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Interview of Ray E. Kidder by Alex Wellerstein on 2008 April 29,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/38253
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In this interview Ray Kidder discusses topics such as: Atomic Energy Commission; Lawrence Livermore Laboratory; California Institute of Technology (Caltech); Manhattan Project; serving in the navy as a technician during World War II; finishing his undergraduate degree at Ohio State University; hydrogen bombs; nuclear weapons; laser fusion; underground nuclear testing facilities; Richard Rhodes; Theodore Maiman; Keith Brueckner; Edward Teller; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA); Hans Bethe; KMS Fusion.
That’s one of the things I thought was sort of —
— fun about it was also that it’s… (Treasure barking in background) [Looking at document from Livermore archives that Kidder had authored regarding a private proposal for laser heating of deuterium. ]
Yeah. I don’t remember this frankly, but it’s one of the sort of many things I was asked to do all the time. Mike May was — yeah I’m surprised Mike May was the guy. Let me see who, who, this was in ‘62?
‘63? Okay, yeah. Okay. So, yeah, because Johnny Foster was the director at this time and Mike was the, and the Associate Director for Nuclear Design. Yeah. I knew Mike very well and liked him a lot. He was a very, very bright physicist. Nice, nice guy. Really, really good fellow.
So anyway, I’m delighted to hear Keith [Brueckner] is still with us and not — one of his things that I always admired was he was an inveterate rock climber over in Switzerland. He’s had a whole album of pictures that he was considering publishing at one time. I don’t know whether he ever did. But, that was one of the things that he was very different from most scientists. [Laugh] He was hanging upside down from rather terrifying positions in the Alps, and Mount Blanc, and places like that. Yes.
So anyway, there’s been a lot of these cases where people have come up with ideas [in the private sector, replicating those being worked on within the labs]. Of course, another one I don’t know whether, you probably knew about that also, that was a, the so-called Radioptics case?
I don’t think I have. No, I don’t think I’ve come across that.
Oh, okay, well I’ll give you a thumbnail sketch, anyway. My memory of dates is terrible. Never trust me [Laugh] when, if you say, “When did that happen?” and I say, “Nineteen twenty-four,” you probably know it isn’t true. But, [Laughter] past dates are now beyond me. I have no accuracy at all. Anyway, at some time or other, this was quite a long time ago, there was a company, and it was, the name of the company was Radioptics, and it was headed, it was a Boston company. This was in the very early laser days when the lasers were, had been, you know, [Theodore] Maiman had discovered the laser and all this. But then, people were running around trying to think of what wonderful things you could do. And this company, Radioptics, which was recognized, small but nevertheless competent, laser company in Boston came up with an idea that if they used a crystal — I think it may have been, I forget whether it was uranium-doped glass somehow or whether it was some crystalline, some crystal-type, some uranium compound crystal — they were going to use that as their laser and the idea being they could then generate optical transitions of the uranium atoms which would then resonate with uranium that they were trying to enrich or something. Anyway, it was an idea for enrichment. And they sent, the way it evolved was that they sent a proposal to the Atomic, this was the Atomic Energy Commission at that time in Washington outlining what they proposed to do, and would the Atomic Energy Commission support some research in this direction? And so, the Atomic Energy people received this report and I don’t recall that they showed it to me right away. Anyway they, the first thing they did was to tell the authors of the report that they had received the report, they would take it under consideration as to whether they wanted to support any work along these lines, but the author should understand that any further work on this idea was secret restricted data and so was their, the paper, their proposal. And so, that was, so that’s what happened. Well then further, further along – not much further. I think it was a matter of three months or something like that, and I, I frankly can’t remember — I’d have to look up something I guess — whether I was even involved with this decision, but, that the Washington people decided, “No, they were not going to support this work.” And I think they probably did, I think I probably reviewed this proposal for them. I’m pretty sure I did, actually, but I’m not positive. Anyway, what happened was that not, sometime past, and then the, the, I guess it was quite a delay before the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] even told them that they — they told them it was classified but they didn’t tell them that they, they kept them on the hook a little bit, I guess. At least they thought they were being kept on the hook. So finally they got, they got upset because they felt that they, they had heard rumors that this whole business of enriching isotopes, in fact enriching uranium, with some, [Treasure barking] with lasers in some way or another, was going to be a very big deal, really big. And so, they filed a lawsuit against the government and, saying that they were being denied even access to, or not access, but any further work on this material and told not to even say anything about it, and they were, they claimed that this was a ploy to get them out of the business because it was such a valuable sort of thing to be getting into. And so, they filed this lawsuit and the lawsuit went to, for legal reasons, it went to the Court of Claims in Washington, which I knew nothing about. But anyway, the suit was defended by the Justice Department. And, the Justice Department then needed some witnesses and so they, I was the chief witness for Livermore, the Livermore side of it. In fact, they had — well, anyway, I’ll get to that in a minute. So, I was one of the witnesses. The guy who later became the head of Los Alamos, I forget his name now, [Treasure barking] but he was a witness because at that time Los Alamos had an isotope enrichment program of a different sort than we did. But, nevertheless, he was a witness. I was a witness. And then, they needed a recognized laser expert, and so they got Arthur Schaller from Stanford, he was a professor at Stanford, as their, the government’s expert witness on lasers, per se. So, I was supposed to know about laser fusion and so was, and lasers used for that purpose, and so was this – what was his name, [C. Paul] Robinson? Anyway, he was later the director of Los Alamos. [Actually, Sandia.] And so, we went to Washington and they held a case. And, one of the witnesses for the plaintiffs was claiming that I had heard about work that — see, they had, they had evidently said, said something about this to somebody, some physicist, at the Mound Laboratories in Ohio, which was, didn’t have anything to do with lasers, but still it was an AEC lab. And, that I must have heard about what they were doing, or something like that, through the Mound Lab or something. Anyway, on the witness stand I was the, I was the, one of the three principal witnesses. I guess there were only three for the, for the, on the U.S. Government side. They claimed, and then they had a witness from the Mound Lab who, who had received information about this, this proposal of theirs, and the Mound was a classified lab. They could handle classified information. And, that the guy at, and they claimed that I must, I had gotten information from the Mound people about their proposal, or something like that, and, and then I had — oh, I know what happened — then I had made a presentation in Washington to the AEC. This was much later, though, than that. No. Yeah. That’s much later. Anyway, they claimed that I, I had knowledge of all this stuff and I guess I never did review that report that, myself, because I, because I think my testimony was that I never, “I never talked to anybody from Mound,” I said. “I never met anybody from any of these places at any meeting,” any of the people that they claimed had, they had told their scheme to. “I never heard of any of this stuff,” and I don’t recall whether I said, “And furthermore, it hasn’t a chance of working either,” but I may have thrown that in for good measure. But anyway, the long and short of it was, they were, they — this was just, I don’t, this was what they did for real, although it was, that was like somewhat of a joke. The Claims Court said this was the largest suit, in terms of monetary damages that had ever been filed against the United States. You see, they were taking all of the idea that this thing would have been the key to all the laser enrichment in the future and all the power that would be generated, and they added all that up. [Laugh] Anyway, it was distinguished by that, by the monetary damages they were claiming. Well anyway, it was about a year later that — the Court of Claims acts slowly, because they, they, there’s a whole bunch of them and they all get together once a year, I think, and make their decisions. And, of course, the plaintiffs were denied. But, that was the Radioptics, the Radioptics case. That’s written up in — I have something on it. I had a, I had a copy of the, something that, it was sent to me by the, after the court was, you know, had made its decision and everything. But, I leant it to somebody who used to be in charge of the isotope work at Livermore a long, quite a while ago, and I never got it back. So, I don’t have that. But, you know, it was, the Radioptics case, if you’re interested, and that’s the name of the case and I can probably tell you the date of it or something if you’re, [Laugh] if you’re interested in that at all. But, that was just another one of these things that I got involved with along the way that was kind of fun. I’d never been involved with, in Washington with a big case like that. But…
Now, you came to Livermore in ‘56?
And why, why then? Why did you, why Livermore?
Well that, what happened was that I was working. I got my PhD in what I, what I call “mathematical physics.” I had a Masters Degree in math and then I did work in what I consider mathematical physics. I don’t claim I’m a theoretical physicist because I’m not into particle theory or anything. So, then that’s one of their big things. So, I call myself a mathematical physicist, which I think is accurate. And, so anyway, I was working, when I got out of school there was no job opportunities in sixty, or ‘56, or in 1950 is when I got my degree, in ‘50. The job opportunities for physics people anyway was very, very small, and I, I had done my thesis on theoretical kind of thesis on the vibrational spectra of large polyatomic molecules, which was, in my case, mainly a mathematical sort of thing. And, there wasn’t much physics theory in it actually. But I, my, I think my sort of number one interest was sort of in this applied mathematics, in physics, applications in mathematics to physics. But, at Standard Oil, I worked for Standard for six years after I got out of school because that was the only job offer that I considered interesting. And, we liked the idea of either living on the East Coast, where we came from, my wife and I, or on the West Coast where I had gone to school. So, we, we did not choose to stay in Ohio where I got my PhD. See, I’d been in the Navy for — I was drafted into the Navy, which was strange because I couldn’t be sent anywhere where I might be captured, because I worked in the Manhattan Project in 1943, very early. When I tell people that they, they kind of wonder, think I must be a zillion years old, which of course is pretty much true. [Laughter]
I hadn’t realized you were on the Manhattan Project.
Yes. Well that’s, that’s a side story too. They, what happened was that I was, I was at Caltech when the war, when Pearl Harbor, after Pearl Harbor and when the U.S. declared war, and the people at Caltech, I was in my, starting my sophomore year at Caltech and the war had started and the people were coming into Caltech. Some of Caltech was being turned over as a meteorology school for girls, which would have been kind of interesting. [Laughter] But anyway, things were changing and not only that for reasons that had nothing to do with science but had to do with a young lady that lived nearby with a swimming pool and so forth I had not paid much attention to my studies, except mathematics. I liked mathematics. So, at the end of my first quarter of my sophomore year it was clear that I would get a good grade in math, but I would not get, I would not probably even get a passing grade in the other subjects. It’s one of those things where an immature sort of fellow at that age doesn’t see what all the studying is so good for. [Laugh] I mean, a lot of people go through that at that age and I was one of them. So, I thought, “Well, I’ll get out of here before,” so I, “before they, I get my grades come in.” So I, I quit there at the end of my first, first quarter of my sophomore year and I got an A in mathematics, which was pleasing, and all of the rest of my subjects were incomplete. You see, I should have, I would have gotten an incomplete in math, but I, I liked math and I did every one of the challenge problems that were given during the whole quarter and almost, I don’t think anybody else in the math class did. So he, he decided that I didn’t need to take any exams. He just gave me an A, period. And, the other people, of course, they had different views of my work. [Laugh] So anyway, I left and I, my parents lived in Connecticut, in Riverside is where it was, near Stanford, between Stanford and Greenwich. And so, I went back home the idea being I would get out of that school before I was thrown out and then I would get a job. And so, I got, got a job at the American Cyanamid Research Laboratories, which was right near where my parents lived in Stanford, Connecticut. And I also, since I had been at Caltech and a student of physics, with an A in math anyway, [Laugh] I got a very menial sort of a job at, in the Physics Division of the American Cyanamid Research Labs at Stanford. And, it was very interesting because it turned out, you see, they were very much engaged in infrared spectroscopy, which was something I got my PhD in later, and that’s probably why I got into that area. They were looking; they were looking at the, the infrared spectrum of penicillin, because at that point they were very interested in learning the structure of penicillin so they could synthesize it. It was a fascinating place to work. And, I worked there and I, they wanted me to work, to design an instrument. Then, this was with their greater knowledge of — I mean, I wasn’t a, after, you know, a one year and a quarter at Caltech I was just a grunt really, but I was a pretty intelligent grunt they thought and so they had me working on an instrument which would monitor streams of gas, gaseous streams, in their chemical plants for measuring certain components in the gas stream. And so, they had a good bunch of people on that knew about infrared spectroscopy. I didn’t know much about it but they did. But anyway, they taught me something about the infrared spectroscopy business and so forth, and then they put me to come up with some instrument for doing this, which I, measuring these things and I did. And it was a, I thought, I thought it was pretty good at the time but it’s, was rather a clumsy way to do things but it worked. Anyway, somehow the Atomic Energy Commission [probably Manhattan Engineer District] got wind of the fact that, through my bosses I guess, that this instrument had been developed and was being used not in the plants but at least in the research lab. It looked like it was working pretty well and they, so they came out to see me. Somebody from the Manhattan Project came out and first thing he did he said, “Kidder, we’re interested in what you’re doing and, but we’re going to, we’re going to have to tell you something that you will not be allowed to tell anybody.” [Laugh] I thought, “Well, okay.” So, they said, “And the reason we’re telling you this is if you figure it out yourself, which you probably would, you’re liable to tell people, you know. If nobody told you it was secret and you’d figured it out for yourself and you say, ‘Hey, you know, I think they might be doing this.’ So we, to prevent you from getting any – you can’t tell your parents, anybody. That’s it.” So, “Okay,” I said, “All right. I won’t tell anybody.” So, then they told me virtually nothing about the program. I mean, this was highly compartmented in those days. I mean, you couldn’t tell what the guy in the next bench was doing sometimes. So anyway, they told me that it, they were, what they wanted me for was to use this instrument for monitoring the purity of gas, streams of uranium hexafluoride gas, and they wanted, there were, in those days they were using fluorocarbon greases for valve seals and they were using Teflon. I’ve often been amused that NASA claims they invented Teflon. That’s baloney. We were using Teflon in 1943 for gaskets in the fusion plants. Anyway, so they, they said, “We are, we want you to see how, how your instrument will work on detecting certain kinds of gaseous fluorocarbon impurities in the UF6 that we get from — there won’t be much of it there — but, we get as an impurity and we want to know how much there is to keep it below tolerances.” And so that, they, then they sent me nickel cylinders with liquid uranium hexafluoride in them, about that big around and about that long, with the valve on the top. And, the crazy thing was that I was working in a lab with other people, and of course they didn’t know what was in the cylinders. But I had a, I had a vacuum system, you see, because I had to get the gas out of the cylinder and put it into the vacuum system manifold and then transfer it in a measured way into this instrument of mine. And, but as soon as I, you, as soon as you added a, an extra glass tube to your glassware, of course, you made a hole in the glass with a blow, blow torch affair, and then you heated the end of your glass tube and you could seal them together. And so, I had this thing with all these seals, this vacuum manifold, and every one of the seals was a beautiful yellowish-green uranium-colored glass. So, anybody who’d known that, there were other workers around, they could have said, “What the hell have you got in there that’s turning that — is that uranium in there?” [Laughter] Well, nobody tumbled to that, but I thought it was amusing that they could have.
