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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Heinz Krekeler

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Interview with Dr. Heinz Krekeler
By Mark Walker
In Munich, West Germany
February 21, 1986

 
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Heinz Krekeler; February 21, 1986

ABSTRACT: Krekeler as West German ambassador to United States; the desolate state of German science and technology after World War II. Krekelerís interest in the peaceful uses of nuclear power; Konrad Adenauer; Franz Josef Strauss; the question of West German nuclear weapons. The West German choice between nuclear power plant lines, American, British, or French; postwar West German research on centrifuge uranium isotope separation; the fine line between the peaceful and military uses of nuclear power; Werner Heisenberg.

Transcript

Walker:

Let us begin with your connections to nuclear energy. In 1950 you became Ambassador to America.

Krekeler:

Oh, I started on a lower rung of the diplomatic ladder. I started as consul general in 1950, where the Allies permitted the Federal Republic to send three consul generals, one to France, — that was my colleague Professor Hausenstein — one consul general to London, Herr Schlange-Schoeningen, and one to the United States, and I was the consul general in New York. One year after this, on July 2nd 1951, we could establish diplomatic missions, headed by a permanent charge díaffairs. I was named charge díaffairs. I came to Washington in Ď51 and I received in 1953 the personal rank of ambassador. Only in Ď55, when we got our sovereignty back, did I become full-fledged plenipotentiary ambassador.

Walker:

In 1949 the Federal Republic had been founded in theory, but full relations werenít actually established until the Federal Republic had received full sovereignty?

Krekeler:

Thatís right. Now, we could establish diplomatic relations with other countries before the return of sovereignty. For instance, my colleague in Canada, that was I think in Ď51, was an ambassador right from the beginning in Ď51 or Ď52. Only in the three powers, United States, Great Britain and France, we did have to wait for the signing of this ratification of the treaty before establishing full embassies.

Walker:

They were three of the four occupying powers.

Krekeler:

Thatís right.

Walker:

And your interest in nuclear energy, that came after you were established in America?

Krekeler:

First of all, I should tell you that I studied chemistry, and in 1930 received a PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Berlin, so it was very natural when I came to the United States that I was very much interested in the progress which had been made in science, because we had been cut off during the war. The Allies had restricted all of our material, as you know, taken many men, especially many specialists. We had nothing. And so I was very much interested to learn about the progress made, and I can tell you, the first thing that caught my interest was the computer technology and the transistor, and I wrote a report to my government, as early as 51, to the effect that I thought the transistor would be very important, much more important than atomic energy, in general, you see — on technology, on the economy and so on. Well, I must confess, to no avail, because nobody listened in industry. The government did. They knew it. It was passed on to industry by the government, not the political reports but these economic and technical reports were passed on by our institution in Cologne to industry, but nothing happened. They slept, absolutely slept. Because research and application of atomic energy, that was strictly forbidden. Yes, that was forbidden by the occupying powers, as was research in aviatics, aeronautics. All these things were forbidden, building big ships and so on.

Walker:

The main idea was military technology.

Krekeler:

Thatís right, military technology, but nobody thought at that time about transistors. And I still remember, I was invited to visit MIT, as I was interested and I had connections in the United States — for instance, Mr. Kistiakowsky had studied with the same professor as I, with Bodenstein. Kistiakowsky was a scientific advisor to Eisenhower. Not that I had close links with him, but you see when I was an ambassador, Conant was my opposite number in Germany. After the government was established he was also an ambassador, and Conant was a chemist, so, see, there were many relations.

Walker:

About the postwar period, would you say something about the war period or even before. You were a physical chemist. Have you ever had any contact with Karl Clusius or Paul Harteck?

Krekeler:

I knew Harteck from Berlin when I was studying, because he was then at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, but only very loosely. We attended the same seminar, I think, which Professor Fritz Haber, the famous Nobel Prize winner, held and I remember having met him and Bonhoeffer in seminar at Haberís Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry. Haber also examined me for my PhD. I was one of them, so I knew him quite well, and Polanyi; I have met all these men, but only because I got my PhD thesis from Professor Bodenstein, who was working in kinetics. No connection with physicists as such.

Walker:

Harteck is an interesting case in that he came to America in 1950. Thatís a topic Iíd like to talk about a little bit later, about the flood of German scientists to America who didnít go back. Your basic interest was in new technology and science, especially things which Germany could use to new advantage, especially new technologies —

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right.

Walker:

This led you to take an early interest in the developments in nuclear energy in America, and to report on them.

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right, of course it was fascinating, and perhaps I could tell you one story. My boss at I.G. Farben until the end of the war, a member of the staff of chemists at I.G. Farben — my boss was a man I held in the highest esteem. He was the only member of the board who was not a member of the Nazi Party — I donít blame the others, that they were nominal members, but he escaped this. He was a wonderful man, and unfortunately he died early in 1946, I believe, very early in 1946. If he had not died, I was earmarked by him as his successor. Then I would have had quite a different career. I would have been a member of the board of the successor firms of I.G. Farben, BASF, and so on. And as he died, then I decided to turn to politics, because the other member of the board had another man earmarked as successor and I didnít want to compete with him. So then I pulled out of this firm, cut off my membership, and this — my chief, thatís my story, Muller-Cunradi, was really a genius in chemistry.

I remember visiting him in Ludwigshafen shortly before his death. He already was in bed — could not rise — and he said, ďHave you heard about the atomic bomb?Ē I said, ďYes, of course, that was in the news today. Isnít that an American bluff?Ē You know, he, a trained chemist who was one of the first-rank chemists of his time, had made many great inventions, he did not believe that this was feasible, as a chemist. I mean, for a fool itís very easy to believe all sorts of stories, but here was a man trained in the art who really, honestly did not believe that this was possible. So then, as I was trained in physical chemistry, he was in chemistry, I told him, ďI have a book at home and I will send you a memo about this to show you that this is real, this was predicted, as a consequence of Otto Hahnís discovery.Ē So you see, many people did not believe in the scientific world, that this was possible at all. I knew that this was possible and I was of course fascinated by the idea. And very soon we all realized that this could, of course, be applied to peaceful uses, and I have never been interested in anything but the peaceful use, because right from the beginning, it was my deepest conviction that we would give the Soviet Union a reason and a cause for aggression if we ever tried to muster the military application. I was absolutely convinced from the beginning that this would be our end and that perhaps you couldnít even blame the Soviet Union. So all my endeavors were always aimed at for the peaceful application. I donít say this to protect myself, rather this was my honest conviction, and I always agreed with Adenauer on this, that we should never even try to go into the military side with this development, but I insisted that we should, as early as it was possible, apply it for energy. For production.

