by the Commissariat...
Weart:No I'm not talking of the present situation.
Gueron:No even at that time. In Marcoule the reactors belonged to the Commissariat, the electric plant is paid for by EDF and EDF buys the power. In the case of the Chinon, St Laurent and others, EDF is the master of the work but CEA is not exactly the architect engineer but CEA is the reactor designer.
Weart:Just the development work. I understand.
Gueron:Not only the development work, but more.
Weart:Ok, I understand.
Gueron:I don't think it's more than ten percent of the national energy production. First it would be ten percent of the national electricity and even with electricity I don't think up to now it has been ten percent. It will certainly go beyond this now, with the rapid coming on line of the water reactors. Roughly speaking, in the way of graphite reactors you have G2 and G3 which make hundred megawatts. You have the three in Chinon which make altogether less than thousand megawatts. So let's take a good thousand for these. You have the two St Laurent who make another thousand and you have Bugey which makes less than a thousand. Plus Senna. So at the most it's three thousand megawatts. We have 40 000 megawatts installed at the present time. And even if you consider that the reactors are base load, you have up to now less than ten percent and you may check that in the statistics either of the European Community or of the OECD. But this will change because now the two Fessenheim reactors are at full power.
Weart:They are already?
Weart:So one could at least say that by the end of the 1970's this was true.
Gueron:Yes because in '78 there are probably four 900 megawatt reactors coming online.
Weart:Ok... Page 610.
Gueron:I don't know whether the two thirds in 1980...
Weart:You noticed I said it was planned. I don't say that it will be.
Gueron:I don't know that it is still planned. Well, Mend es-France, Mend es-France, he is an intelligent man, but, he made... You see to my mind Mend es was so conscious of being a Jew that he went over-nationalist. He made the mistake of sinking the European Defense Community. I don't say that he could have pushed it through the Assemble but he certainly did all he could not to push it, which meant defeating it. And I think this has been catastrophic. It's a personal opinion.
Weart:This is tied to the feeling that France should have a bomb in fact. If you are not part of the European Defense Community this just makes more pressure to have your own bomb I suppose.
Gueron:Yes but I would say that it's secondary to the political build-up of Europe. And in the Algerian business he also had not the daring of what he had done in the case of Indochina where the French population was very small, or in Tunisia which was a protectorate. But the magic words that Algeria is part of France, which administratively was true.
Weart:But geographically not quite so. Tell me, this whole business of the decision to actually construct a bomb of course one has the impression that it took a lot of small steps. You've mentioned already the G3 decision but that was still not actually to put one together. Both Perrin and Goldschmidt pointed out to me particularly Mend es-France as the time when they had the feeling that the balance had flipped or whatever. What feelings do you have, was there any particular point when you knew a bomb was going to be built?
Gueron:Intuitively I knew it was when G3 was decided, and it was clear when Guillaumat started this military liaison committee. It was clear when they started to push the gaseous diffusion studies and tried first to put them under the Direction des poudres, farmed out to the Direction des poudres.
Weart:When was that?
Gueron:All this was more or less done between '54 and '56. See, after that, the Direction des poudres proved so incompetent that they brought this back at the Commissariat and later they put it under me. I don't know who thought naively that that would push me in favor of isotope separation. I told Guillaumat clearly that I could certainly take charge of the studies with the proper staff and deputies, and that this did not mean that it committed me to a plant, to favor a plant.
Weart:You would go ahead and do the studies without necessarily having...
Gueron:Advocating a plant.
Weart:It's just like you were saying with Halban.
Weart:You would listen but not necessarily agree.
Gueron:No, I would agree to push the studies.
Weart:Did anyone in the Commissariat actively oppose these steps towards military work?
Gueron:No, because nobody resigned on that. And this would have been the only way to clearly oppose it, to resign and to say why.
Weart:I see, so there may have been feelings against it but none were that strong. Did you or Goldschmidt or Kowarski feel that France should have a bomb?
Gueron:Goldschmidt certainly went along. I certainly was against a French bomb, not because I thought there should be no nuclear armaments but because I felt certain that all this should be done in the European framework.
Weart:What about Francis Perrin? There's this complicated business which I don't really get into, when Guillaumat... when the second five-year plan really got on the way, what was his attitude towards all this?
Weart:What part did he play in the question of G3?
Gueron:He didn't oppose it and he didn't resign as High Commissioner when G3 was decided. Nor when Guillaumat established the military liaison division and so on. Therefore he might have been reluctant or intellectually opposed, but he did all the moves and he stayed as High Commissioner under De Gaulle.