Anyway, I, that’s what I worked on and I was, but I was, you see, I was a minor individual and then some on a peripheral part of the Project, although this, these instruments were used. The first thing I had to do is to prove that they would work under very hostile conditions. So, I had to take one down to New York City. They had a building right near Columbia University and they had me take this thing there and show, you know, work it. And, it was amazing because I thought, “Jesus, what a hell of a place to have to try to make any instrument work.” And they, [Laugh] the, there, the elevator to that subway went right past the window of this lab where I was. Vroom, everything in the place would shake when the train went by. The floor above where I was, which I was not allowed to go to, or was I allowed to go to the floor below. I think I was on the fourth floor or something. I had an armed guard escort me to the fourth floor, you see, so they made sure I didn’t get out anywhere else. So, I set up my equipment there and ran it and then there, on the fifth floor was an injection molding machine for plastics [Laugh] that was, my god the whole building was, boom, shaking like this. So I, I think they must have said that, “If this machine of his will work in this environment we’ve [Laugh] got here that damn thing will work anywhere.” And, it worked. So, but it was so terrible that you put something on, on your bench, a pencil or something like that, and just the sort of steady vibration it would walk around and fall on the floor. [Laugh] So anyway, they, it worked and they used it. I know they used it at the Harshaw Plant in Cleveland, because I had to go there once because one of them needed a repair. So, I went there and repaired this thing for them. So, that was my connection with, with the Manhattan Project in 1943.
And anyway, I got drafted, but then the, then the, that seemed strange but I, you know, I was a very junior sort of a person. I got drafted, which was not, I didn’t, I wasn’t surprised but I thought since the — I might not have been because of my secret thing here. Well then I found out later that the Navy, the Navy was not allowed to send me anywhere where I might be captured. Why they, why they bothered to draft me, I wondered about that. But they, they said that, that the, there were, there were things — first of all they put me in what was called the Electronic Technicians Training, which is a marvelous course. I mean, that was beautiful. It was a, they had, we learned how to, how to service all of the electronic equipment used by the Navy on, on their ships, and it was incredible. We had surface, you know, surface search radars. We had air search radars. We had sonar. We had Information Friend or Foe, you name it, radio transmitters, receivers, everything. And, we had guys from MIT coming down explaining some of the theory of the circuits. I mean, the Army didn’t do this. They just said, “Plug this in if that doesn’t work.” But they, the Navy showed us. That’s why they called us “technicians.”
And where was this?
This, they had, the radio — they called us, initially they called us “radio technicians,” not “electronic technicians.” I think it was “radio technicians.” “Technicians,” anyway. Well, they had, you went through three schools. The first one was what was called Pre-Radio, and that was in Chicago, and the purpose of that was to cut out half the people that were in it. They wanted to make sure you could work a slide rule. Well, a lot of people had trouble with slide rules, and so they, they killed off half of their [Laugh] people in Pre-Radio. Then we went to what they called Primary School, and they had three of those. One was for aviation electronics down in, I think, it was Corpus Christi, and — or wait a minute. No, I’m sorry. At the Primary level it, one of them, it wasn’t, you all had the same thing, just the basics of electronics, basically. And, I went to Grove City, Pennsylvania for their school there. Another group went to Gulfport, Mississippi, and I think another one went out to Treasure Island out here in San Francisco. And, you went through that for three months and you learned circuitry. You learned how Van der Pol Oscillators worked, and you built them and, you know, had to put them together. And, really a nice course. Even learned how to, you know, three-phase motors and generators, and I remember in Grove City they even took us to the local power plant at Grove City when they were going to put, put a generator online. And they took us there and they showed us how they start the diesel generator up. It’s a great big thing. And then they had a, a phase meter so you could tell when the, when the needle was on zero that meant you were, your AC generator was exactly in phase with the line that we’re connecting to, and when you closed the switch it would actually lock in, too. It was a stable connection. All kinds of wonderful things. And then, then we went from there to the Secondary, final school, and the one I went to was right next to the Naval Research Lab in Washington. There was one for aviation electronics in Corpus Christi, and there was another one somewhere. I don’t remember. Maybe that was the one out in Treasure Island. Anyway, yes, I think it was. So, I went to the one in Washington and it was an absolutely incredibly good course on all this stuff. We had, we had a radar, this was, now remember this was back in 1940, what, four, four and five, we had a radar there operating, surface search radar and we’d look at the Potomac River and there’d be a tugboat here and a barge here and it would have a cable between the thing and we could watch that cable move up and down, the whole damn cable up and down between the — I mean, after all it was an electrically-conducting thing all by itself so it was a very good target. But man, the resolution of that radar in ‘44 was absolutely incredibly good. It was just amazing. And then they, we had the surface search, I mean the air search where we had these big, looked like a mattress spring for antenna, and we looked at the airplanes coming in from long, long range. And then they had the fire control radars which measured the distance to a ship you couldn’t see down to the meter. I mean you had a, you had a, a thing like this with a scope with a trace on it that went like this and you had a crank. And when you, when you got the, the, it was comparing the signal coming back and the timing. And when you, you’d turn the crank and when the, either, there may have been two of these things or maybe one. I forget which. But anyway, when you turned the crank and when you got a certain result then the, then you had a meter counter on this to tell you how many, how far away it was, how many meters away the ship was and it was close. So the, and this was on destroyers. This was not on just big ships. The destroyers even had, the destroyer even had a computer. It was a computer which sent signals to servo mechanisms so that when the ship rolled and went up and down the guns stayed fixed. And, the optical range finder up on the, up on the top of the destroyer would sit there level. And so, sailors that were, had time to do this at sea and they’d get up there and lie down on the range finder and they’d be just like this and the ship would be… [Laugh] amazing the electronics that was available on the destroyer. Sonar too. That was all pinging these things. So even, even way back then and the ship as small as a destroyer it was amazing what they had.
Anyway, after I got out of the Navy, well I, I went to Officer’s School in the Navy. I went in and went through their electronics training and then it, the, it was, by that time the war was beginning to wind down some, I guess. So anyway they, for reasons that I never could understand the, I was about to, my next move in another week of training, or getting ready, I was going to be sent to what was called OGU out here in, right near here. And, that was the Out Going Unit, and then you were assigned to a ship, or in my case I, I would have been assigned, I assume, to a shore station somewhere, like Hawaii or something. And, so I was on my way, or about a week away from OGU and there was a sign on the bulletin board that anybody who wanted to could take an exam and, for officers training. And so, I’d always been pretty good at exams so I said, “Well, what the hell? I don’t, I can’t imagine having trained me for all this time that [Laugh] they were going to then send me to Officer’s School.” But I said, “What do I got to lose?” So, I took the exam and then the next thing I knew I was, I was invited to the commanding officer’s office and he said, “Kidder, you’ve, you’ve done very well on this exam.” And then he said, “Are you going to make the Navy your career?” And I thought, I said, “Uh oh, that’s the end of this.” [Laughter] And so I said, “No sir, I’m not.” And he, he didn’t say anymore. He just said, “That will be all.” And, I thought, “Okay, well that’s the end of that idea.” It wasn’t. They sent me to Ohio State University, Ohio State University in Columbus and in this Officer’s Training Unit, and that’s where I went and I finished up. I got my undergraduate degree at Ohio State and it was, all of that was sponsored by the Navy. In fact, I would have, I would have been a, I would have been commissioned an ensign, not much of a rank but an ensign, when I graduated from Ohio State if I took the last course from, the Navy, naval course I was supposed to take. And, people told me that if you were an enlisted man in the Navy and they, and the war was over then you were certain to get out of the Navy and it would take an act of Congress to get you back in. If you were an officer, that’s, then that was not true. If you became and officer then, if they wanted to, they could keep you in the Navy, well, as long as they felt like. So, I had one more course to take, Navy course to take. I’d taken all the rest of them, you know, damage control, and gunnery, and all that stuff. And, I decided I wouldn’t take the last one. So, I would, [Laugh] I would have no risk of getting, having — see they, I thought, “Well, since I haven’t done the Navy any good so far they might very well say, ‘Okay, Ensign Kidder you’re, you’re on your way to so and so.’” It might have even happened. So, I decided that, that the smarter thing for me to do was not to take that course and I didn’t. So, that was the end of my naval career. And then from there I, I got, went to, when I got out I went through graduate school. I applied at Caltech to get back in graduate school in mathematics and they gave me a form letter. And, I thought, “Well, I got an A in math, [Laugh] even though I got incompletes in everything else, maybe they’ll think that’s good.” Well, they didn’t. [Laughter] They said, “Nothing doing.” And, I later found out they had lots of graduate students in other subjects and very, very few in mathematics at that time and so I, they told me I shouldn’t be, I shouldn’t feel hurt because I wasn’t one of them, especially with my dropouts. So anyway, I said, “All right. I’ll stay where I am,” and so I graduated in, I took a Masters degree in math and a PhD in theoretical physics at Ohio State. And then, then I had one offer of a job and that was out in, in Southern California, for the Standard Oil Company of California. And that sounded, that seemed like an interesting job and I was impressed by the fact that I was interviewed in Chicago by the vice president of the company, a vice president for Research. I thought, “My god. Interviewing potential employees, it takes a vice president of Research?” I thought, “That’s, that’s pretty good.” Anyway, it was the only offer I had [Laugh] so I took that one. And this is, then what happened was I worked there for six years on very interesting projects having to do with offshore conditions mainly, and also earthquake, earthquake problems for offshore structures and design of drilling ships. I have a patent with a fellow on a floating drilling platform that — I have a copy of that patent.  And he and I both worked together and of course I went to Livermore. He became the vice president for Production of the Standard Oil Company of California, which is now Chevron. So. [Laugh] Our, his path went this way and mine went the other direction.
Anyway, what happened, how I got to Livermore was, at the time I was at this lab, research lab for the oil company down in La Havre, California, Southern California. The Standard Oil Company had a subsidiary called the California Research Corporation which had a contract for building this big accelerator, the big proton, high-current proton accelerator that was being designed by people at the University of California. And, one of my friends who also had been at Standard Oil down at the lab he, he accepted a job up there. He went up there. I don’t know how he thought about this. But anyway, he happened to come down, a couple of people did that had, that knew me and had gone up there. He said, “You know, they’re doing interesting work up there at Livermore. Why don’t you just go up there and you might be very interested in getting a job up there.” He said, “I’m, I think it’s interesting as the dickens.” And so, I said, “Well, what the hell? I don’t have anything to lose. Let’s go up there.” So, I interviewed at the lab in Livermore in ‘56 and I couldn’t figure it out. They seemed very interested in something, a paper that I’d published that was, the work was done when I was at Standard Oil and it was a, and I, of course they told me about the, what they were doing up here, the Rad Lab. And, I thought, “What the hell is this thing I did at Standard Oil ever got to do with, with this stuff up here?” And they seemed to make quite a thing of it but I didn’t get it. And, that puzzled me. But anyway, they made me an offer. They said, “Okay, here. If you want a job, we’ll give you a job in the Theoretical Division of the lab,” which is where I belonged. And so, I said, “Fine.” And later, and later I tried to figure out why it was that they, see they seemed very interested in this crazy paper, and which I couldn’t see it had anything to do with hydrogen bombs or anything else. But then I found out that it, it had a lot to do with it because it dealt with a instability problem in the flow of fluids in a, in porous media, which is oil and water in rocks that are permeable and porous. And I published this paper on the instability of an interface of, between these materials. And, it was either stable, if this, the driving fluid had a higher viscosity or a lower viscosity than the driven fluid. That was very simple. Well, it turns out that, see I published this and then I got a paper from Sir Geoffrey Taylor, a famous guy in England on Rayleigh-Taylor. It’s named after him and Rayleigh, Rayleigh-Taylor instability. And he’d said he’d been doing experiments similar. I did some experiments on this stuff, not just the theory of it, down there at Standard Oil. He’d done experiments similar to what I had done and he thought I’d be interested in them. And so, he sent me a copy of his paper, and signed it, and [Laugh] that’s — then I realized, of course, when I was at Standard Oil that it was the Rayleigh-Taylor instability which was analogous, you see, in the case of one fluid — no porous medium, but one fluid — and another fluid of a different density being accelerated as opposed to two fluids with different viscosities being not accelerated but just propelled. And, the mathematics is identical. So, anyway that’s, that, then that was clear. This Taylor instability was a big problem and always has been in laser fusion and every other kind of thing where you’re trying to implode something. So, that was the reason they were anxious to give me a job, I guess.
So anyway, that’s, that’s the long story of how I got to where I started in 1943 in the, as a junior scientists, or a very junior scientist. [Laugh] And at, up to Livermore, and then, then I got, see when I, then I got into the weapons business right away at Livermore and I worked on that, again in the theoretical side and we, I came up with a fairly significant basic theory of a crucial feature of, of nuclear primaries for hydrogen bombs, and we did tests in the Pacific of the idea to see if what I had calculated was right and it was. And so anyway, I, I worked on the various theoretical side in the Theoretical Division where actually a lot of the design work was done in those days, in the Theory Division. And, Mike May was at the, in the Theory Division at that time. And so anyway, I worked on the bomb business until ‘62, from ‘56 to ‘62, at which point I was the co-chairman of the Design Review Committee for everything we fired in the Pacific. That is to say Livermore. Not Livermore, but Los Alamos. I mean, Livermore fired, not Los Alamos. But I, I reviewed with my co-chairman of the Review Committee all of the things we fired in the Pacific in Operation Dominic in 1962 and I had to report to the director and tell him. He asked me what, if there was anything that wouldn’t work and I said, “Yup.” And he asked me what we should shoot first, because he wanted to be damn, you know, and down in Christmas Island was where the Dominic series was.
These are high-altitude, are they, or …? [A number of high-altitude nuclear tests were conducted at the same time as Operation Dominic as Operation Fishbowl.]