Walker:

You mentioned that you and Adenauer were mainly interested in the peaceful uses, or rather exclusively interested in the peaceful uses of nuclear power. Iím also very interested in the figure of Franz Josef Strauss as the first atomic minister, the later defense minister. Straussís intentions with respect to the military uses of nuclear power are not clear for me in the period Ď55 to Ď60.

Krekeler:

May I make one clear distinction? I donít consider nuclear ship propulsion also as a military application. Only explosives.

Walker:

Nuclear explosives.

Krekeler:

Nuclear explosives. So I once discussed with Strauss my initiative, when we talked about the Otto Hahn, this nuclear ship, I said, ďOf course, I think the Allies have nothing against our using nuclear ship propulsion for a war ship. What we should never have is nuclear explosives.Ē So, you see, thatís the difference. And I have never, I have often had very long talks with Franz Josef Strauss, I donít think that he ever thought about Germany having the atom bomb either. I donít think so. I have no reason to believe this and heís a really clever, very intelligent man; I donít think that he overlooked the consequences of such a step. So I donít think that he ever thought about applying this for military purposes, in the sense of nuclear explosives.

Walker:

Of course, since America already had nuclear weapons stationed in West Germany, it was really in a sense a question of making a statement, that American or officially NATO weapons were in Germany; the big step that you did not want to take, was that West Germany officially, publicly make its own nuclear weapons, have them in West Germany, and being controlled by West German soldiers — for example, what happened in France.

Krekeler:

Thatís right, which I think was excluded right from the beginning. Of course, the sharing of the decision, when to use American or Allied or French nuclear weapons, or English, in Germany or on German soil in a conflict, thatís quite a different story. I think we should, and we are in the nuclear planning group, participating in the planning and so — thatís reasonable and necessary. Thatís quite a different story.

Walker:

That was also a consequence of being under NATO.

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right.

Walker:

Getting back to your interest in the nuclear energy developments in America, I how was the German Federal Ministry for Atomic Questions was exactly set up, or better put, in a more general sense, what form of organized support was there for nuclear energy in Germany.

Krekeler:

I can tell you, I think, in detail. I was very often in Germany during my tenure in Washington, and the Chancellor came rather often, and when he was not on an absolutely official visit, you know, sometimes for reason or pretext of receiving honorary degrees, he came over and lived with me. In the embassy he was my house guest. So we often had time enough to discuss things privately. I had known knew him since 1947, when we both were members of the Diet of Northrein-Westphalia. Of course, Adenauer was in a much more elevated position than I was, I was a newcomer. We each other from this time. We were fellow deputies in the beginning, and then later he became my boss as chancellor and minister of foreign affairs. I remember on one occasion we rode in a car from New York to Connecticut to visit his old friend Danny Heineman and there was always an opportunity to talk things over during a car ride because nobody else was present. We were alone in the car. He very often asked my opinion about economic developments in Germany, what I thought, what he should do and so on.

On one of these occasions, I told him, ďMr. Chancellor, we must now prepare, because the time approaches when the treaties restricting science run out.Ē This was shortly before the peaceful application of nuclear energy. I thought that this was very important. I still believe, despite all setbacks. Then I told him how this is organized in the United States, and I still remember, I told him about my friend Admiral Lewis Strauss, I said to Adenauer, ďHeís not an admiral at all, itís an honorary title, heís a banker. Heís a businessman, an entrepreneur, if you like it,Ē I said, ďyou have now a committee of scientists headed by my friend Werner Heisenberg, whom I hold as a scientist in the highest esteem.Ē But I told him, I said, ďNo, we must have a man at the head who looks for the industrial application, and that is of course not Heisenbergís role. We must have somebody else.Ē And then I said, ďAn actual atomic energy commission must be set up in Germany immediately, when this is possible, and I suggest what we call an Oberst Bundesbehorde, such as Bundesanstalt fur Arbeit, Bundesrechungshof, etc. All these are institutions just below the ministry level in Germany, so my idea was not to set up a new ministry, but my idea was to set up an Oberst Bundesbehorde. So I told him this, tentatively, and then I flew with him back to Germany and started my annual vacation.

Two days afterwards, when I was already at my farm where I live now also the greater part of the year, and also in North-Rhein Westphalia, I got a telephone call from the Chancellorís office, ďPlease come to Bonn immediately. Thereís a conference and afterwards thereís a dinner.Ē So of course I drove to Bonn, went there, and there was also the state secretary, Hallstein, who was a deputy of Adenauer, as well as my boss. He looked at me and said, ďWhat are you doing here?Ē ďWell,Ē I said, ďthe Chancellor asked me to come and so Iím here.Ē Of course he was very much surprised that he didnít know anything about it, and he was even more surprised when the conference started and the Chancellor said, ďNow, Herr Krekeler, tell all of us here what you told me in our car ride to Connecticut, about nuclear energy and what is necessary.Ē And I still remember one thing, his old friend, Pferdmenges, the banker was present, and Adenhauer said afterwards, ďNow, Admiral Pferdmenges, what do you think of this?Ē Thatís because I had told him that Lewis Strauss was a banker, not a military man, you see. So I suggested this and Franz Josef Strauss was present, and then, that was the beginning of the founding of the Ministry of Atomic Energy. I had nothing against this being a Ministry, but I didnít want to be guilty of the proliferation of Ministries — itís an application of Parkinsonís Law, if you know what I mean, so thatís the reason I started on a more modest level, the essential thing was to start.