Weart:Tell me, when did the actual studies get on the way of making a bomb, and that sort of a thing?
Gueron:I don't know exactly. But obviously when Colonel Ailleret, later General Ailleret was appointed Director of special weapons, when the Division of military applications in the Commissariat was first in occult and later in open manner committed.
Weart:I'm just asking, because I'm just curious about these things. It's sort of beyond the trade I try to discuss, but it's interesting. You mention about the diffusion and so forth, and I wondered, Francis Perrin mentions in one of his publications that the decision to build the diffusion plant was essentially the decision to have a fusion bomb, a hydrogen bomb.
Gueron:I don't know enough about the technology of the bomb. I remember that after the Palomares business I told Francis that if we were to have a bomb, then of course you needed a diffusion plant so that you could not have a Palomares. Dispersion of U235 would not cause any harm. But, so long as you don't know in detail the structure of the hydrogen bomb, I don't see why you cannot start it with a plutonium core.
Weart:In principle you can. I'm just curious whether you were aware of any, after all in this country of course it was quite early, the decision to build a hydrogen bomb was a very highly charged and political decision and I wonder whether there was any similar controversy in France.
Weart:It was a different situation of course. It was not like building the first one. So it didn't become a large issue within the Commissariat.
Gueron:No, it was very clear that some semi clandestine piles, some semi clandestine reactors were built in order to make tritium.
Weart:I think we're almost finished here... 602.
Gueron:It's not exactly a group of support, a group of his people.
Weart:A group of people he had brought in?
Weart:To the Commissariat.
Gueron:Plus of course the military representatives.
Weart:Who were already there? Ok it's good. 602 at the top.
Gueron:Yes. [???] other bombs. It's a complicated story you see, because even at that time or in '56 you see they tried to do it somewhat undercover, by disguising it as a European project.
Weart:A European diffusion plant.
Gueron:Yes. But as at the same time they were vehemently opposing using light water reactors, it was a really bad camouflage.
Gueron:And they could not succeed in that way. The people who opposed it in the other countries never said that they didn't want to be Party to the beginning of a weapon program in France; they said that they had better processes.
Weart:For separating isotopes, and therefore we won't do any enrichment now. I see.
Gueron:Well, this will be in the Histoire d'Euratom.
Weart:Yes, it's a different problem.
Gueron:The point here is that it was an atmospheric explosion. In '58, when it was obvious that France would have a bomb I was not in the Commissariat anymore, I had just left at that time. I wrote Perrin "Ok, you will have a bomb. Now what you should do would be to make an under-ground explosion and use it as international experiment in detection." To my mind this would have redeemed and made it less of an act of political defiance. Perrin never answered me except vaguely, saying that it was too late, that changing over to underground would have involved delays, and so on, you know what. Yes, here again it is a very dark story, which is not clear. I don't know whether you spoke to De Rose about it.
Weart:No...about the Israeli reactor. No...that's... a lot of these things I really can't... if I try to write something about it would be too great a chance of missing the main point.
Gueron:Yes. I don't know the things very clearly about this. The rumor was that when the Dimona reactor was built and contracted to a French firm, there was a secret agreement that France would reprocess the Dimona fuel, and give the plutonium to the Israelis.
Weart:That France would do the processing for them?
Gueron:I'm stating a rumor, I don't know. Then the rumor is that when De Gaulle came into power; he refused to carry on through that agreement, and that De Rose was the man given the very nice mission to go and tell the Israelis that the deal was off. But that's a rumor, I never had occasion to speak of it to De Rose and I have much doubt that if I spoke to him, although we are friendly in principle, we don't see each other very often, I doubt whether he would feel at liberty even to say yes or no.
Weart:Some of these things will have to wait for a future generation to go and dig out through the archives.
Gueron:But from all the context, it doesn't seem to me unlikely because when we built Orgel in Ispra under Euratom, we had the same main contractor who had built Dimona, and we were very strict customers. And Julia was the head of this G3A company always told me: "You are tough people here. Ah, when we were dealing with 'le client', meaning the Israelis, it was so much easier." But this was the only export, and it was not exactly our technology. The other export was Vandelios, the graphite natural uranium reactor in Spain. But it is very typical of nuclear exports, as they have been so far in developing countries. They were built by France, financed at least partially by a loan from France, and France is buying back half of the electricity production. So... the prototype of the NRX.
Weart:I see what you mean, right, that's page 603. You have a very sharp eye for language. I appreciate that.