No, no these were, these were not, there were high-altitude shots. Those were not from Christmas Island. This was the main test series of hydrogen bombs, so to speak. So anyway, yeah, I told him what, because he wanted to shoot first something that, because after all Los Alamos was going to be there too, and wanted something to shoot first that had no chance of not working. And, I told him “The forerunner to the W-56,” which was fired then, “If that didn’t work,” I said, “you and I ought to go into a different line of work.” [Laugh] And, of course, it worked perfectly and right on the money. And the one I said wouldn’t work didn’t work. So, anyway, that was the end of my interest really in immersing myself, so to speak, in the weapons design business. Because, during the ‘62 series we fired the Polaris missile out of a submarine, live firing out of a submarine and it worked [Shot Frigate Bird], so that, that was really the, that was the, that was where the big heavy H-bombs were, which had very high yields, were turned into a light, small-diameter warheads that could fit into a submarine missile silo, a missile launch tube, and that was the end of it. We had now gone all the way from huge explosions to big explosions in small packages. And, the rest of it, I felt, was just, from the theoretical side anyway, it was finished. In 1958, I figured the job had been done. In ‘62 the series that, where I looked at all this stuff for the lab, I knew it was over, the whole business of nuclear weapons design from the fundamental standpoint was done, and I was always at the beginning of everything in what I did. And so, I decided I’d be in on the beginning of something else, so I started the laser program at Livermore in ‘62.
And in your, in your piece in that, in that volume, the Inertial Confinement Fusion: A Historical Approach, the one with the Spanish editors, you said that when you started thinking about this sort around 1960 about these sort of early laser fusion things that you had been working on the simple calculations of deuterium-tritium reactions and that you had been working on this for a pure, the idea of a pure fusion weapon?
Well no. I, I, the idea of pure fusion weapons was of interest to the AEC, and both, both weapons labs, and I did calculations on pure fusion weapons. Meaning no use of fissile materials. And, I wrote a report to the director of the lab, Johnny Foster, and said that, “This is extremely unpromising. This is not something that’s going to work in anything that we [think is] worthwhile as a weapons system.” You might be able to get something to work in the laboratory test configuration, with all kinds of heavy equipment and huge size, and everything else. And, in fact, we tried to do a lot of that stuff at Livermore. But, as a weapon it was clear to me, and I told the laboratory that in no uncertain terms, that if they expected to get any kind of a pure fusion weapon out of this thing, “No.”
And how much topic choice did you have back then in the ‘50s? I mean, could you work on pretty much whatever you wanted or how did that work?
Well, no. Because, when I, when I joined the, when I joined the lab in ‘56 the lab was a hundred percent, practically, a nuclear weapons laboratory. You went into that. I think they had a Bio Division because they were interested in the effects of radiation and fallout on humans, or something. But basically, if you went to work for the lab you worked on hydrogen bombs. That was it. So I knew, I knew that when I went in there and I worked on them for, until ‘62 when I got, turned my attention to this idea of laser fusion. Not only, not, not just the fusion part of it, which I knew very well, but the laser business was the thing that was, they were just tiny little lasers at the time and that was the thing where you had to figure out how to go from something that was this big to something that you’ve seen maybe out at the lab. [Laugh] So, so that’s what I got interested in and so, the only weapons work I did from then on is the people that were in charge of weapons design, for example, in the — well, Mike May’s an example right there, the Associate Director for Nuclear Design, they would often, when they had a big review of some new weapon that was being built, or a problem with a weapon in stockpile, they’d often, the guy who was running the review, the associate director, would ask me to sit in on all that stuff and help him. So, to that extent I kept my hand in on the, what was going on in weapons, but I never, other than criticize the work of others, [Laugh] which I didn’t mind doing, I didn’t, I didn’t contribute anything myself to weapons design for, well forever. I felt, from the business of knowing how they work and how to build them was solved and basically as a device in ‘58 and as a working, operating system in ‘62, period. So, I went into another line of work, shall we say, and stayed in that.
And why don’t we…
But I worked on a lot of other things after that beside laser, laser fusion. One of the things that I talked about just [Laugh] recently, I guess I like to create a little, a little confusion. One of the things I worked on, that you probably also know about, is I thought it would be a good idea to see how well you could design and underground test facility for testing nuclear weapons, that nobody else could know you were doing it. Not that we would do it. I knew the United States wasn’t going to do that, but let’s just look into the problem and see what we might do if we wanted to, or somebody might, else might do. So, I put together a small group of people, including a top-notch civil engineer and other guys that were needed. And, we came up with a design in which had the following properties. One, we could test nuclear explosives up to a yield of 300 tons. Now, that’s not classified. That was in all the stuff we did. Now, none of this design stuff was classified. I was sort of surprised, but it wasn’t. Three hundred tons, and you’d say, “Well, why, what was so, what was so interesting about 300 tons?” Well, there were two things interesting about it. One is, at 300 tons we could produce all of the output of a, the largest hydrogen bomb you could build, just not, not as much of it.
You mean like the x-rays?
Spectrum of neutrons —
— all the radiation temperatures, everything. At 300 tons we could do it, and I, I made a design that was very conservative and that the, I, it was clear this design, there was no question that this would work. This would work for sure because it, most of it was, had, we’d already tested it and the only thing that was not tested was something that was very conservatively designed and in which the physical principles were, were cold turkey. So, that was one characteristic. We could do everything you could possibly do at 300 tons. Even more important, we could design and test a, a prototype, a small, smaller prototype of a weapon, a thermonuclear weapon primary, in this, with a limit of 300 tons. The question is, “How do you do that?” Well, what you do, and I don’t need to go into the details, not that they’re secret or anything but it’s just sort of obvious, you start out and you have computer simulations and you build something that you’re going to test in this 300-ton limit facility. You want to run something, you say, you have a, everything’s in there except you, your thermonuclear fuel is either diluted and/or not very much of it there. Okay? And, you have very good diagnostics to measure what’s happening with the neutron penexes [???] and all this. So, you set it off — oh, the other thing I should have said first is that to an outside observer, unless he was right at the facility just about, no teleseismic signal, period, and no radioactivity leaks. Not even rare gases. Nothing. So, you would not be able to know by seismic means that anything had happened, or by measuring radiation in the atmosphere. No, not a trace, none. So, the trick then was that you creep up, you use a creep-up policy, and that was used for years in doing safety tests. What they would do is they’d dud the thing so that it couldn’t get much of a yield and make sure that it didn’t, and then they’d say, “Well, we’ve got a, that isn’t, that isn’t the thing that we really, that isn’t the real thing yet. We’ll, we’ll, we want to extend, we want to get more yield out of it, put, get a little more yield and we’ll creep up, you see, on the real system, but way down so with our simulations and everything we can make good predictions.” And, that was the creep up policy is what they used for testing the safety of nuclear weapons without doing anything but what were called hydro-nuclear tests, which gave yields of high explosives only, basically, and maybe a little nuclear yield. But, they creep up, you see and then the, they could, they had a criterion, a very good one, for a safe system and you didn’t have to make any appreciable yield at all to satisfy this rigorous safety criteria. Well, when it came to the test ban, you see, one of the things that was argued for a long time, not just with the U.S., but with France, and China, and other places, was, “Okay, well we’ll have hydro-nuclear tests, little tests, because we want to do test things and make sure they’re safe, and things like that.” So then they, there was an argument, some country would want to be able to do tests up to 100 tons, I think. I forget what country that was. Other ones were already, all the way down to maybe four pounds of high explosive, nuclear yield, but four, not more than four pounds of high explosive equivalent. Something like that. A big thing. Well finally, the question was, “Well, why have any nuclear yield at all? Can you get away with that?” And, the answer is, “Sure.” You do the creep up but you don’t go so far as you even get super criticality in the fission system. And, that’s what’s in our Test Ban Treaty right now. We, we’re, the definition of a non-nuclear test is one which, A, is allowed, but it also does not go critical.
And these are subcritical?
Subcritical tests. Yes. And, that’s right in the thing that President Clinton signed. So, all of these things, you know, have been settled.
And, what year were you, was the, did you work on the facility design for the 300-ton facility, or around about?
It was in the early ‘80s, I think.
Okay. So, this is, this is later than the Test Ban debate?
Because Teller had been claiming in the ‘60s that, you know, if you hollowed out a big enough area, you know, you wouldn’t have a seismic out-put, or something like that.
Well, no. That, you’d have to do a lot better than that, and we did. And but the, you see the, the three points are that nothing comes out. I mean, really zero. You can, you can, you can –oh, and then the, then the, I forgot the final, final thing. That’s, well, one is that you can do everything you can do with a big bomb, in terms of emission, emissions. You can do wonderful diagnostics, because you can do the same thing over and over again. This design was, the design was that it was limited to 300 tons but you could shoot forty tests a year. My god, that was as many tests as we had for a long, long — we weren’t testing at anything like that rate in ‘87. I mean, there’s no, I mean even at the end of the one — I shouldn’t say ‘87 – when we stopped testing there were, except for a big surge at the end, that forty tests a year that’s an enormous number of tests. So, we weren’t kidding with this thing. You could, you could do a real honest-to-god test program forever, [Laugh] if nobody, you know, caught you, by human intelligence or something. And anyway, the, and the other thing, the other thing was, “What is your strategy when you’re all through?” Because, what you’ve done here, if you’ve crept up, stayed below 300 tons, you’ve now got a design of a primary that you claim is going to work at, let’s say, oh anywhere between, oh, say five kilotons as a round figure. Okay, but you haven’t, and now you’ve done all that. Your computer simulations have checked right on the money all the way up, and the thing you’ve got here is just like what you were doing here only it’s got more poop to it. So now, now, how do you test? How do you conduct your test series? And, the answer to that is, “Well, you only have one test.” But, when I say “one” I mean you only have one test, one bang, but that bang is produced by, let’s say, ten simultaneously-fired systems. Okay? And, what are they? Well, that’s up to you, but they, let’s take a range. We’ll go from one test of the, a primary, let’s say, alone. And, okay, now if we’re going to have ten we’ve got nine left. Let’s say the tenth one is a megaton. Whatever you want. A two, two-stage weapon, probably not a megaton. Probably something in the range of a few hundred tons, at that end. And then we have a whole bunch of things, and the point is not so much that the yields are different. You probably, probably, what I think a country would probably design is they design something and it had a two-stage, all of these are two stages now except the one you want to test alone. They’re all two-stage weapons but they’re different degrees of, not so much of yield, but different degrees of weight and size. The principle is, for a given yield if you make it big enough you better watch out or it’ll go off before you want it to. Okay? So, the only question is, what you hope is that the lightest one, which is the most, least conservative of the ten, will go off. You’re damn sure that the, not that the primary is going to go off and probably the very, this much heavier thing that you’re going to, a much more, has a lot more fission in it, let’s say, is going to go off and you hope this one will go off and what you hope is that they’ll all go off. If they all go off [Laugh] then you’ll get the biggest yield, which will frighten everybody the most, then you’ll get the best weapon of the bunch. But, you design it so that you’re virtually certain that at least one of the two-stage devices is going to go off, and maybe more. So, what you’ve got is something. Number one, it’s cheap. You can build these. We figured, we did a cost estimate for one of these things, and actually we went over and visited. It was very interesting. We went to PG&E out here, Pacific Gas & Electric, because we found out they had a huge cavity in granite just east of Fresno. So, we flew out to Fresno and went out with them to their facility. And jeez, they — well, I won’t go into that big story, but anyway it’s fascinating. A huge cavity in granite that was not expensive to make. And they actually, to get water from a lake here into that hydro, hydro plant in the, in the granite cavern they, the granite cavern, they went through, I forget, it was several, a couple of miles of solid granite, a big hole like this, water going through. So, you can, you can, I forget what it costs but it was really quite remarkably inexpensive. So this, what you’re building is cheap. What you’re building is something that can’t be detected. What you’re building is something that will enable you to conduct a test series where you’ve limited yourself to the containable yield in anything that’s in the facility. You can run it forty times a year, if you didn’t get it right the first time, and then you do a test series which has one test and you’ve got a two-stage thermonuclear.
With only one test?
Uhm-hmm. One detectable test, and that is really detectable. Well, I gave this kind of a summary of this thing just a couple of weeks ago down in — I was asked to give a talk at a place I’d never heard of before, but it’s evidently a pretty decent place. It’s been there a long time. That’s the Institute for International Studies in Monterey, and they invited me down there to give a talk on, well just sort of things I wanted to talk about having to do with the Test Ban, and that sort of stuff, you know, but from a standpoint of a weapons guy. And, the other guy they had there was Richard Rove, you know, the guy that wrote the books on the atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb.
Oh, Richard Rhodes?
Richard Rhodes. Yeah. Richard Rhodes, yes. Richard Rhodes. Yeah, he and I were the two speakers they had. And, yeah, he wrote a book. I didn’t even — his latest book.
I think you have, yeah, the newest one’s right here. [Gesturing to bookshelf]
Yeah. Not, not only that I — yeah. That’s the one I — I bought it when I realized that he was going to be at the same place I was because, and I, I haven’t read it yet but I did, you know, sort of skim through it so, because I wanted to, [Laugh] I wanted to — [to Treasure the dog] Oh, you’re being such a good dog. [Laugh] Oh, you’re just as good as gold, Treasure. You good dog. Treasure’s a good dog. Yeah. Good dog. [Resumes interview] So, anyway, yeah. That’s why I got the book and I, I haven’t read it but I’ve looked through it and I’ve read his books on the, you know, on the atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb, both of which are outstandingly good. So, he gave a talk that was pretty much based on this book. Very, very good talk. He’s a really good speaker.