Walker:

Would it be valid to say that perhaps the reason a Ministry was founded was precisely because Adenauer had decided to entrust the matter to Franz Josef Strauss?

Krekeler:

I think so, yes, because Franz Josef Strauss was a member of the Cabinet, a Bundesminister without portfolio, and of course to keep such an energetic man there without a real task, that was not good, and Adenhauer wanted to keep this brilliant mind at work. You are so right, you know, it was just aimed at Franz Joseph.

Walker:

And Strauss was openly interested in becoming defense minister, as he subsequently did become.

Krekeler:

That I donít know, at that time. From Washington, these details of internal politics were not so familiar. Iím a founding member and one of the founders of the Free Democratic Party and of course I knew my friends in the Cabinet very well, at that time — I knew Franz Josef Strauss much better later than at that time — and that may be true. I wouldnít blame him. But I think he was quite interested in starting as atomic minister.

Walker:

It is worth remarking that at the time, the Federal Republic of Germany was one of the few countries in the world that had its own atomic ministry. West Germany also had an atomic commission just as the United States did, and it certainly appeared in public as if the West German state was ready to make a definite commitment to the development of nuclear technology. And perhaps it was a clear message to German industry as well.

Krekeler:

Yes. There was one very funny episode that I will not conceal from you. During this time, I donít know exactly when it was, a political friend, Wellhausen, visited me. He was the chairman of the very influential financial committee of the Bundestag, FOP member, and at the same time was a member of the board of MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nurenburg), a very important firm even today. We were close friends, so when he visited me, I told him about atomic energy as well, how necessary in my opinion it would be for us to keep up with this and then I told him, prepare for it, not only as member of the Bundestag, be open-minded, but also as a member of the board of his firm, because I think your firm could play a role in this by furnishing components for nuclear power. When he got back, he had not got it all right, so he wrote to me a private letter asking for more details, and when I got this letter, there was a stamp of CIA on it! I remember then, I took this letter —

Walker:

— excuse me, you mean by that, you could tell the CIA had opened it?

Krekeler:

Yes, there was even a ďCIAĒ stamp on it. And I went to a friend in the State Department and said, ďDo you know Rudyard Kipling?Ē ďOh yes,Ē he said. I said, ďHave you read Kim? Oh, you should do much better. I know that you read my private letters and I have nothing against it, but I think itís not very elegant to put a stamp on it! So, if I want to communicate something, then I use the diplomatic pouch, that you canít read.Ē So I downplayed it, you see. But this was very interesting. This was the only letter where this happened. And they were so keen to know what we were doing in this field. That of course was absolutely normal and nothing anybody could object to, but itís a bit funny that??

Walker:

The firm MAN was actually the first German firm to take part in the building of a reactor, Garchinger reactor in Munich.

Krekeler:

So, you see my message did not go wrong.

Walker:

Did not go wrong. Iím also interested, excuse me if I ask you questions about Franz Joseph Strauss, but you are easier to contact. Bavaria is his kingdom, in a sense.

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right. I like him very much as a friend. Heís a very good friend. As a human being. I donít agree with all his political statements, but I think his human qualities are very good. Of course, you have to take him as a Bavarian. Iím a Westphalian. Thereís a big difference.

Walker:

In 1955, I believe, Franz Joseph Strauss and the physicist Otto Haxel took a trip to America.

Krekeler:

Yes, and the German head of ESSO, he was also with him, Geyer. He was a high General Director of ESSO Germany. I, of course, had contacts later with Otto Haxel later when I was in Brussels. I can see him still playing with the lock of my briefcase. ď1 must open this.Ē It was a cipher lock, you know. All evening. It was so interesting to see whether he could find it out. He should have had a stethoscope there. Yes, he was very nice, interested, I like him, hold him in high esteem.

Walker:

Yes, he certainly became influential in the German nuclear physics community. In contrast to Heisenberg, he could much more easily work with industry.

Krekeler:

Yes. Heisenberg was a pure scientist. He was rather aloof from all this. I knew Heisenberg very well. As a matter of fact, we were friends. Heisenberg is one of the greatest men of our century, in my opinion, — with his famous statement about, what do you call it?

Walker:

Uncertainty.

Krekeler:

The uncertainty principle, yes. One of the greatest discoveries of our times, in my opinion. While he lived I always considered him to be the greatest living scientist in the world, not just in Germany, because of this uncertainty principle, because it had so many philosophical consequences. Heisenberg was only interested in his problems, his pure research. He never had any interest in —

Walker:

— getting his hands dirty.

Krekeler:

No, I wouldnít say that. He intervened once, you know, when there was this protest of the scientists. We can come back to this. I think that was a misunderstanding of Adenauerís tactics.

Walker:

Back to the trip. Strauss and Haxelís trip to America was designed for the new atomic minister with his technical expert to come to America and inspect various American installations, both in scientific research and in industrial research.

Krekeler:

Yes. I accompanied them for part of the trip. The greater part they were alone, because at the time I had other business to attend to.

Walker:

Another reason for the trip was to get on good terms with the Americans with regard to nuclear energy politics, because it was clear one had to work with America. Although in the late fifties, there was talk of, say, turning more to Great Britain or France than America, Strauss in particular, and many Germans in general, were more interested in working with the United States.

Krekeler:

Yes, and for good reason. For many good reasons. This I found out especially later, when I was a member of the EURATOM Commission. You see, of course, as far as we were concerned in EURATOM the French program was very essential for us. Great Britain was not yet a member of the European Economic community, so it was the French, and the French insisted very much on adopting their system, but if you look closer at it, you know that the French program, with the graphite reactor, was only justified only for countries that wanted to make the bomb.

Walker:

Plutonium production.

Krekeler:

Yes. And you know, very shortly after I became a member of EURATOM we visited the power plant at Chinon. They could take the capsules out of the graphite uranium design, after three months, and then you have weapons grade plutonium. When it stays longer in it, you get plutonium of different isotopes —

Walker:

Yes, 241.