Gueron:Yes, the Indian bomb. Of course it was plutonium produced in a CANDU-type reactor. But people I think have been very shy to speak about the Indian chemical plant. And as far as I know it was a French design and probably French construction. You have to check, I cannot...
Weart:Ok, I will check that, it may well be the case... that's easy to check up on.
Gueron:Yes, extraction plant in Canada, it is true that it was begun by Goldschmidt and was completed at Chalk River. Goldschmidt by the way worked at Chalk River for quite a while.
Weart:Yes that's true.
Gueron:But it was not the Goldschmidt process. At least it was not for long.
Weart:I understand... It's 604.
Gueron:You have to check...[???]...
Gueron:Yes. I think that here you could use the quote from Bahba. You know Bahba?
Weart:No, what is...
Gueron:It was at the time of the first Geneva conference and he said that "no power is more expensive than no power.”... I think it's a good phrase.
Weart:When I say it they think the greatest energy problem is getting up in the morning and going to work. People forget that there is human energy also, and that we need to conserve this as well as every other kind.
Gueron:Yes. Kowarski also had some role in OECD. And he violently opposed Euratom.
Weart:I could have said more about what Kowarski did after he left. I could have said more about what you and Goldschmidt did after you left. Maybe I should say that Kowarski also played a role as nuclear adviser in OECD or something like that.
Gueron:Well if you go further in time, I retired in '76.
Weart:That's right, and in fact Goldschmidt just retired.
Gueron:He just retired, although he stays as a Conseiller.
Weart:He still has an office.
Gueron:And he stays as the French member of the Board of Governors of the Agency. Of course when I left Euratom, Perrin promised me that I would have an office in the CEA and secretarial assistance and so on. And he met opposition, from Goldschmidt in particular who told him "you shouldn't help him write things where he will speak ill of the CEA.” I told Perrin that I was rather being accused elsewhere of being a henchman of the CEA.
Weart:I'm sure that's true in Euratom.
Gueron:And that anyhow, this story would be written someday by someone. And that if it was not me it would be much worse for the CEA because the other one would understand less... and the story is not written.
Gueron:But it might have been written quicker if I really had had material facilities at the CEA. But you see this also is a bit typical of Perrin. He made a promise; he met opposition, and dropped it. Joliot, OK. The construction of Orsay was already on the way.
Weart:All I say is that he encouraged it.
Gueron:No, you say he began to encourage.
Weart:Which implies it was an initiation.
Gueron:Or that he had not encouraged it before. He kept involved or interested.
Weart:Ok, that's a good point... 606.
Gueron:It's true that they died prematurely, but their personal influence was finished when they left the CEA. I don't understand what you mean here.
Weart:Well. Ok this is page 780. My feeling is as follow. In France, if you read something in certain newspapers you have a fair idea of who is saying it, or at least which political party, and I have a feeling that, after all, the communists in particular were always saying that the New York Times said such and such, the Herald Tribune said such and such, as if this were the official statement of the US government. With the hope that it would be read in that way. Maybe I didn't state that too clearly.
Gueron:No, you mean that the French press, that in France, some at least of the main newspapers reflect the views of parties or political groups. And it's true, you don't have the kind of editorial spectrum which you have here, but when you say that French tended to follow the US press, you mean to read the US press.
Weart:Yes, perhaps what I should say here is that the communists tended to quote the US press as if it...
Gueron:Yes but "follow" is misleading.
Weart:Oh, I see what you mean. Yes the word could be taken in the other sense. There is something about the use of this tape. You've been very frank and I wonder, may I take quotations from this tape to use in my book?
Gueron:We have spoken very openly, and obviously there are things which I said which I would not write because a lot of this is impression and cannot be substantiated.
Weart:So that's very clear.
Gueron:I consider that they are background. If you want to quote verbatim, then send me a copy and let me see it in the words you would use.
Weart:Ok, I'll do that. Now another question. I wonder if it would be possible for me to keep the tapes here, so that other scholars in the future may refer, because you say a lot of things which I think are very valuable historically, not just for my own interest but in general. It would be all right for us to keep them...
Weart:... and under the same understanding...
Gueron:... the same understanding...
Weart:That during your lifetime it can be listened to, but not quoted without your permission?
Weart:Ok... as I say it's understood that you've been very frank here and that not all of these things we say about people are not necessarily the sort of things that one publishes.
Gueron:And not necessarily exact. They are sincere, that's all I can say. They are statements of my opinion without malevolence.
Weart:I understand. Now, we have a lot of tapes here under the same basis.
Now what I would...