Oh, well, where was I? Oh yeah. I, that’s, I was at the Institute for International Studies and they wanted to talk about test bands, and it was funny because I, I had been talking about, oh, a number of things, and but then I thought, “Well, let’s talk about something that I know about, that’s not secret, and it seems to me people ought to know about, or at least look into.” So, I gave them this story, that I just gave you, you know. He says, “Okay.” Then the, of course they hadn’t no, no basis for arguing with my conclusion but they said, “Hey, wait a minute here. We’re, [Laugh] you’re against nuclear testing aren’t you?” And, I said, “Yes!” And they’re, “Well, well you’re, you’re telling us that, that, you can’t, you can’t stop people from nuclear testing by using these schemes?” And, one of the things I mentioned to them, not that they probably understood it, but one of the important features of this facility is that it, it doesn’t, it isn’t a cavern with a wall. It’s, it’s a cavern which has then a steel wall with grout between the steel, and also, very significant, cable tendons that go to drifts so that you can retighten it after each shot, because you’re going to get some – I mean, this was damn carefully designed by one of the best civil engineering people in the world, this guy that, this French guy that I know. He’s still at the lab. And also the, the key thing is though, here’s your explosion and here’s your steel and all this in the wall, and here, but you have a burlap sack, let’s say, a canvas sack that has 300 tons of water in it right above your 300-ton explosive. It’s just sort of an accident that [Laugh] the weight of the water is equal to the energy of the thing [Laugh] in those units, but it’s, that’s about right. And so, the water is, there’s a parabolic sort of a lined inner surface with some, some more metal, and the bomb goes off in that, and the bomb doesn’t weigh anything compared to the water because it has a huge energy per pound. So, if you put up 300 tons of water you can, you, that’s a lot of weight of water, in order to absorb the energy of even a much smaller weight. But, if the weight is much smaller, if you look at the fundamental laws of conservation momentum, the heavy body doesn’t move much. The light body goes this way. Well, that’s what I call “the toilet.” [Laugh] All of your — and, and when you push the button so that you fire the explosive you don’t have to do anything to the sack of water. It’s going to get blown to bits. But, what you do is you turn on a cylindrical waterfall so that you have a cylinder of falling water that’s, breaks up into various sized drops but it’s got a lot of water in it, so that when the result of the explosion, the shockwave and the radiation and so forth come out they’re trapped. They don’t see the walls at all. Before they can get to the walls they explode this wall of water both ways, and if you calculate the force on the wall, the shockwave, if you don’t have that you get a huge spike of pressure, which it doesn’t last too long, but you get a huge spike. And if you put, what the wall of water does is it absorbs all the energy, but, but the momentum is also spread out in time. So, instead of getting a huge spike in pressure you get a, oh a huge lowering of the maximum pressure that goes like this. When the, when you say, “Okay, what happens?” a few minutes later when you look and see, all you’ve got is a, is a chamber, a big one, full of wet steam.
That’s pretty clever. [Laugh]
Yes. So, that’s how, that’s where the seismic signal goes, you see? You give a, you give a gentle push on the wall, not a bang, and you don’t even deform the wall, or you better not, any degree. All of the business of seismic coupling is because you deform the medium and it doesn’t get back at you. And so, that, it’s a, it’s an ingenious design, the civil engineering part of it. We had people from various, oh, a couple of generals and people like that who were in the nuclear sort of thing were interested in this. And, they asked about the civil engineering. “Well, you know, can you really do this?” And I, this civil engineer guy, who’s famous, was there and he said, “There’s absolutely no doubt that you can build this thing.” And, we actually did some experiments at NTS, on a small scale. We used nitro methane as an explosive, instead of regular nuclear explosive, a much smaller yield obviously. And, we made a cavity, and we used the tendons, and all this stuff, with strain gauges and everything on them, and we tested it. And, it worked, just the way we thought it would.
So, then you, so to get back to the questions of the students, they would say, “Well, wait a minute. What’s the matter with you? You’re against testing and here you’re telling us that people can test and nobody can catch them?” And, I said, “No, that’s not the point of what I’m saying. I’m saying that what you want to know is what they can do. I’m not saying, and you want to be clear, that just because somebody tells you you can do something with a clever idea that’s what you really need to focus on and guard against. You want to be sure people, when you see people digging big holes in the ground and putting big bunches of steel down there, and things like that, in the construction phase, you better, better think about what they’re doing. You better be sure that if people get a, or are near some facility, maybe they shouldn’t be, and they sort of hear a thump in the ground or something like that, that, you know, just sort of a little unusual, that they tell somebody about it. But mainly you watch. The weakness of this is, how do you manufacture this thing? You make a hole in the ground and do all this stuff without some, satellites going over all the time, and airplanes, and everything else, and maybe spies and everything else, who if they know this sort of thing can be done in certain kinds of ways they’ll be on the lookout.” And, I said, “That’s, even, isn’t that important?” Well, they had to admit, “Yeah. If this is what they can do well you better be, know how you could do it and we better keep our eyes open.” So, that’s how I answered that. [Laugh] But, most people don’t know about that at all, because this was published in the, in the journal, the magazine, the Research Monthly that was put out by the lab, but that’s a classified thing and it never got out to unclassified people. And, we never sent out our unclassified reports.
One final note on that, though, is about ten years later, I guess, maybe five, ten years later, Los Alamos got interested in this idea and so they, they had a meeting at Los Alamos. [Edward] Teller was invited and I was invited, and I gave a talk on, down there at the, at Los Alamos on the, this thing I just told you, you know, complete with all the Viewgraphs and everything, and two things were interesting to me. One is, Teller, who doesn’t like me, never did, because I’m not his type. I’m not imaginative enough. I love imaginative people, but he always, he always thought, he would always tell me, he said, what was it he said? He said — what, his definition of… oh, no. “What’s the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?” And, he’d say, “A pessimist is always right,” looking straight at me, “but he never gets any fun out of it.” Well, that wasn’t true. [Laughter] “An optimist,” he said, “believes that the future is uncertain.” Well, I think that’s a very good statement, really. I think pessimists — an optimist who happens to turn out to be right, [Laugh] gets a lot more fun out of it than a pessimist who happens to be right. But, optimists are almost [Laugh] never right. And as he says, “Pessimists,” like me, “are almost never wrong.” [Laugh] So, so if you like being right, [Laugh] that settles the question. Anyway, that was a, that was one of his sayings that he always liked.
So, go back a little bit. When you started working on this, the pure fusion work and the deuterium tritium stuff, and this is around 1960, and what was the nature of that work at that time. I know that in your piece you said that you had just heard about the, you know, the ruby laser that they had fired, they had gotten working and things like that. But, were you working on this before you had heard about that? I mean, was the…
No. I wouldn’t say “working,” but people at the lab, and I wasn’t the only one at all, there were a number of people, and I think I mentioned them, or some of them. I probably forgot some.
Sterling Colgate. And…
People that were thinking about it. And, in that context, you see, it was a, it was a no-brainer, because the people at the lab were very familiar with the kind of thermal radiation that is produced by a nuclear explosion. And, the interesting thing about it is that it, it’s, the temperature of the radiation, of course, is enormously high, thousands of electron volts. And, the pressure, the energy density it produces is, increases as the fourth power of the temperature. So your, the nuclear explosives give exceedingly powerful energy transport by radiation. Well, that’s exactly what lasers were threatening to do. So, the first thing you think of is, “Well, let’s throw away this radiation from hot bodies that we can’t make well without fission, but we can make it like crazy with fission, and use one of these lasers, and we can make the same kinds of energy density, and pressure, and ablation, and blow-off, and all the rest. So, use the laser to implode something instead of the radiation that you use in hydrogen bombs.” That’s so obvious to anybody that ever worked in, at Livermore, from the day I walked in the door I’m sure I would have thought of that. All of these people that run around saying, “I had the idea first,” are, they’re liars. I mean, everybody had the idea first. I didn’t have the idea first. [Laugh]
It was the sort of thing that would be obvious to somebody to have thought of?
Obvious to the meanest intelligence, is the right way to say it. Yes.
Sort of, how do they say it for patents? “The practitioner of the art,” or something like that?
Anybody that was at Livermore, anyway, would have, would have come up with this. And, all of the, virtually all of the people that were, had any interest at all in any of this thought of this right away. But, the whole thing is, “Well, where’s the laser that will produce this kind of energy?” You need a lot of it. And then when Maiman shot off the, showed that the pulse, the ruby laser would work I went down there. Foster, the director, I talked to him and I said, “Hey, we’d better look into this thing. He’s got something working.” And, Foster said, “Well, go down and talk to him and see if we can make a big one.” And I said, “Okay,” and I went down to talk to Ted [Maiman] and a couple of other guys at Hughes Malibu [Research Laboratory], and they said, “Well sure. We can get, you can get a lot of energy out of something and if you need more energy you can put more of them, make more beams.” But I, I said, “Well, is there any fundamental limit you can think of to this?” I said, “I can’t think of any.” They said, “No. It’s money and size.” And so, I went back and told Foster that, you know, this was a peanut of a thing at the time but it looked to me like it would be worthwhile to start a minor program. And so, we got a couple of rubies, just to make a ruby laser work, and one of the things we did was to — I mean, I don’t think I was approving of this, but I heard they were seeing if they could get the overhead sprinkler system to go with a [sound effect] of the laser. [Laughter] So, it sort of started like that.
It was all limited by money and the availability of laser media.
One of the things that comes up in the KMS [Fusion] story, when the, [Keith] Brueckner says how in, I think it was ‘68, ‘69, he was asked to go to Novosibirsk to this IAEA conference on lasers [IAEA Conference on Plasma Physics, Novosibirisk, USSR, 1968]. And what, all that they were doing there, the Russians and the French, was laser heating for fusion. They were trying to heat up the fusion fuel. And he says his big breakthrough and, was, was in transitioning from the idea of using the laser to heat the fusion, to heat the deuterium to thermonuclear temperatures, but into the realm of implosion, you know. Using it to compress it and then heat it. And, was this the sort of, was the work at Livermore in those early days, was it heating or did it have the other…
From the absolute word “go” it was implosion and compression. The only thing that kept anybody from — well, we felt stupid. It wasn’t until [Nicolay G.] Basov, at Russia, said that compression was, “we were able to get much, much greater yields in a compressed sample than you could get from one that wasn’t compressed.” And, the minute he said that, then we were allowed to say what we knew when the laser was — well, we knew before the laser was invented, anybody in the business of hydrogen bombs knew that you compressed things or you couldn’t get things to work without it. So…
So, it’s been…
That’s the answer. There was never the slightest doubt in our minds that we were after compression, in all of it. Well, I wrote a code. I’ve still got some printouts from it.
This is the WAZER? The one that became the…
WAZER. Yeah. And that was all about compression, and ignition, and that sort of thing.
Why was it called “WAZER”? Just as a…
Well, A, the “AZER” part of it was “laser.” And, the “W” was, as it happened, all of the computer programs that I wrote, which were generally speaking were not huge programs at all, but small physics-type programs, for some reason I never probably could explain, the first one I wrote started with “W.” And then I thought, “Well, that’s sort of a, I’ll make all of them start with “W.” So, I cut off the “laser,” and said, “WAZER.” [Laugh]
That’s nice. So, just to clarify, and just to — I have this thing that Brueckner wrote in ‘74, which he says that he was, you know, he felt that the, it seemed to him like the, the idea of implosion techniques had laid dormant in the AEC program until revived in ‘69. And…
Oh, that’s, that’s sheer nonsense.
And, that sounds to me like it’s an artifact of the classification problem –
Yes. It is.
— and not so much a case of what people are thinking about?
Well, just look at what happened. In the, the, literally the second that the idea of compression became unclassified by the AEC, the, Nuckolls and his crowd, who had been busy, I was working mainly on building lasers because of — I mean, I was the theorist around and still am. [Laugh] I was busy working on — the laser was this, the thing we didn’t have. We had the theory up the gazoo. He came out immediately with this paper that he, where he was going to get, Because of Super Compression, that was the title, and that happened microseconds after the idea of compression was released.  See they, that little group was all primed to produce this super compression idea, which again was crazy because they didn’t understand the limitations of lasers, and I understood all about super compression. But, they came out with this, with this ridiculous conclusion. But they, they not only used compression they used super compression. So they, which was, that was a smart thing to do, actually.
Is this the ablation? Or…
It’s the ablation that does it.
Yeah. And, just also, I mean one of the other things…
Yeah. The pressure of the radiation isn’t, isn’t the thing in this laser fusion that amounts to anything at all.
One of the other things that comes up when looking at this, it’s an interesting thing to sort of work on the history of because everything comes out into the public at the wrong time. I mean the, [laugh] the simple things come out really early but that’s not what anybody’s actually working on at the time, you know, and the idea, you know, in the ‘80s and ‘90s the idea of the hohlraum is, is the, was declassified. And is that…
As a result of the Progressive magazine case. 
Right. And was that there from ‘60 onward, or was that a — I mean, how, how early was, was the hohlraum something again that was sort of natural to a weapons designer to add to it, or did that come in at a later point?
Well, that, the, the idea of the radiation implosion that was, that got written up by Teller and Ulam, you know, way back in, I forget when their paper was.  They —
— they were both at Los Alamos. So, that’s when that came out and it was obvious to the meanest intelligence that, yeah, that probably would work, right away, and they, that’s what — I mean, [Hans] Bethe, when he heard about that he said, “That’s a sweet idea,” or somebody did.
But, I mean for the laser research, I mean, was the, was the, the — in the 1960s work was the idea of a hohlraum incorporated at that point or was that a development that came later as a way of, you know, ironing out the asymmetrics of this?
No. The idea of the hohlraum was not actually put into practice because of practical reasons. And hope, hoped, a lot of people hoped, I’m sure people like Brueckner and people like that — well, I shouldn’t say Brueckner. He’s too smart. But anyway, you see the problem, the problem that, with just shining laser beams on a thing and trying to get a uniform highly-spherical symmetric compression is that it’s sort of fundamental. That is the, the light is an electromagnetic field. It’s not a scalar field. It’s a vector field. And, a scalar field, like a sound wave, you see, focuses in spherical geometry. Maxwell’s Equations for electromagnetic fields do not admit propagating waves, electromagnetic waves, in spherical symmetry. So, to a theorist, you see, the idea of using light for a spherical implosion sort of is against nature from the word “go,” and how do you do that? When you try to do it you say, “Well, let’s take a beam here, and these are incoherent maybe, and somehow in here,” but where the beams overlap you see they interfere with each other. If they don’t overlap you’ve got a hole. If they do overlap you’ve got spots. So, what do you do? Well you, you try to think of some way, maybe of changing that light into something that won’t have spots in it. Probably, if you heat up matter, [Laugh] and you just get thermal radiation it’s incoherent as anything can get and you don’t get that. So, you know, from, the meanest intelligence should understand, as I did, that scalar fields would be the thing to use if you had them, but you don’t. So, how do you get rid of the interference effects of these vector fields in spherical geometry? Well, what they’ve done, of course, is they’ve used phase plates, as they call them, to try to decrease the coherence of the beam and various, there’s about four different tricks they’ve thought of to do that, and some of that — and they work, but they don’t, but the question is, “How well?” But, in the early days these, these crazy people thought you just shine beams on it and you could implode things through high compressions. Nuckolls’ paper has any number of crazy omissions of, about things that would destroy the whole idea, but the most simple is the lack of symmetry that you can get with a, a, with a vector wave field.