Krekeler:

Thatís no longer weapons grade.

Walker:

In fact, it hinders the chain reaction because it absorbs neutrons.

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right. So for the French, it was reasonable to have these reactors. But their mistake was that they thought their method was also economic as power plants. They were not. And of course, I always told my French friends in Europe, ďWe are very skilled technologically, industrially. Germany still has a lot of know-how and experienced people in this field.Ē In my opinion, at that time, we were more experienced than the French generally were. And I said, ďYou canít persuade us to adopt a reactor line that we donít think is technically and economically the right one. We think that the American types of light water reactors are better for power production.Ē Thatís the reason. You see, there are allegations that we have been forced or pressured by the Americans to adopt their line — no, it was quite the contrary. Not pressure, I would say, but the French wanted very badly that we follow their line, and we didnít.

Walker:

One should also mention that at this time in the late fifties Great Britain was also using graphite.

Krekeler:

Thatís right. That we visited also, yes. I mean, there was of course one advantage of another line, the heavy water line, that you didnít need enrichment, so adopting the American line meant that we would be dependent on enrichment by the Americans.

Walker:

And it is clear that America found it, if anything, positive that countries would then be dependent on them for enriched uranium, if for no other reason, to make money. However, it is true that West Germany invested a great deal of money and time in centrifuges for uranium separation during the sixties.

Krekeler:

Yes.

Walker:

Combined work with Holland and England.

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right. I had my hand in that, too.

Walker:

Back to Strauss. What are your recollections of both Straussís impressions of America and the Americanís impressions of Strauss, and the idea that the Federal Republic was going to set up its own atomic energy commission and get into this business very heavily?

Krekeler:

I know of no objections against this, not at all. We were on very best of terms with Admiral Strauss and Mrs. Strauss, whom I liked very much, very great lady. He did all he could to help us. No reservations, very clearly not. The more as he knew from our conversations that we were not considering military applications, at any time — I think that would have raised his eyebrows. And justly so. But the peaceful applications, they were very much interested that we took it up too. And they were very helpful and tried to be helpful. There was only one thing, these treaties, I negotiated with Gerry Smith —

Walker:

These are treaties between America and the Federal Republic of Germany dealing with sale of enriched uranium and nuclear reactor technology.

Krekeler:

Yes, see, well, first a research treaty, then for the first power reactor. There were two separate treaties which I negotiated of course under directives of home with Gerry Smith, who has been a friend ever since. We still exchange letters from time to time. You know who he is, Gerald Smith. He was the chief negotiator of SALT I. For the United States government. But at that time, he was with Dulles in the State Department, and he was special consultant or something like that and his task was to negotiate these treaties, to negotiate with us. It was very interesting at that time that he insisted on making in the treaty provisions for EURATOM, that if there should be a European Authority, our treaty should be subject to his authority. So there could be nothing in the treaty against the supposed future European Authority. And I fought against this at that time, as German ambassador, because I said, ĎWe donít know what it is, what the construction of this new supernational thing will be, and how can we sign anything if you donít know we want to be just vis-a-vis the United States alone, and not having something that doesnít yet exist interfering in it.Ē But that was very good, that he insisted so much, because of course when EURATOM was founded, we had difficulties with the State Department about our authority to inspect nuclear plants. Then I said, ďWell, listen, when we made this treaty, EURATOM, United States, about the supply of nuclear enriched material,Ē — they said, no, no, the authority must lie in Vienna, the site of the International nuclear power authority. I said, ďWell, you insisted in your negotiations with me on the EURATOM authority for inspection. Now, in consequence, you must accept it now.Ē That was the reason they accepted it. I think so.

Walker:

One crucial aspect of the American and Germany agreement was allowing young German scientists to come to America to be trained.

Krekeler:

Yes.

Walker:

To study. In fact, Iíve been very impressed by how quickly this happened, since there still was a great deal of Germanophobia in the postwar period —

Krekeler:

— I know.

Walker:

Iím impressed by how quickly young Western scientists were allowed into the Oak Ridge Laboratories, Bookhaven, Los Alamos, often doing secret research, and how relatively open and helpful and friendly the Americans were to these young scientists. That help I think was just as important as the financial help through the Marshall Plan in rebuilding the laboratories back in Germany. Iíve interviewed many of these German scientists, for example Haxel and Karl Wirtz, among others, and I asked them all whether they sent their students to America. Not only did they send almost all their students to America, but almost every one of these scientists spent a year as a guest professor.

Krekeler:

Yes. Yes.

Walker:

From this standpoint, the Americans were quite generous.

Krekeler:

They were. But this is an American trait in general, which is not always enough appreciated in Germany, that the American naturally is generous, you see. Either he doesnít like something or somebody, or he is generous. Thereís nothing in between. Well, they couldnít object to these young scientists, who had had nothing to do with the Nazis so they were accepted, and we were very close. France was so difficult during these years, as you know, and Adenauerís position in Washington was incredible, how Dulles relied on his advice and on his reasoning and so on. That was not a small part of this, too. But I must say, all the credit goes to Adenauer. I feel obligated to say that his really overwhelming personality was the reason that this all, let us say, from Ď54 and on went so smoothly. You have asked me about the impression that Franz Joseph Strauss made. I really canít answer this in a detailed way, but there was absolutely nothing against him.

Walker:

Then let me repeat something Haxel told me. He said that Strauss made quite an impression —

Krekeler:

He did, as an intelligent man.

Walker:

And that from a political standpoint, many saw him as the successor of Adenauer.

Krekeler:

That is absolutely not true, not so. No. I remember when it became apparent that somebody other than Brentano was in Adenauerís mind as his successor, Dulles was very much disappointed. He told me, heíd always expected Brentano to be the successor of Adenauer. And I said, ďWell, no.Ē We were on such close terms that I had an obligation to be absolutely honest with him, even in these personal matters. He admired Brentano. Adenauer had the firm opinion that it had been a mistake for Churchill to hand pick Anthony Eden as his successor. So it was very difficult to speak with a man like Adenauer about these problems. Once I had an opportunity, because he had accepted an invitation to appear on a program called ďYouth Wants to Know,Ē and to prepare him for this, I said —

Walker:

In America?

Krekeler:

In America. Perhaps you remember this, ďYouth Wants to Know.Ē There were bright young people questioning political dignitaries and so forth. Adenauer was absolutely willing. He had great fun in accepting such challenges. Then we were again alone, or perhaps in my home in the evening, and I said, ďMr. Chancellor, you must prepare yourself. They will ask you about your successor.Ē Then came the question, ďMr. Chancellor, do you train a successor?Ē Then he answered, ďThere are many who want to be my successor. I hope they train themselves.Ē That was typical. Then he became very serious, and he told me, because he knew that I would not give him away and that I was personally certainly very far from being interested, so he was very open, the only time he talked about the subject. He said, ďYou know, I really think Churchill made a mistake in hand picking Eden, because if someone wants to be in such a position, he must have the stamina to put himself there. So itís quite wrong to prepare somebody as a heir apparent.Ē He said to me, ďI think the reservoir of ministers presidents of the Lander,Ē and at that time he thought that Mayerson, who was the minister-president of Northrhein Westphalia, might be able to follow him as a successor, which in his opinion, and he was right, was still many years away. And he didnít like the idea of Erhard because he didnít think highly of his political skills, his economic wisdom, yes, but not politically. Unfortunately I think he was right, because he was no success as a Chancellor, and so he said, ďI think Meyers will be able to make it, and but essentially, I — itís up to these men to fight it out between them, because I think from my experience it is a mistake to help somebody. If he canít help himself, he certainly is not able to be the head of a government.Ē That was his philosophy. I think Dulles reflected Eisenhowerís view as President. They thought about Brentano. He was very much liked as a gentleman and solidly anti-Communist, and they were very disappointed at the time, of course it was much later, when I told him, ďNo, I think it is impossible for many reasons that Brentano will be his successor.Ē I knew exactly exactly why but this couldnít happen.

Krekeler:

I donít remember having read any article in the NEW YORK TIMES or WASHINGTON POST, but only knew that Agnes Myer was absolutely against Erhard. Agnes Myer, the wife of the owner of the WASHINGTON POST, she didnít like Erhard, I donít know why. Oh yes, I know: he had such big fingers, she always told me. Once again referring to Strauss, of course they were very much impressed that as a historian of the ancient languages, which was Straussís training, he so quickly could grasp all these technical and scientific details — that impressed them very deeply. This I know.

Walker:

Perhaps we could talk a bit about the Gottingen Manifesto. The public declaration by a dozen or so prominent German scientists, including Heisenberg, Weizacker, Otto Hahn, etc., criticized the policy, or at least some public statements by Adenauer and Strauss.

Krekeler:

Well, it had a reason, I think. The reason was that we accepted the obligation not to produce atomic, chemical and biological weapons at the treaty negotiations in London.

Walker:

ABC weapons.

Krekeler:

ABC weapons. Adenauer accepted it, but he told Dulles, ďYou know, this is only rebus sic stantibus.Ē Adenauer had an aversion against any commitment which carried over into the unforeseeable future, on principle, and for political reasons. He said, ďYou should not take up an obligation when you donít know what will happen or how it develops.Ē He accepted that we should bind ourselves to this ABC agreement, but he didnít like the idea that this was binding for the unforeseeable future. This was a political reason — it had nothing to do with any hidden resolve to do something in the direction of nuclear weapons. He as absolutely sold on this, and knew that we couldnít develop such weapons, but this was part of his principles, you know, ďNever say never,Ē — ďsag nie nieĒ was the German for it. The scientists misunderstood it, as if Adenauer had the idea of entering these fields. He did not. So I think they were fighting against a strawman. It was not real, because Adenauer never, this I can really testify to, never had the idea of developing such weapons; but he told me afterwards, I was of course not present in London, ďOne should never enter a commitment for the unforeseeable future. Who knows what will happen? Who knows for instance, that we not have a joint undertaking, as later McMillan tried, Europeans and Americans jointly producing nuclear submarines or something similar?Ē You remember the Bermuda talks, the Europeans were included, and this was the reason. It was not something that they wanted to do. They mistook it. They misunderstood it, and feeling themselves deeply responsible. You remember perhaps the story that Hahn considered to commit suicide when he heard about the first atomic explosion. You must understand it. The scientists, just because they were at the foundation of all this, they had created it, it has been invented in Germany, and they had of course a horror of anything further that would come out of it. So you must understand them psychologically. But in practical politics, they were fighting a strawman, because nobody in the government thought about doing what the scientists were trying to prevent them to do. I think this was a great misunderstanding, but I was not in Germany at the time, so I was not involved in the controversy, rather this is my explanation from what I know from Adenauer and others.

Walker:

With respect to the public impression, one has to remember that Adenauer had pushed through that Germany would have a standing army shortly before

Krekeler:

Yes.

Walker:

That was a political victory. That took time and effort. On the heels of this came the question of stationing American nuclear weapons in West Germany, and on the heels of this came the question, ďExactly what role will West Germany play in this?Ē

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right.

Walker:

So I think itís easy to see from the public opinion standpoint why people could become concerned.

Krekeler:

Yes, of course. Of course, I understand their concern. But I still believe it was not justified, as far as the government or Adenauer was concerned. About the standing army question, I may perhaps say something. Of course, I was also very close to President Heuss because he was the head of my party, of which I was a co-founder, and Heuss once said that the universal military training is a legitimate child of democracy. Heuss said this. He was absolutely for it. He said, ďIf we have to have a share in our common defense, it must be by universal military training, not by a professional army.Ē And I still think America should have one too. I think universal military training is, from a point of view of democracy, better than a professional army. After all our experiences in the Weimar period with a professional army, if we had to participate in the common defense, it would have to be by a general draft, not by a professional army. I think that was the political point.