And just talking about the, the ‘72 Nuckolls-Wood, you know, big Nature paper, there’s a, there’s a quote that, from another interview that somebody did, that I think Bob Seidel did with — I have it on here — Keith Boyer, where Boyer says that, when, they were actually kind of surprised when the Nuckolls-Wood paper came out because one, they, well because they were the first people to push it through classification —
— and that they also got all the sort of credit for this big breakthrough even though it had all been things that lots of people have been talking about for a long —
— time, and things.  And I was just wondering how you perceived that at the time when it happened?
Well, it was, it was terrible because what happened was that they announced this paper, the very first public disclosure of their super compression idea was at Montreal in Canada.  I happened to be the chairman of that meeting and they [Laugh] didn’t even tell me that they — they’d hidden from me that they were going to do this. I could have told them that, “You better not do that, because you’re going to make fools of yourselves.” But they, they didn’t want me to know about it because they, they wanted to get the credit, so to speak, and so I knew nothing about — I was the chairman of the meeting and I didn’t, I knew they were going to present something but they, they, it was very sort of secretive and I didn’t know exactly what it was until I, they, they popped this thing at the very meeting I was chairing. Talk about, you know, sort of a slippery — I mean, scientists aren’t supposed to work that way. They’re not supposed to — well, shoot, they do though. If there, if there’s something they thing is big they try to compete and not tell the other team what they’re doing. But anyway, that, that was a — I was flabbergasted, but here I as sort of caught with my pants down because as the chairman of the thing I’d just heard about this. I had no idea how well they had prepared their talk and what was behind it. I mean, I knew of the various, that there were, must be requiring an enormous amount of luck on all kind of instabilities of light plasma interaction, of all kinds of problems with symmetry with laser beams, ad nausea, but I wasn’t going to sit there, stand up there in front of the whole thing and tell them, tell the crowd on the spur of the moment, without having any real basis for calculations or anything to say, “Hey, these guys, these colleagues of mine are nuts!” [Laughter] Then Teller gets up. He was this, he was the speaker. He was the invited speaker and he’s a marvelous speaker, and what he did was, I thought, sort of — I guess he didn’t know much about what they were going to present either. He didn’t say anything about it. But he, he got all excited about the possibility of using laser fusion explosions, a whole lot of little ones, to drive space rockets. [Laugh] So, here I was caught with Teller issuing sort of imaginative, shall we say, concepts of space propulsion, which were interesting I suppose. Someday maybe they’ll be able to do something like that. Anyway, he, that’s what he talked about, not about the Nuckolls-Wood stuff at all, because I don’t think they told him about it. And, [Laugh] anyway it was a, to me it was a bombshell. I mean, I didn’t mind Teller talking about, you know, imaginative ideas about what you might do with fusion sometime in the distant future. Maybe you could do something like this. But, at the time it seemed, it, it seemed a little over the, over the top, even so. But, he gave a very good talk, as he usually does, and one of the things I noticed since I was the chairman, he sat next to me but he was this, and he said, “Ray,” he said, “How much time have I got?” And, and I said, “You’ve got,” I’ve forgot, “twenty minutes,” I think, or whatever it was. So he, he got up and I was watching my watch because I was the chairman. He finished his talk almost on the second of twenty minutes. I mean, that’s how good. [Laughter] He was amazing. That was a good talk. But, but I gathered, he didn’t say anything about this, and of course Nuckolls and Wood were running around and giving all these preprints out, [Laugh] and having a ball. So, anyway, I was, I, they — well, I don’t know. Zimmerman, you know, he was the guy that probably most important because he developed the computer code, and it’s a very good one that he developed for doing the computer simulations that they reported in their paper. His work was wonderful. And, but he, he was only one of the four authors and he certainly wasn’t to blame for any of this nonsense. He was the guy who gave them a computer program that was very well built and he wasn’t, wasn’t responsible for any of the missing physics or anything like that. The responsible people, of course, and one of the other guys wasn’t either. He was sort of a lesser man —
— foursome. Yeah. It was Nuckolls and Wood. I mean, those two guys, talk about — imagine that if people — and salesmen, I mean after all Teller and Woods were the ones that tried to sell this Star Wars program to Reagan and almost got away with it.
So anyway, that’s the story of Montreal. And, [Laugh] it was — but the, I think, I mean Nuckolls and Woods obviously get a lot of pleasure out of the fact that they had this landmark paper. Zimmerman I don’t think does. I think he felt that he was kind of snookered.
Is he still around?
I haven’t been able — he’s been harder to track down than, than the others.
Yeah, no, he’s, he’s right on the same floor as I am when I’m, when I got to the lab. He’s right down the hall. In fact, I talked to him the last time I was there. So, he’s, he’s still there and he’s still, he’s busy. He’s not retired I don’t think. I’m not sure. But anyway he’s, he comes to the lab, I think, everyday, except every once in a while he takes a week off and he’ll put on his little thing in front of his door. “Back,” you know, some other. He’s a marvelous fellow and he, he did an absolutely superb job over the years in building and keeping together a small group of very, very talented programmers and numerical people to build these very, very beautiful and easy-to-use — the graphics on these codes are just wonderful. I use them all the time. I’m still working on this stuff, but [Jürgen] Meyer-ter-Vehn, of course, has spoiled my day [Laugh] Have you read his book or seen it?
I haven’t. No. I’ve seen an article.
Well here, I’ll show it to you. It’s, it’s a — I like to give him as much publicity as possible because it’s an absolutely incredible, marvelous job. I’ve got a gimp knee that I’m —
— it gets better if I, after I’ve used it a little bit. Sit in one place and it sort of tightens up. [Talking to Treasure in background] Oh Treasure, good dog. Yes. No, I’m coming back. Yes. I’m coming back. I’m not leaving you alone with that person. No. [Pause][Treasure barking] Treasure. Treasure. Here I come. We’re not in, we’re not in mortal danger. [Laugh] [Resumes interview]
Yeah, here’s, here’s the book. One of the reasons I mention it is, there’s two reasons. One is, it’s the best book on this subject that you’re going to see probably within the next ten years, and it’s been out for a while. It’s also written not by — here I’ll show you, show you in a second. I’m trying to see what the date of it is. I can’t remember dates. Let’s see here. ISBN… where’s the date, the numbers, there’s a lot of numbers here. I don’t have my glasses on.
I could take a look.
Okay. Well anyway, one of the reasons that [Laugh] I, I wanted to draw your attention to it is that I wrote the forward.
And, it’s mercifully short. [Laugh] But, it tells you what I was, about my beginnings, because it said, I’ll read the first sentence here. It says, “The authors of this,” this is what I wrote here now, [Treasure barking] “the authors of this excellent book, and is why “excellent” is an understatement of the century, have asked me to, for a brief forward, giving some emphasis to the early work on laser fusion at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This work is motivated by the possibility that lasers could create states of matter and thermal radiation that was similar to those found in thermonuclear weapons, and in the longer-term the possibility that a small amount of DT could be compressed and ignited without the help of fission.” And, then it says, oh then, here’s the, here’s the punch line. “The basic principles of high-yield-to-weight nuclear weapons design had largely been learned and put into practice in 1962, but the intriguing challenge of pure fusion remains.” And this is the forward that I wrote. And, this is the book. And it’s a, was written by two people, Meyer-ter-Vehn, that’s a Dutch name but he’s German. And, Stefano Atzeni. He’s the, he’s the Italian at the University of Rome. And, I knew Meyer-ter-Vehn well, because I was a, the vice chairman of the review committee for the Institute of Quantum Optics of the, of the Max Planck Institute where he worked. Anyway, this is the book and man I’ll tell you it’s got — this, when this book came out I think all of the people that might have thought that they would write a book on this subject at Livermore dropped dead. [Laughter] That’s how good it is. And, I remember — see, we came up with this title and the publisher, Oxford University Press — yeah, incidentally, this book also has the, has the distinction of being one of the international series or monographs on physics of Oxford University Press. So, it’s, it’s got credentials already. We were, the publisher wanted to change the name of this. I, they didn’t want to put the word “physics” in it. And so, they asked Meyer-ter-Vehn about it and he said, “Well, I think we should keep the ‘physics’ in there.” And so, he sent me an email and asked me about it and I said, “Yes, indeed. You tell them that we want the word physics in there and the reason is that this is far more than a book on inertial fusion. Some people at Livermore have written a lot of stuff on inertial fusion, but this not only tells you about inertial fusion in great detail but it gives all of the underlying physics, which none of the guys have done before, in a very clear and marvelous manner. So, it should be the Physics of Inertial Fusion and that, Meyer-ter-Vehn said, “I agree with you. That’s what I think too.” And so, fortunately, it really is. If you want to learn about anything and the fundamental physics behind it it’s in here. It took him eleven years to write this.
Well, I’ll get the, I have the reference. I’ll look it up when I get back tomorrow, but it sounds…
It’s an absolutely incredible book. It’s unbelievable. I mean, this guy Meyer-ter-Vehn is smarter than a tree full of owls. I’ll tell you. I’ve worked with him and he…
He credits you pretty heavily, if I recall, in his Edward Teller lecture talk? [Laugh]
Well, yeah. But, he’s, he’s very, he’s, I’m delighted he’s did what he’s done, because I might have been, attempted — I wouldn’t have done it because writing books is of, well writing that kind of a book is, is such a real labor of love for doing that that I just don’t have that. And, you have to ignore — you know, every time you read a scientist’s book like that first thing he says on the cover is, “Ed, I give my greatest love and thanks to my wife who put up with me for eleven years while I was busy working on this book,” and it’s all true. In fact, I talked to a friend of mine over at the lab who’d written a book on numerical computations for, you know, plasma physics. A very good book, a pretty thick one. And, I asked him, I said, whether he was considering writing another book, or following the one, the very good book that he had written. He said, “Ray,” he said, “if I even mention that possibility my wife said she’d divorce me immediately.” [Laughter] I mean that’s really it. The family takes a hell of a beating in a way when you’ve, have to put that kind of effort into it. So it’s, I just wouldn’t have, have the stamina or, or indeed the knowledge, ability to put it all down like that clear, in clear ways. As I think I maybe mentioned to you the head of the Chelyabinsk, the head of it, the chief scientist at Chelyabinsk once asked me among some of his colleagues who were standing around to hear the answer, whether I would be interested in writing a book on plasma physics with him. And I thought, Jesus Christ, writing a book with the head of the, for chief scientist for the Russian weapons lab, one of the two. I can see this was going to be headaches that I wasn’t going to want to even get near. So I, I thanked him for it, the invitation, and I don’t remember whether I said “I’d think about it” or not, or whether I just said “No,” but anyway I, that was out. But, that’s the only time that was the craziest idea I’ve ever heard of. But, somebody at Livermore in the weapons, who had been in the weapons field since the word “go,” with the chief scientist of the Soviet Chelyabinsk Laboratory who had been in the same field since the word “go” writing a book together. [Laugh]
— one thing about the work in the ‘60s that I think I have a better picture now, having talked with you, but when I read your piece in that volume it seemed very strongly that in your mind, and I don’t think this was saying it explicitly but implicitly, the real problem from, from the ‘60s era and even to the present in getting lasers of the right energy output?
And your, that’s — I think I get a better feeling of that, but I saw, it’s interesting. Some of the, when you read the other pieces in that volume, I don’t know if you’ve seen the volume yet. It’s kind of hard to get your hands on, the Guillermo Velarde one, or something like that one.
Well, I have two copies of it if you want to borrow it?
Okay. Oh, no. No. We’ve got it now. But it just took a…
The, some of the other accounts are, you know, these very sort of theory-centric accounts, or these ones that sort of focus on the different target designs and things, and yours is a very laser-centered account.
And I, I can see that — to you that’s the problem?
Yes. Yeah. The, we knew how to implode — well, we didn’t, the computer code that I wrote when I was first there is WAZER. That was used to do an implosion design of the DT fuel that we did in the Pacific as an experiment, and that was done — well again my memory for dates is poor but it was around, it was, it was, let’s see it must have been in ‘58 or ‘59, and we knew all about that stuff. That wasn’t the problem. We knew, I knew what I was talking about and we proved it in a test in the Pacific, for Christ’s sake. [Laugh] And that was, that was something that was new in the theory of, of this stuff, but I put that in, not that it was a, any kind of a really brilliant thing but you should have put it in, and it wasn’t. So, we put it in and tested it and made sure that it worked the way I said it would and it did. We made very good measurements in the Pacific on it.
That was in the late ‘50s.
There’s another — Brueckner says that in, in ‘69 he chaired a classified meeting with you and [James] Tuck at AEC headquarters and, and that he, the, he says again “there’s no mention of implosion or compression in the Livermore or Los Alamos presentations.” This is just…
That’s a classification.
And the sort of omissions…
No, what happened was, and that’s another sidelight, when I was, I guess it must have been around that time, Brueckner had filed a number of patents —
— on his ideas of the implosions of things. And so, what happened then was that the, those were declared, you know, secret, in secret information, weapons information. And there’s, they were put in the secret files of the Patent Department. They have those. And so, what happened then was that the Patent Department of the AEC, or if it was the AEC then, I don’t know, anyway the head of the patent department came out to see me and brought me copies of all these patents and wanted me to look at them, and review them, and tell him whatever he wanted to know. I can’t, don’t remember too much about what I, what I’ve, I must have written something down about it. But, I did, I reviewed the things that Brueckner had patented and, I said, “As far as I could see there’s nothing knew in this at all, in any single way, respect or form.” And, the patent attorney, I guess, he looked at some of the stuff, but anyway he said, “I thought not.” And, I never heard from it again. And, my answer was absolutely correct. There wasn’t anything new in them at all. Now whether, when Brueckner was, whether Brueckner ever knew I reviewed these things I don’t know whether he did or not, but I did and they were brought to me by the head of the Patent Department of the, at Washington, for the AEC and that’s what I told him, “Nothing new.”
The other question I had, a little later, this is, I went through the Brueckner papers in San Diego, which are a sort of an interesting mix of things from this period.
Yeah. Who was the guy? There was another nice fellow that worked with him on that. They published a pretty darn good paper in the Reviews of Modern Physics.
It’s a funny name.
What’s the — Joe — yeah, with a “J”, Jorna, or Yorna.
Ser, ser …
Jorna was his last name.
J-O-R-N-A, and his first name was a funny first name.
Sieba, I think.
Sieba Jorna. Yeah, later on he was using lasers to clean old classic statutes in Rome and things, [Laugh] I remember.
They, there’s another, I have a, there’s a letter from [Robert] Hirsch at the AEC, who I guess was a secretary of one of these meetings, or maybe that same one. That he wrote to Brueckner and…
He was the head of the Rochester group, yes.