Walker:

Yes, although one has to take the peculiarities of modern German history into account. In the Weimar Republic, the victorious Allies had limited the army. It had to be professional. Paradoxically, it was the National Socialists who re-introduced universal suffrage, not the democratics.

Krekeler:

Thatís right, they introduced universal military training, but for other reasons, not for reasons of democracy. Heuss reminded our people that really, if we were to have something, we should have universal military training, because not the universal military training but the professional army was in part responsible for the Nazis. They were the only ones who had the power to prevent it. And I think Hitler bribed all the generals by promoting them, by giving them money to accept such — well, thatís part of the general history.

Walker:

Thereís an argument which Iíd be interested in hearing your thoughts about, because it touches exactly on this question of the military uses of nuclear energy, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and the boundary between. From a purely scientific standpoint, itís hard to draw a firm and permanent line between military and peaceful uses of nuclear fission.

Krekeler:

Thatís right. In other words, if you know the scientific principles of the peaceful application, of course it is no problem to build a bomb. Itís quite clear. Of course, itís so simple.

Walker:

And almost all the nuclear power plants in Germany used enriched uranium and water.

Krekeler:

Yes.

Walker:

And if Iím not mistaken, almost all this uranium was enriched in the plant that was built to produce the bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima.

Krekeler:

Thatís right.

Walker:

If you have a uranium separation plant, you can always use a step process to eventually produce nuclear explosives. The reactors the Americans used to produce the first plutonium for the first plutonium bomb was actually a relatively simple graphite uranium rod design, very similar to what France and England did after the war for their nuclear power industries. There are many more examples. The Asian Indians purchased a heavy water uranium reactor and it was then shown that this technology could also be used for nuclear explosives.

Krekeler:

— of course —

Walker:

— and to take a fresh topic from current events, the West German government is building a reprocessing plant in Wackersdorf.

Krekeler:

Yes.

Walker:

And this will be the last link in the chain for the fuel cycle.

Krekeler:

Thatís right. Thatís not weapons grade plutonium that is processed there, you see, thatís fuel elements which have been so long inside the reactor that I am convinced they would be very difficult to use as plutonium for making bombs. You need other plutonium. As we talked about.

Walker:

Once you have such a plant in operation, then perhaps you can build other sorts of nuclear power plants or begin shutting your nuclear power plants off every couple of months. The point is not whether the current government plans to use the reprocessing plant to build weapons, the point is rather the potential of nuclear weapons is now there. And I agree, it is clear that the reprocessing plants are also necessary if you want to reprocess the fuel.

Krekeler:

If you want to reprocess the fuel, and if you want to reduce the volume of those parts that you have to store permanently, I mean, we talk so often about recycling refuse. That applies to the nuclear waste too. I mean, itís one to twenty. It will be much easier for us to store this small amount in the salt mines than the rest of it, than to store all the spent elements. So thatís the reason for recycling, and Iím for it, and there are so many ways to make a bomb, see, if really somebody wants — I am convinced that, for instance, the Israelis have several bombs already, and they have no recycling plants of this kind.

Walker:

For better or worse, the line between the military uses of nuclear fission, to be more exact, and the peaceful uses, which at the moment are basically heat production which can make electricity or run a ship, is very fine. And itís a political line.

Krekeler:

Yes, and that is the reason why I, while I was in EURATOM, insisted that our transuranium institute in Karlsruhe, which you can call also a plutonium institute, is a European institute, because I thought at the time that we must never arouse Soviet suspicion that we are trying to do something with nuclear weapons. Since I was very interested in this technology, which is now being used in Wackersdorf. We should study it, but we should study it in a European setup. Thatís the reason I pressed so strongly to establish the transuranium institute, all these techniques are used, glove boxes and so, in Karlsruhe, but this is under EURATOM auspices — later on of course we had the pilot plant in Karlsruhe, but the scientific institute was in EURATOM, as a European Economic Community institute, not a German one. The reason was political, because we could always tell the Russians it is a European undertaking, not a purely German one.

Walker:

Karlsruhe is the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center, it was the first large scale German nuclear research center.

Krekeler:

Part of the center is a EURATOM establishment.

Walker:

The question or the claim which has been made by recent historians about the light water enriched uranium reactor design being forced upon West Germany, in both economic and political senses, I know you think thatís nonsense.

Krekeler:

Thatís right. Itís rubbish, you see.

Walker:

One point behind this claim is that other opportunities havenít been sufficiently tried.

Krekeler:

Oh yes, we tried, my friend Finkelnburg and his unhappy Siemans people built a heavy water reactor in Bavaria. It is now dismantled without ever having been used. You see, we tried many things. I believe we never tried the graphite line because itís obviously so clumsy. I mean, thatís not an elegant solution and you must always realize that we have some industrial know-how, generally speaking, in Germany, and we immediately saw that, as we had no military aspirations, why should we use this clumsy device? I also visited of British reactors and I saw immediately that this doesnít work. I mean, this is nothing if you want to produce electricity. And on the other hand, we had a heavy water plant in Hoechst that a friend of mine set up in the hope that he could make money with it, and then Siemans decided to set up this reactor; Finkelnburg is an old friend from my student days, he set up this reactor at Siemans. He died from cancer many years ago, he never lived to see how this did not work — but we tried it, I mean. And heavy water certainly had the prospect of being independent of uranium enrichment. It had a certain appeal, from my point of view, but again we found out, it was so clumsy compared to the light water reactor.

Walker:

Well, heavy water has a great deal of appeal for the physicist. Heavy water reactors are much more elegant than enriched uranium-water reactors. However, if your main interest isÖ

Krekeler:

Ödollars and cents per kilowatt hour.

Walker:

On the other hand, I find it quite reasonable that since light water and enriched uranium reactors had in a sense won the field in America, I find it quite reasonable on the other hand that Americans wanted to do business. On one level, the claim that America wanted to sell enriched uranium technology to West Germany is quite reasonable. The immediate question is why the West German authorities chose that model.

Krekeler:

Thatís right. No, it was our own choice. In EURATOM it was much more difficult to convince my friends that this was reasonable, to head in the direction of enriched uranium reactor, especially the French. I always told my French friends, ďThe reactor is a technical device and it should be judged by economic, scientific and technical reasoning and not on these reasons of nationality as the French were very much inclined to do, so I fought not for Americaís sake but for our own sake for the light water line.

Walker:

Of course the French have always been a special problem in this regard. Iím also very interested in the German centrifuge plant.

Krekeler:

Itís a rather interesting story. I was very much interested when this came up.

Walker:

In what year?

Krekeler:

Well, when I was in Euratom, I think it was Ď64, early sixties. I stayed with Euratom beginning Ď64, then I stepped out, resigned, for very personal reasons, because my first wife died and my boy was sick and I thought I should retire to more private activities. It had nothing to do with politics. I would have liked to continue but I felt I couldnít at that time, for these family reasons. I was very interested. I went so far as to go to the firm that manufactured it. That was the AEG, to the head of the board of directors, and tried to convince him that they should continue, because I thought this was really promising and very important. At that time, because Great Britain was not a member, I wanted to share this with the French, to interest them in this, because itís much more economic than the diaphragm method that was used in the United States, well, you have of course, how do you say, ďabgeschrieben ÖĒ

Walker:

Written off.

Krekeler:

Written off these plants, so you can accept the expense, but when you build a new plant, centrifuges are cheaper and itís very easy to stop at 3 percent enrichment, which is needed for nuclear reactors. You donít need a huge plant. At that time, I donít know for what reasons, the Americans put the stamp of Secrecy on it.

Walker:

This was in 1960.

Krekeler:

The Americans applied quite a lot of pressure on the government, and I resisted it, and for this reason. I said, ďYou see, these people who have invented it, they were captured by the Soviets, they have worked in the Crimea for many years on this problem in the Soviet Union. So if the Soviets know this, thereís no reason, to keep it away from our French friends and allies.Ē I said, ďItís really not justified.Ē I mean, you can see reasons for the stamp of Secrecy, but not to keep it away from the French. I thought, whatís the use, it doesnít make sense to me. But the Americans didnít want the French to share this technology. I said, ďLet us do this together with the French,Ē because I felt here was a way that we could set up a small enrichment plant, a European — I would have always preferred a European solution, just because of the technical properties of centrifuge line, you know, it would be advantageous for us.

Walker:

Because West Germany could then be partially independent.

Krekeler:

Well, I wouldnít say independent, but I think once you are in this you should be economically independent, you see. The reason Iím for Wackersdorf is that, if we would not build Wackersdorf then the French would certainly tell us what we have to pay for enrichment in their Le Hague plant, and once there was a, how do you say, an Engpass, bottleneck, we would not get anything, so I think the moment we have one of our own, we can negotiate, we can argue about the price. Thatís the reason, the economic reason. Itís not political. For economic reasons, a country that produces about 30 percent of its electricity by nuclear power plants — that I think is the level we are at at the moment, 10 percent of primary energy and I think itís now 30 percent already, the French are at 50 percent already —

Walker:

Although thatís mainly because they built so many plants to produce plutonium.

Krekeler:

No, no, the French have abandoned their line, the French. They build now also light water reactors.

Walker:

The French invested a great deal of time, money and effort into nuclear power reactors early on, when they really didnít need it the power.

Krekeler:

Thatís right, but now they need it because of the oil.

Walker:

But I think the fact that so much of French power is covered by nuclear power has something to do with the French determination to be an independent nuclear power.

Krekeler:

In the first decade, yes, but afterwards, it was purely economic. They have enough now, plutonium.

Walker:

The plants are written off.

Krekeler:

Yes, the plants are written off. But see, the reason is not to be autarky thinking, or to be independent, but to be the master of your own price calculation, thatís the reason behind it. If we donít build Wackersdorf, then the French will tell us what we have to pay for reprocessing, and that could be prohibitive in the future. When it comes to economics, thereís no love between friends.

Walker:

Another topic which was very controversial at the time, was that America, as well as France, England and Russia, were inviting or forcing German scientists to come to their countries to do work and the German scientists were staying there. Germany was basically losing scientific and technical expertise, especially just after the end of the war.

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right. Operation Paperclip.

Walker:

Iím interested in the scientific occupation and exportation, especially Ď46 to Ď49 — though it continued afterwards. Germany had lost the war and scientific technology was obviously now a very important part of warfare, thus itís very understandable that the Americans were interested in the German jet plane teams and German rocket teams. But those are the spectacular examples. Young physicists were given the chance in 1947 to go to America where they could work with the best equipment, with the leading people, or to stay in Germany, where they had broken-down or no equipment at all because it had been confiscated, and they went to America. A considerable number of these Germans stayed there. In 1955, especially in the nuclear energy field, once West Germany started putting a lot of money into nuclear power, many of these people who had gained experience in America were called back to Germany and given lucrative professorial chairs. For example, when they were building DESY, the German particle accelerator, they recalled a physicist named Jentschke. Heíd gone to America and had spent almost ten years working on particle accelerators there; they brought him back and thus gained his experience. I know another man who was a student of Hahn, a chemist named Starke, who had gotten a very nice position in America, but in 1956 they managed to call him back by giving him his own institute in Marburg, and so on. This was a very controversial issue, and since you were the highest German authority in America interested in science, you must have been caught a little bit in the middle of this.

Krekeler:

You see, Iím politically a liberal, which has another meaning in Germany than in the United States. In the United States, I would say a man of a political philosophy like my friend Nelson Rockefeller or Bill Fulbright or so, in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, in the middle is where they find these liberal elements in the German, European sense. It never would have come into my head to influence people in their personal decisions. What we should do is to improve conditions here, so that they, as they many of them did, voluntarily return back. But I think we should never stand in their way. This is a free world, in my opinion, and should be a free world. If someone wants to go to another country, let him go. Itís his personal decision. It would be absolutely against my political philosophy if the government interfered in this, other than by seeing to it that conditions were so that there was no incentive to go to other countries. Thatís another thing. As Iím a very convinced European, it still applies still more to the European Economic Community. The freedom of movement inside the community is one of the essential parts of the European community, so I never have seen it on a nationalistic angle, you know, as a loss or so, that didnít occur to me. And I never have been asked to do anything about it in America. I wouldnít have liked it, I think I would have objected.