Right. And he wrote to Brueckner that, in this letter that he “doubted that the ‘micro’ explosion approach would be of interest to the Controlled Thermonuclear, Controlled Thermonuclear Reactor Division of the AEC,” which I thought was an interesting — if he was just trying to get Brueckner off of it, or…
No. I don’t think he, I wouldn’t think that was his reason. I, he, he was right. I mean, the, what happened was that from the very beginning and to this present second money for the laser fusion program has been supplied by the Military Applications Division of the AEC. It’s never been under the energy production.
So, that’s what I was going to ask, because in …
That’s all I think —
There’s, there’s an ex …
— Hirsch was probably saying.
Yeah. There’s an excerpt from you, a page in there or it’s notes I think Hirsch took by you that was mentioning the difference between the CTR and the DOD programs in laser fusion and things like that, and is that what that’s a reference to, this money source?
Probably. Yeah. That’s, yeah, see I always mentioned that, I mentioned that down in, just for peoples’ information that even today it’s funded by the Division of Military Applications there at headquarters. It’s never been part of the energy program. And, of course, I think people are, now with all this energy and, and you know, crunch, people are getting interested in the concept again of inertial fusion as a possibility for energy production, and that I’ve been in contact, a guy called me. What’s his name? Burke, Bob Burke, he’s got a group together. He’s even got a name for it and I think he’s, I think he told me that [Albert] Gore was one of his supporters. Well anyway, he’s trying to, he’s trying to revive the idea of using the heavy ion accelerators to produce fusion for commercial power. That’s something Meyer, Meyer-ter-Vehn spent a great deal of time on. He has a very small section in this book on it. Heavy ion fusion. But, he tells about it in there and he worked on that with the people at Darmstadt, which is the heavy ion laboratory, Schwerionenforschung Gesellschaft in Darmstadt. “Schwerionen” being heavy ions in Darmstadt and the heavy ions which he used for heavy ion fusion, and that has a, has a lot to be said for it. Laser fusion won’t, doesn’t cut it for power production because first you’d have to have a laser that could be pulsed many times a second, you see, and you could do that with heavy ion beams. But, nobody, I think, has got a good idea of how to do that with laser beams. So, heavy ion beams, if you have enough energy this whole thing probably will work as an experiment. These people who are reviving heavy ion beams, hopefully. They, I was supposed to meet with them last week at Stanford and they had Burton Richter, who was a Nobel Prize winner at Stanford, and Sidney Drell, you know, has been involved with these a lot. But, Sidney, Richter, and me were going to attend the meeting at Stanford by this World Energy Group, I think it’s called, a small group of people, and this fellow that’s in charge of it his name is Bob Burke, and his son Alex is a, works on, he’s a physicist at SLAC. Anyway, they’re connected to Stanford and I think Burke was a professor at Santa Cruz. Anyway, they’re still interested in inertial fusion using not lasers but heavy ion beams, and whether that will ever materialize I don’t know, but I think most people feel that the inertial fusion should be driven by heavy ion beams and not laser beams, for, you know, for any possible practical use.
And just to go back again, I talked with, a little bit, Caltech with Roy Gould, who used to do some, he was head I think of the AEC fusion for a little while in the early ‘70s and things, and he said that he had perceived that at that time there was some resentment in terms of the magnetic confinement fusion and the, against the inertial people, the laser fusion, because they felt that it was easier to get money for inertial, laser fusion, because of the military connection, because you weren’t necessarily going through the standard channels, you were going to —
— development of military applications and things like that. Did you, did you perceive that on the other side of things? I mean…
Well, I think, I always felt that inertial fusion had a, an advantage because it, not, not only because it was supported by the military, which traditionally has more money than anybody, but it was supported also by the scientists because you could create states of matter and energy densities and not producible by any other way in radiation and so forth. Tokamak, if you don’t produce power, it’s just a bunch of plasma in an awkward magnetic field configuration. So, I always felt that — and, in fact, today what’s happening, it seems to me, is that the emphasis in Livermore is by the people managing the program, namely Ed Moses, he’s beginning to try to more strongly emphasize the value of the facility as a, as a high-energy density research facility than merely, or solely I guess is a better word, as an ignition facility simply because there’s no guarantee that when they get the thing put together they’re going to succeed in getting ignition. At least certainly there’s no guarantee they’ll get it ever, but there’s no guarantee certainly that they won’t, that they won’t require a lot of experimentation, meaning a lot of, several years of experimentation to find out why the thing isn’t doing better than it is anyway. And so, Moses is saying, “Well, let’s not put all our eggs in the ignition basket, even though it’s called the National Ignition Facility. Sure, we want to get ignition and we hope we’ll get there, and, but it may take some time. But, one of the things we know we can do is we can make states of matter and things like that you can’t make any other way. And one of the things I wrote a paper on, [Laugh] was that you could make a very interesting, for research purposes, and for the first time really, a substantial electron-positron plasma with it. You can do that. So, there’s a lot, they’re trying — my point is that even if you don’t get ignition this thing could be useful for people to learn something. I’m not so sure if you don’t get a, if you, you can’t make a power plant with magnetic fusion it’s in the scrap heap.
And, how much coordination was there within the AEC and related to classification issues for lasers, laser fusion? I mean I, I…
Cooperation with, with, between, between who and who?
Well, a coordination say between, also say between Los Alamos and Livermore, or even between different people at Livermore. I mean I’m, I find it interesting that people would be, there’s circumstances in which people are somewhat caught off guard by others, you know, especially the Montreal thing. But, but other places where the left hand doesn’t look like it knows what the right hand is doing in terms of declassifying or classifying things?
Yeah well, it, at Livermore I think the rules are substantially the same. They have to be at Livermore and Los Alamos. Los Alamos is, is not in the inertial fusion business, that’s all. I mean they’re, the laser fusion business anyway. They got out of that I, as far as I know. And, yeah, they made a couple of lasers. They, the first one they did was they made a big CO2 laser and they published a paper saying that wouldn’t work [Laugh] because the wavelength’s too long. And by the wavelength being that long would doom the project, and indeed it was doomed for the reasons I said. But the, they, and then they built an HF laser and that didn’t go anywhere either. So they, they’re not in the laser, in the laser fusion program. Sandia has pulse power fusion, you know, with these big things that, you know, these electron accelerators that they have. But, the classification is, most of the, most of the stuff done at Livermore, having to do with the design of the capsule is not, almost all of it is unclassified.
Uhm-hmm. Well now? But, I mean…
Well, once it, once, once the idea that compression wasn’t secret came, was, happened and that the radiation implosion, the Ulam-Teller idea wasn’t classified anymore. That’s sort of it. The lasers have never been classified. So, now the only time you might get, you get into some classification interests I think is that as you probably know, because it’s in their environmental impact statement that’s that thick I think, but it’s on disks, CDs, they’re planning to use weapons materials in the, they’re going to, they’re planning to use lithium deuteride, lithium, plutonium, uranium, thorium. They won’t tell you exactly why they’re going to be doing it either. So, there is some classification there. And, but that, there’s no secret that they’re planning to do that. They have to, they have to fess that up in an environmental report because there’s a new hazardous material going to be in the system. So, if you ask them, “Well, what’s all that about?” one of the things they can tell you that is not classified is that they’re going to use the neutrons from the fission explosion to do more accurate measurements of what happens when neutrons interact with lithium, deuterium, and lithium and plutonium, and thorium, and things like that. You get better cross sections and you make, find out some of the properties of these materials by highly compressing them and seeing what their equation of state is. And there’s physics things they can, physics things have the physical properties of these special nuclear materials as they’re called, although tritium is not a special nuclear material, but these others are. It’s just physics. And they’re going to, and what they’re going to do as far as — see, I’ve accused them on a, I wrote a paper, a short note, not a paper an — I didn’t even write it. I just told the [Laugh], the told, one of the local papers that they were going to use these things, because that was not classified, and that I was speculating as to how they might be using them, which I, they haven’t told me how they’re going to be using them. So I, they published a thing with a nice picture of this and that. And, the thing is that when they start using these materials in the way that they might this thing would now look like not just a fusion capsule but it would look like a fusion capsule with a shell, a shell maybe of, a thin shell of plutonium or thorium or uranium or you name it, and it might look like a miniature H-bomb. And, I pointed out that I was on a committee in Washington. I think there was about eight of us. Chairman of the committee at that time was the head of ACDA, the Arms Control thing in the State Department [Arms Control and Disarmament Agency], and we were supposed to advise the, the, or whoever it was what was going to be classified and what wasn’t. And one of the things we said was that the things that they were doing in imploding, you know, deuterium-tritium was, were unclassified. But, if they, but we were not happy with the idea that they might be using fissile materials in, and we thought that might well be, should be classified. In fact, we said “It should be.” All, the committee agreed to that. And the, and the AEC, or I always called it the ACEC, just because it’s easier to remember, [Laugh] who sponsored this meeting. And, I wrote up the conclusions. It says right in the meeting that this was, if you put these materials in the experiments would — I don’t remember how, whether the statement was nuanced a little bit or something, I can’t remember that — anyway, you wouldn’t, you would have to classify things if you put these, these other horrible materials in. And that, that was the policy of the thing and they have never changed the policy. So I, I brought that up in a meeting they had here in the, an environmental meeting they had here, oh, it must have been three years ago now. I gave them a copy of the meeting, the minutes of the meeting, and told them I thought that it was unusual they were not classifying this as they had decreed it should be done. And, of course, I never heard from them and I haven’t pursued it at all. Anyway, that’s, they are planning to put materials in there, in the, and you’ve asked about classification. If you say, “Well, where are you going to put them?” and all that, they’ll say, “Well, we, we’re not going to tell you that but we’re, we’re, the whole, the only purpose, the only purpose is to make some physics measurements.” That’s what you’ll find out. [Laugh]
How much, I know that later in the ‘80s there was, there were some nuclear tests set up specifically to give information about break-even requirements, this is the Halite-Centurion? 
Halite-Centurion it’s called. Yes.
And, how much other back and forth was there between nuclear testing and the idea of this sort of inertial confinement fusion earlier on?
Oh, earlier? Well, there was a program earlier. It was a classified program but it was somewhat similar to the thing they did later, much earlier, and that has never been declassified as far as I know. In fact, it’s hardly ever even mentioned at the lab. I asked, when I was writing this thing for the, you know, this, the early days at Livermore, I asked, I asked, I wasn’t planning to say anything about this program but after I’d written my little piece I thought, “Well, maybe I should, because this really is early and relevant.” And I asked Nuckolls. I said, I had already written my stuff and sent it in but he was still working on his contribution and so I, I said, “Are you planning to say anything about the X Program?” And, and he thought about it. He said, he knew, he remembered it and all this, but I guess he, he was sort of interested in it and I guess he was sort of hoping I would say something about it. [Laugh] I was hoping he’d say something about it, and neither of us did. And it, and it’s, that program, so far as I know, is still classified so I can’t tell you about it. But, there was a program very much like the Halite-Centurion that was done for just that purpose, to find out how small an amount of DT you could set off with the methods that we were going to use, or the methods, how much you could, how small an amount — what it would take, I guess, to set off a small amount. And…
Is the, is the code name classified too? Or…
I don’t know.
Because, I could file a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] on just records, if…
Yeah. I could ask that question of somebody, —
— in Classification.
Well, it’s not a big deal.
That’s the easiest thing to do.
Right. Not a big deal.
I doubt that the name of it would be classified but I’ll, I, I have to clear that with the powers that be. I think they’ll say “Yes, you can, the name is not classified,” but they may be sensitive about that. I just don’t know.
It’s hard for me to tell after all these years what they [Laugh] will be and won’t be.
And is this, is this like ‘60s and ‘70s? Or…
Well, now you’re asking me the question that [Laugh] I’m worst at.
Because Halite-Centurion is like ‘87, I think.
No, it was well before that.
And, I’d have to, I’d have to look it up. It was, it was… well I’ll, I, I’m guessing, I can’t even really give you a good enough guess. I can look at it. I mean, I’m sure the date of it isn’t, isn’t classified at all. So, if I knew it I could tell you. But, I’d have to look that up.