Walker:

Did you know German scientists who had gone over Ö?

Krekeler:

Oh yes, of course, of course. One of my oldest friends, son of the Nobel Prize winner Bosch, went to the United States in this way. If they had invited me in Ď47, I might have followed him. I donít know. But he went. Heís been an American citizen for a long time. He was for a long time with Sperry Rand. He was one of my oldest friend — heís my age, he will be 80 this year — and I never would have voiced anything against his decision to go to America. He was one of the first Germans to go to America, and he still lives there as an American citizen.

Walker:

Your philosophy is quite different from that of say Heisenberg or Hahn, which was a more nationalistic, a stay-at-home philosophy.

Krekeler:

You mean, during the Nazi years?

Walker:

No, I mean, after, Ď45 to Ď50. Heisenberg and Hahn certainly had offers to go other places. They chose to stay and they wanted very much to hold what they could.

Krekeler:

Yes, I understand this very well and it should be appreciated by all of us: These were already old men at that time, who knew that there was not much that could be offered on the other side. They had their careers, their great successes behind them, and they wanted to help their people to regain their former heights, their scientific status, and I think itís very honorable that they stayed behind to help. However, itís a different story for a young man who at that time understandably saw no future, and who went to the other side. I think it honors Heisenberg and Hahn very much that they stayed here and thus formed the nucleus for a new rise of our science.

Walker:

As you can probably well remember, people such as Heisenberg and Hahn had jobs in 1947, Ď48.

Krekeler:

Oh yes, of course.

Walker:

But many of the younger scientists did not.

Krekeler:

And they had doubts. I had doubts too. I had no doubt when I entered the political scene that we would regain sovereignty in the foreseeable future, but I had many doubts that we could establish -Ė

Walker:

— become a major power —

Krekeler:

— that economically we would succeed. I had many more doubts about the economic developments at that time, as did many of my friends, so —

Walker:

— also, itís easy now to forget this uncertainty.

Krekeler:

To come back to this, I wouldnít say that Heisenberg and Hahn were nationalistic. They were patriotic, and that I claim for myself, I stayed also here to take part in the reconstruction of Germany.

Walker:

My main interest with respect to your activity is the rebirth of nuclear technology, nuclear science in West Germany as of 1955. Iím struck by the difference between your impression of events and that of say, Heisenberg. The scientists always had the impression that the politicians, for example Adenauer, were dragging his feet; Heisenberg and other people had been continually telling Adenauer since 1952 that nuclear power development had to be speeded up. Adenauer thought highly of Heisenberg as a scientific advisor, as a scientist. But Heisenberg thought that Adenauer was dragging his feet in committing himself to a nuclear technology. Now, from a politicianís point of view, one wanted to wait because Germany didnít have sovereignty yet. But the scientists were very impatient. Heisenberg seemed to think that in 1955 Adenauer finally decided to stop waiting.

Krekeler:

I daresay that I was rather close to Adenauer in many respects, he knew my scientific background, and he also knew my political standpoint. So I had both, the scientific background and a political line that was really close to his, and while, on the other hand, Heisenberg was the ranking scientist in Germany, but of course, whether he was politically close to Adenauer or so, I donít know, I donít think so. I think this was the barrier, you know, that he said, I accept his scientific advice, but there are also political problems connected with this. So the moment I told him, ďThis is now the time to step into this,Ē he accepted it.

Walker:

That was a politician speaking, a politician saying, now this is the time.

Krekeler:

Yes, thatís right. That was not scientific, that was a political decision. And I advocated this very strongly, and immediately — and I think Adenauer was for his age also very very open minded; you could discuss, if you put it in the proper terms, being polite and respecting his station, you know, then you could discuss really anything with him, anything. He was not so stiff and so rigid as he is sometimes depicted by his biographers. He was extremely open-minded, and the moment he was told by a source that he knew he could rely upon that itís now the time to do it, he did it. I mean, thatís the reason.

Walker:

Generally speaking, how did German industry react right away, say Ď55, Ď56, to this idea? Whatís your impression of that? Were they enthusiastic or a little cautious, or enthusiastic but not willing to spend a lot of money, or generous?

Krekeler:

Of course, not living in Germany at that time, I donít know, but I know better about the time when I started in EURATOM, Ď58, and that was a very interesting thing. You see, you must differentiate between the suppliers, MAN for example, were of course very eager to do business in this respect. But those who had to run the plants, like our major power company, RWE, thatís a major company and you know thatís a private corporation, but itís very big, and the majority of it is owned by public authorities.

Krekeler:

The voting majorities was always held by public owners, but it is still run as a private corporation. I knew the head of RWE, at that time, Herr Schoeller, later it was Mandel who had been also in the United States, very well, and I had really to press Herr Schoeller to start with nuclear power, first with Kahl and then later on with Grundremingen, but the reason that he wanted to be the first. He wanted to enter this field first. Therefore he dragged his feet as long as he felt he was not prepared enough to set up a plant, but then he did. At first it was really maddening, you know, this man dragging his feet, as we said, ďStart, start, start.Ē He said, ďNo.Ē He was a very cautious man and rightly so, but he waited, in my opinion, too long, but the main reason that he was dragging his feet at first, was to keep the competition from entering into this before he could himself, and he won. He was the first, he built this reactor thatís now dismantled, at Kahl, a research reactor of 30 megawatts, it was a very small thing. And then came this 250 megawatt reactor at Grundremingen, where I did a lot to see that this was set up. This was built by General Electric, and this was also an undertaking by RWE and the Bavarian utility. I would say that, RWE was at first very reluctant to show its cards, to put it that way. But of course the suppliers were always very eager to supply components.

Walker:

Yes, to build things they can sell.

Krekeler:

Thatís right.