What do you think, why do you think it’s still, they still want to — I mean, if Halite-Centurion is, I mean, again it’s probably not super declassified but you can look that up, you know. People have written about little bits of it. Nuckolls did in his…
Well, they, they’re pretty — you see, what happened on that was that I wrote a paper, an unclassified paper, on the scaling of fusion, fusion systems, what changes when you make them bigger or smaller, and it was just a short thing. It’s nothing new. Any competent physicist could do the same thing, but I thought it would be worthwhile to write it down, and I thought I’d publish it if I had an example that I could use in, where experiments had been done. So, I went to the Halite-Centurion crowd and the Classification people too, and I said they had results on, from their Halite-Centurion experiments as to how much material they were using in various experiments and what kind of success they had with various experiments. And I said, without giving, telling anybody what the particular design was in any detail, I could, what I was interested in doing is showing how, what, what you would expect an experiment at laboratory scale to be on the basis of experiments that were done on a larger scale at, in the Halite-Centurion thing? And, I could use this, my, as an excuse for explaining to people the, and showing a derivation of the results of this scaling relations that are very straightforward, but useful, important. And so, we tried to get just anything declassified so I could use it for this purpose and we didn’t, we weren’t going to tell them anything that would tell them really anything significant that would be of use to any nuclear weapons curious person, and there was no doubt that we could do that and also illustrate this scaling thing. So, we went to the Classification people at the lab and they said that they would, that this would, that they would get in touch with Classification in Washington and they did. And the, the, we made a real substantial try to get this done. The first time around we were, we were, well no not the first time but at some time in the beginning of it we, we said, “Well, what’s the hold up?” And, we were told, “Number one, in order to get this stuff, even the stuff you want declassified we’d have to get an okay from the Defense Department, from the — I think it was also from the Intelligence people. Yes. And, a guy that was in the State Department was another guy they’d have to — Pickering was his name — he’d have to sign off on it. And we’d also, it was the hardest thing of all they said, was we’d have to get permission from the British before we could do what you’re asking. So, I thought, “Jesus Christ, [Laugh] that’s pretty nasty.” And so, we could see that we were up against a particularly sticky wicket there, [Laugh] because they weren’t going to go to the British over something like this. So that, and we believed what they said, that I’m not, they weren’t just putting up a smoke screen. They were quite clear that they would have to get clearance from these other four parts of the government. So, we gave up on that and so then we said, “Okay, there’s a, there’s a group of people, scientists from Livermore and Los Alamos on the, on a sort of classification committee of theirs that meets once a year, either at Livermore or at Los Alamos, and scientists at either laboratory can make proposals to them that, about “Why not declassify something that they proposed?” So, I thought, “Well hell, these scientists are certainly are, know enough so they won’t oppose us.” And, of course, they could be overruled by Washington, but we thought, “Well, let’s see what we can get in, in this area, where at least we’re dealing with scientists and not politicians in Washington. But, they turned us down. they said, “Well, no, we don’t want to declassify that now but we’ll, we’ll think it over or something.” Well anyway, this, this went on for I think three or four years and there was a guy working on this with me, working on getting it declassified because he was, his name was Roy Johnson and he used to be, I think, in charge of the KMS Fusion people at one time. But he worked for Livermore for years. But, he also acted as sort of a laser fusion liaison with our Classification Division, because he knew about that and I guess he was willing to act as their sort of representative. And, he was interested in getting this declassified too and he said, “Yeah,” and he, he talked to the head of Classification in Washington and also presented a thing in writing, before the, this scientific committee. And, at one point he thought they were going to go for it but they never did. So, there’s where you are. Halite-Centurion. Even for my what I consider innocuous purpose was turned down. So, there is some classification. And, you’d say, “Okay, why, why would they be reluctant to give you information of even a sort of rudimentary kind about Halite-Centurion, at least of the kind I wanted? Why wouldn’t they be willing to do that? And, I think that they were afraid, particularly with the scaling concepts being applied that people might conclude that, in fact I might have concluded – I have to think about it – but I might have concluded that the results of, if you scaled it properly the results of Halite-Centurion to the things they were proposing for NIF [National Ignition Facility] there was a strong possibility that the same thing, but at a different scale that worked in Halite-Centurion, would not work in the NIF. That would have been one of the conclusions. I didn’t say it wouldn’t work but it, you couldn’t use that to say that it would work. It might not. Because of the scaling it’s, the scaling shows that it’s more difficult — everybody should know this — to take something that’s bigger and get it to go off if it’s smaller. But this put it, put it in solid mathematics, you see, and how much and so forth, what counts and what doesn’t. And, that would have been the point of the paper. But, they didn’t want someone saying, I think, that even that these scaling laws indicated that there was a, that just the scaling differences alone between what was done there and what was done meant that, something that worked at the Halite-Centurion scale would not necessarily work at the NIF scale. They didn’t want that to be said. And, I think that was it.
That’s — I mean, that’s — so it’s, it’s, I don’t like to use this term for this sort of thing but it’s a kind of “political” reason?
A fear that it’ll shoot down a program?
I can see — yes, and I didn’t think the scientists in the, in the scientific community, I could see why Washington’s a different story. But, I could see why the scientists, I thought the scientists — but, of course, you see … I think, I think the, if you, if you take the scientist’s side, let’s say, you’d say, “Well, why did the scientists think this?” and give them credit for at least being pretty reasonable people, I think what they might say is that, “Sure, if all we were doing was calling, putting this in a scientific paper that would not be quoted by people with a political ax to grind one way or the other,” and there were some in our, “Fine.” But, if some people who have opposed this program consistently from the word “go,” read this paper they will say, “Ah hah. See? Even Kidder says,” [Laugh] — so I think that’s, you know, that’s I think that’s probably the reason. And, I must say that there’s certainly room for reason to believe that some adverse conclusions as a — I mean, the scientific fact is what I say it is, but, but not all the people that are going to read it are going to read it that way. I’m saying that it doesn’t prove something but it doesn’t disprove something, but they’re not going to, they’re only —
— they’re going to say, “Hey. Don’t believe this is going to work just because that did.” They’ll put it in that kind of…
Well, and they have used, I think, in some of these things I’ve read, they’ve used the Halite-Centurion as saying, “We understand what the problem is now and we can do it.” I mean, I’ve seen that in some DoE [Department of Energy] thing.
Well, they do understand a lot more of the result of the Halite, but I won’t say all of it was good. [Laugh]
Right. Right. And that’s the spin they don’t want to come out of it.
That’s the spin they don’t want.
I have one other question, just to go back to something else that — in the Nuckolls paper in that volume, he has this sentence that he doesn’t explain and I thought it might be referenced to something else he mentioned. But, he says, “Kidder did not support Brueckner’s proposal that the AEC explore commercial power applications of laser fusion.” And, I think this must have been in ‘74, ‘72, or something like that, maybe earlier? But…
Yes. That’s, that’s basically true. It was, anyway. So, you see, what my, what my bias has been and is still to a certain extent, is that the best use of laser fusion in terms of technology is not to produce pure fusion energy but to use the neutrons to produce fissile material.
Like the, like the old MTA [Materials Testing Accelerator] plan at Livermore, the original…
Well, here it’s much better than neutrons, you see are going, going to go out into a lithium blanket with lithium-6 in it and that’s going to make more neutrons and make more energy and so that the requirements on the laser are much reduced because you can use an awful lot of fission power that you’re, can’t help generating, to run the laser with. So, it makes the whole problem simpler. In fact, I remember years ago I was in Moscow and I was talking to [Lev] Artsimovich over there. He was the head of their Tokamak program, a very bright physicist. And, I asked him, I said, “You know, it’s my impression that it, the, if you’ve got a neutron you don’t want to use it for making heat for god’s sake, you want to use it for making a nuclear reaction which makes instead of fourteen million electron volts two hundred. Isn’t that right? And you get your, you can also generate your tritium back again to use in your thing from the Li-6 neutron capture, right?” “Oh,” he said, “obviously. That’s exactly what it’ll be used for and should.” Well, there’s a, I, he didn’t, I didn’t see a paper he’d written on that because I couldn’t have read it anyway. But, he probably did. He was very clear on that. No question about it. He was the head of their program. Russians were not nearly as worried about it, because they had, they didn’t, they had, in the Soviet time they had control [Laugh] of their politics with a vengeance. So, anyway, that’s what Artsimovich told me and I said “Yeah. That’s sort of obvious.” He said, “Sure.” And so, then I remember that Bethe got into the thing and he wrote an article for Physics Today, a beautiful article, and he had all kind of reasons for saying that was the way to go. He said, “One thing, in terms of nuclear proliferation, instead of having all this fissile material, you know, generated by the reactors you can get your fissile material, for reactor grade, generated way the hell out in some island with 108 battleships around it and a ten-mile high electric fence and everything else, it’s all in one place.” And, he said “You can use that as one example,” and then, of course, the physics is absolutely clear. And we did, we did a lot of calculations at Livermore. I didn’t do them but there was a fellow that did here, on using the fusion to, for just this purpose, use either a lithium, use a lithium blanket and he, he said, “in a thorium-based reactor you, that works even better than plutonium,” so the Indians would be interested.” Thorium is a marvelous driver for that, and I forget what the ratio was between what you’ve got for your money with the hybrid reactor as opposed to the pure fusion reactor. It was enormous. But the, see the, the, nobody wants to talk about that brute. If you ask these guys from the World Energy thing that Bob Burke and his bunch, they, they, “Oh, don’t talk about that. We’re going to make pure fusion work and we’re going to make it work commercially, and we don’t want any connection with fuel breeding or anything of that kind.” Because, but with that in mind, you see, what I, my thinking was and still sort of is, is the first thing you have to do is prove that you can’t use nuclear power, just what we ordinary, you know, you can make safer reactors and hopefully you can figure out how to get rid of the waste. The French have, produce eighty-five percent, now, of their electricity that way. I’m not sure how, how good boys they are about getting rid of their waste in a good way, but anyway things are working.
Oh, here’s my wife. I’ve got to, I’ve got to give up for a while because she, she needs help with the groceries.
I wanted to just ask; shift gears a little bit and talk about the Progressive trial. I know that you were, you have that correspondence back and forth between you and Hans Bethe, which is online, and it’s really fascinating to read, and you write about it a little bit in, in that piece you gave me, that talk you gave at the Kennedy School. And, the sort of different philosophies of, you know, you sort of have seen the whole field and see all the little tiny pieces that have been let out and how you could easily assemble them into a whole if that was your goal, and Bethe says that it’s the assembling to him that’s important.
Right. Yeah. That, that’s the key really that is sort of the eye opener for everybody is, I think, is that if you, it’s, it’s what in the vernacular now is “connecting the dots.” If all you got is a bunch of disconnected facts and dots you don’t have much, but if you bring them together and connect them, you see, in one place, you connect the dots, and “you” meaning a group of scientists. See we, Bethe and I agreed that, well first of all we weren’t talking about terrorists. We were talking about nations and that we, we were talking about the H-Bomb design committee or whatever we called it of Nation X to make sure everybody understands this isn’t some brilliant single guy. This is a group of accomplished scientists in the necessary fields with a, a very good Google behind them. [Laugh] They didn’t have it then, but same idea. And, that’s a different story.
Well and how did you get into the position to have this back and forth with Bethe? I mean, were you asked to review it or did you…
Well no. The, what happened was that one of — see, I was filing affidavits – and, you might be interested in that. I’ve got a box full that high of affidavits. Oh, they’re fascinating.
I’d be real interested.
Anyway I, I was, I was firing off affidavits on behalf of the defendants and Bethe was the most scientifically distinguished person on the side of the plaintiffs. And he, but Bethe is the one, is amazing, is an amazing, he was an amazing man in the sense that he was almost spherically nice in every way. He knew, he knew more about physics and was more interested in it than, than, broadly. I mean, he, he works in all kind of areas and did an enormous amount of really wonderful work. But, as a person he’s the kindest nicest person you can ever think of. He’s just, I mean, he makes, he’s the opposite of Edward Teller.
[Laugh] Excuse me.
Red, what do you want to do? Do you want to put some jeans on and go down to the Panda for a nice lunch or do you want me to — I can do a sandwich here?
Well, I leave it up to Alex. What would, you can, you can come back and talk — where are you located now?
Oh, I’m up in Berkeley.
Okay. You’re at Berkeley. So, I’m, I want to get dressed.
And, I want to have lunch. You could have lunch here with us, if you want?
I’d be fine with that. I’m only thinking that we would maybe talk another twenty-five minutes or so, at most.
And we don’t have to — we could do it after eating too. It doesn’t, there’s no time constraint or anything.
Well, you know, we’re not going to have anything particularly fancy for lunch.
Just make a sandwich then, here?
I am a big fan of sandwiches. [Laugh]
Yeah. That would be wonderful, Marsha.
And, the bread is fresh.
We could have, we’ll have lunch together. I’ll get dressed while you’re making lunch, and Treasure can bark at Alex. [Laughter]
Okay. That sounds great. [Laughter]
Well, she didn’t get her cookie.
Oh. [Talking to Treasure] You didn’t get your cookie?
Oh, my dear. [Laugh]
She’s going to sulk. She probably won’t eat it. [Treasure barking]
Okay. I’m going to get dressed.
Okay. Great. [recording stops and restarts] Well I just, again, so how did you, how did you get started writing the affidavits for the Progressive Case? I mean, why you?
Well, yeah, well that’s — I tell you what I should do, there’s a, let me get, there’s a, well you probably know about this. There’s two books that if anybody’s interested in the Progressive case probably should know about. One is the one written by [Howard] Morland himself.
Right. The Secret That Exploded?
Yes. And then the other one is the one written by…
Is it Volpi?
Is this de Volpi?
Right. And that, that sort of, the Volpi one explains how I sort of got involved. Basically, what happened was that they, the editor was Sam Day [Jr.] at the time the Progressive magazine came out to Livermore, not to see me particularly, but I don’t think he came, knew about me or anything, but anyway he came out to have some people, anybody at Livermore who was willing, to read the article that was being kept off from being printed. To read it and, as he put it to me, “And just make up your own mind whether you think this will disclose important secrets of the hydrogen bomb or not. And, I would appreciate it if you would, again if you wished, to write an affidavit. And if you want to write an affidavit for or against the Progressive that’s it, that’s your decision.” He was very honest about it and did not try to, you know, find out really which side you’d be on. But he, he said, “It’s up to you. We’d like you, you know, you know about these things and we’d like your opinion.” And so, I thought, “Well, that’s fair enough.” So, I said, “Well, I’ll read it, certainly, carefully, and I’ll, I’ll give you my views, and I’ll give them to you in the form of an affidavit.” And so, I went, I went, we were in the entry office there at Livermore and a there were a bunch of guards around, and so anyway, [Laughter] anyway…
No, now Treasure you can’t have any of this. [Laugh] [Treasure barking] Excuse me.
Thank you. Thank you.
That’s looks like a bowl like she might be eating from. So anyway, that’s what Day told me and so I took the paper and read it and I decided it didn’t seem to me there was anything here that was very significant at all. And I, so I told him that and I said, “I’d be happy to put this in two affidavits. One classified, so that I could tell the experts exactly why it was not a problem, and an unclassified one for everybody else.” And, he said, “Fine. Delighted.” So I, that’s how I got into it. He just asked me and I decided it seemed to me that this article wasn’t going to just say anything significant to a person who wanted to build something, and so I wrote it out. And, at one point early on there were two people that were writing affidavits, two scientists on the Progressive, opponents of the Progressive. These were the plaintiffs, and they were both scientists, and I think both of them were in Washington at that time. I’m not sure. Both of them had been weapons scientists at Livermore. I knew both of them very well. And they had taken up the, the side of the Progressive, I mean the government, because they were working for the government. And, I think one of them, at least, was in Washington then, but they had been both of them at Livermore. I knew them both. And so, they wrote an affidavit saying why they thought this should be classified, and I wrote more than one. But, the one I’m referring to is one where they referred to something in it specifically about the design of the, or, no. Well anyway, I forget what it was exactly they said, but what I said was that there, I said it, and I think this is one of the affidavits — well, I’ve got all the affidavits. You can see them and take them away. But anyway, I said that, the sentence I remember clearly is that, “There was no nuclear, no hydrogen weapon in the, in the inventory of the United States which operated in the manner indicated by the Progressive article. None whatever. None like that.” That was one of the statements I made, which of course was true. And so, Bethe, that was sort of a technical statement and Bethe knew a lot about nuclear weapons, of course, and he, he wrote me a letter because he was “curious” he said, it’s in one of his letters, “What was it specifically in the statement made by whoever it was,” these two guys, [William] Grayson was one of them and [Jack] Rosengren was the other, , “what was it that you, what was it about their affidavit that you say, said was not true and that no weapon in the stockpile had any, used this principle?” or whatever. Not “principle,” but whatever it was I said. He wanted to know specifically what it was because it was in an unclassified affidavit I guess. No, it wasn’t. Well, maybe it was. I don’t know. Anyway, he, he could see the classified stuff, so it was in the classified affidavit. And so, I told him what it was and that’s how our, that’s why he was interested in contacting me. He was curious. He knew I was a nuclear weapons guy and he was curious as to, because he’d read the Rosengren affidavit and he hadn’t concluded there was any such thing. I mean, after all Rosengren was a skilled weapons scientist and so was Bethe. And, I pointed it out that there was something for sure and I told him exactly what it was, and that was that. I mean he, that satisfied him. But then he got more interested in my arguments and his arguments on a more general basis, whether it’s good or bad to do this. That’s how the letters got started and how they continued.
And, I found it interesting also that, do you think that in particular your work on inertial confinement fusion gave you a perspective on what was available in the open literature that might not have been available to somebody whose only work was design of the actual weapons themselves?
No. That was the whole point, you see. That’s what I said in that thing that I gave that paper I gave at, in, at the law school in New York. Yeah. That’s, that says, it starts right out “Well, if I think, the international inertial confinement fusion program and then it points out that this is the tipoff if any was needed.”
And Nuckolls, when I, I talked to him on the phone briefly said that, that he was able to himself use the Progressive case as a way of getting more things declassified for ICF. And, I mean, do you, did you get the feeling that, that the ICF people in particular were interested in getting this information declassified for their own work? Or…
Oh certainly. I mean, I, I was, you know that’s, that was the field that I went into completely. I, I got out of the nuclear weapons field, except as an advisor, completely and was totally immersed in this and I wanted to be able to publish stuff, not on weapons but on papers on inertial fusion. And, I subsequently did publish quite a few. But the, I couldn’t do that, you see, and so I was very anxious to make sure that the inertial confusion, [Laughter] fusion was as unclassified as it could be made. Yes, I had a big stake in that.
And, do you feel that it was, I mean, other, was that a general, I mean could, would you, would you, is that, do you think that’s generalizable that the other ICF people would probably have also wanted it, had a stake in it in that sense and felt that was important? Or, in the sort of…
You mean the magnetic fusion people?
No. No. No. I mean, do you, do you feel that this, that your sentiment and your feeling of the stake in Morland’s sort of success was, was common to other ICF researchers as well?
Oh, I’m sure. Yes. No. Every…
It’s kind of an interesting…
Anybody who was trying, who was in an unclassified program, which is mostly what ICF was once we got over these initial bumps, certainly all the laser part of it was unclassified and most of the calculational part of it was unclassified. So, and all, all of us working in that field would, would, would be unhappy to be, have stuff we felt was crazy. I mean, people knew all about nuclear weapons and knew what, knew what was important and what wasn’t, like me, it was crystal clear that this wasn’t going to really help anybody. And, but it hindered us for no good reason. So I’ve, that’s why the Progressive case was once something that first I was very happy to [Laugh] take the position I did, not only because I felt that Progressive was being unfair — well, that was the first time in history that prior restraint, you know, situation. And, I felt that, that the government was simply in the wrong in what they were saying, and I set out to show it, and did.
Is, so Morland’s whole thing was kind of a convenient way to, you know, it’d be easier for him — it seems almost like it’d be easier for Morland, who’s also this outsider type, to sort of win this kind of thing than it would be to sort of push for the, the declassification from the inside?
Yeah. That’s, that’s a real interesting sort of dynamic there.
If it hadn’t been for Morland I don’t think the, the Teller-Ulam principle would have been disclosed for a long time.
And, that aside and your own ICF stuff aside, what do you think about Morland’s sort of goals and methods? You know, his sort of using this as a way of sort of attacking sort of centralized executive secrecy and things like that, what he sees as excessive secrecy?
I think he’s, he’s onto something. I mean the, the, [Laugh] I mean the guy, he’s a very, to me he’s a very intelligent person. He’s a smart guy. And, he’s, his, his principles, I think, are sound. I mean, he’s against unnecessary secrecy and boy our, our government and most governments are overloaded with it. And so, I mean, he, he’s, he’s not bashful. I mean, he makes, goes so far as to make good models of hydrogen [Laugh] bombs and things, and presents them for his — but, I mean that’s, he’s perfectly within the, within the realm of protest, if you will, about excessive secrecy. And I, so I, you know he used to send these things out all the time on — he has a, had a mailing list and every so often I’d get something on the Internet, and just recently he sent me the last, what he claimed to be the last of his contributions, and sort of a farewell contribution, and then I think just recently he sent another one [Laugh] saying that, “Wait a minute.”
Well, I had written him back right after — I’m on the list now too. I got in contact with him a couple of years ago and, yeah, he had written the farewell one and I wrote back and it said, “This isn’t going to be. I bet you five dollars that you can’t resist, you know, sending this out.” And then the second, the one he just sent he said, “Well, you know, Alex Wellerstein joked that he thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it and I guess he was right.” [Laugh]
He seems like the sort of person who, who needs to be broadcasting, you know?
Yes. Yeah. Yeah. No, he’s, he’s a fine fellow, I think, and he’s a smart, smart guy. And I, I believe him that he, he, what he figured out. I mean sure, he must have gotten, by virtue of the so-called “connecting the dots,” he talked to a lot of scientists who are in the know and he probably connected a few dots from things that he got out of them. But, it was a harmless thing. I mean nobody, I mean events have shown that this has not [Laugh] been a problem. And it was so, so interesting because we had three people in the U.S. cabinet filing affidavits, to say nothing of one of the top scientists in the world, Hans Bethe. So I felt I, I had a pretty good, pretty good opposition. [Laughter]
Yeah. Yeah. Well it’s, it’s obviously a very, I mean it’s been, as you know it’s been a very controversial case, even amongst the, Morland’s fellow activists who say that, you know, they just didn’t see how — well it was kind of actually, Herb York said something similar. I asked him about this and he said, “Well, I don’t think it advances Morland’s stated goals that well, but I don’t think it does any harm either.”
Well, that was, that was my point.
If it doesn’t, that was the whole argument that the government was making is that it would not only do harm but it would do inestimable damage, you know. That was the criterion for, that you had to meet in order to justify prior restraint was a really, really stringent thing. So, it wasn’t, that was the real legal issue involved here, not, not whether it might or might not have been good manners or something [Laugh] like that. So, the answer was, I thought, decisively ‘no’ and that, of course, won the day.
Did you take any flack for your affidavits?
No. Not really. I was very pleased at the lab that they, they, they never have. I’ve opposed them on a more things than, than you can count, pretty much. But, they’ve always, the only thing they haven’t, haven’t done, you see, I guess you’d say the only thing they have done is that for a person that’s done so many things as I have you might think that I’d be running the lab or something. And, of course, I never even got into the associate director level and the people that did run the lab got the impression that I was not what might be termed “a game player,” I mean a person — not a “game player” but a…
Like a “team player”?
A team player, yes. Yeah. And, of course, I proved that so many times that [Laugh] it, that it wasn’t even funny.
That’s because you’re a pessimist? [Laugh]
So, they never asked me. I was at, I was the head of a, my zenith was when Johnny Foster was the head of the lab, because I used to drive into — he saw me for an hour every week. And he, I drove into the lab, into Berkeley with him frequently, in his convertible and he took me with him just so he could talk to me on, on the way in and the way out. So he was, he was my friend and supporter, and of course he left and then the guy, the other important guy I had was Ted Merkel and he died early of colon cancer, colon cancer. Anyway, they never, I got to be a leader of a small division but at the time I still had my friends around. [Laugh] I never got any higher than that. And, of course, Teller, I, he and I got along fairly well on scientific matters all right, but he, he, it was obvious that I was not his kind of a person. He wanted to devote himself to politics and stop doing science, which he did, pretty much, almost entirely. But, he was hoping to have people under him who were idea people, and who were not, not computer calculating type of people at all. And so, Lowell Wood was wonderful. Wood had an idea every second. Sterling Colgate was another one, although Teller told me, he said, “I’m using you to check Colgate’s stuff to see what, you know, he, he often is mistaken.” And so, that’s what he used to do. He’d give me things Colgate would propose and almost always I’d say, “Well, Edward, this is, you know, he’s not got this right. This isn’t it.” But, he did that. So, he wanted me around for being a pessimist. [Laugh]
Well, that’s kind of…
But not an optimist.
You know, they sometimes talked during the World War II about the differences between Teller and Bethe this way, too, that Teller is this kind of fountain of ideas, who constantly wants to, you now, you know he wants to sort of jump all the way to the grand cathedrals of ideas, whereas Bethe is kind of a bricklayer. He’s, he wants to get every, the foundations right and he’s the guy who goes over all of Teller’s ideas and says, “Incorrect,” you know.
“You totally have it wrong. Classical Super won’t work.”
Well, I’m a bricklayer type, you see, that’s why Teller didn’t like — I mean, we got along okay, in terms of — well, hell, I worked for him for five years and we never raised our voices, but it was clear that he, I was a person he liked to have around. So, I remember that, I think I wrote this somewhere, yeah, in one of the things that you’ve seen where we had this meeting and he, which we, this was very technical stuff we were doing on the blackboard on these so-called three-wave interactions in plasmas that were, are very important in this whole business of light propagation in plasmas. And, we were talking about that and somebody was doing something on that on the board and he sat down and, you know, he came in and sat down and was listening and listening in for quite a while and then finally he, he stopped listening and he put his hand up and he said, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Do you mean that there is a real plasma physics in this whole process?” And, I didn’t say this, but the guy who was presenting the stuff at the board said, “Yes sir. It is.” He thought a minute and he said, “Well, it will never work.” See, on science he, he’s a funny guy. On science he was, his perception of things was very, very good and his younger work that he published was excellent, his scientific work, but he didn’t, he wanted to be in the, in the idea thing and in the politics. He didn’t want to do calculations or anything. When he saw these calculations that’s what he said. “It will never work,” and that was a very deeply perceptive comment. Because, exactly these three-wave interactions and so forth are extremely complicated interrelated with other things and make the prediction of whether something’s going to work or not very difficult right this minute. So, that’s the way the man was.
There’s also this, this quote, it’s from this early Bethe’s account of the H-Bomb history, one of his early ones from ‘51 or ‘54, or something like that, ‘52, where he says that Teller is the type of person who has, you know, ten bad ideas for every good idea and what you need are people to sit around and who can figure out which one is the good idea, [Laugh] out of a sort of fountain of ideas that come.
Well yeah. And, in our case Lowell Wood was his guy with the million bad ideas and I was the guy with the, working to find out what ideas were really sound and should be pursued by the laboratory. That was all.
Nuckolls, Nuckolls and Wood, you know, who had this, such a, who have done, did all the Montreal thing and, you now, get very high marks in this and they’re very close with Teller, right, both of them?
And they’re also the ones Roy Gould was saying that they were the ones who would come in to sell the, whatever their new money expenditure they wanted from the military guys to come out. I mean, they seem like they are real entrepreneurial types —
— and things.
And, the type who really get, move well in those military circles and things like that?
Ray, you can do the tea.
Yes. I will. Excuse me. I’m getting the drinks here.
Okay. [Talking to Treasure] Now, he’s perfectly okay Treasure. As long as one of us is here, you see, with Alex why then Treasure is calm.
Here’s tea. You need to put ice in it.
Yes. [Treasure barking]
And use the, use the ice, the ice here.
I assumed that you wanted tea, not…
Oh yeah. Tea’s fine. How about you? What do you, are you having tea?
I’ll get my own.
Okay. I’ve got another nice mug here. Good for tea. Here. Use that.
You got — yeah. All right. Good.
I’ve got two.
So, the only other thing I wanted to really touch on was, while you were working, and here I’m talking about the ‘60s and the ‘70s, well especially in the ‘70s, on laser fusion and you’re in touch with the people at KMS at times about the work they’re doing and their sort of claims, their breakthroughs they’re claiming. You’re in touch with people at Rochester? Yes. Moshe Lubin and things like that?
And, how did you find interacting with these? These are very sort of different models of — and, and you’re also in touch with, you’re a member of the Livermore team. There are sort of different models of doing business, you know. There’s the university scientists, who have their priorities. There’s the sort of in-it-for-the-sort-of-money profit people, who have their priorities, and proprietary data and things like that, and then you have the labs and theirs. And, I was just wondering, from your experience, did you, did it feel different to work with the KMS people than the Rochester people versus Los Alamos? Or…
Not, not really. I mean, let me, the people that were in charge, Moshe Lubin, I, well I liked, I think I liked him as a person, and he was a, he, I think he probably got along with me okay. So it was, when, it was fun to go see him and see what he was doing, and his — his, his group, of course, was pretty, pretty darn small. Not that ours was all that big either, but I didn’t see a whole lot of difference from a scientific point of view. We were both working on just sort of the same thing. And, and KMS Fusion — see, Lubin was, of course, connected with a university, which was not so different than UC. We were, now we’re run by a consortium with Bechtel Corporation and, and private capitalist systems like that. But, in those days he was working, he was at UC [University of California]. I was at UC, affiliated, and he was at Rochester. And I, so that, they, we were pretty much on an even keel, an even basis. We, I mean we, he did, he and Rochester wasn’t holding back anything that he knew and I wasn’t either. I mean they were — and KMS Fusion really wasn’t either, because they were being — at the time, you see, this thing was in its earlier, early enough days that they may have had high hopes about where it might go, KMS Fusion. But, they certainly didn’t have much, they had no practical results coming out of their laboratory in terms of any company product or anything. So, it was KMS, even, even KMS Fusion, which was a private company, had stockholders, they were still an academically-oriented sort of place at the time. They weren’t, you know, making millions with products out the door or anything like that. So, so it, all of those, all of us, I think, Los Alamos, of course was very cooperative, although they were very far behind where we were. I remember Keith Boyer wrote me a letter. I forget exactly when now, but he wrote me a letter saying that he, he personally hadn’t, had been in charge of the nuclear rocket program at Los Alamos. And that program had been terminated. And my, my boss, Ted Merkel, that was before Teller came in to be my boss, Ted Merkel, he’d been in charge of the nuclear ramjet that we developed at Livermore, called Pluto. I think the thing at Los Alamos was the Rover Program. And, Boyer, we didn’t know each other too well but we were friends. And so, he wrote me a letter and said his rocket program was over and he was sort of looking around for things to do, and he was thinking that maybe that Los Alamos ought to have a laser program, and “What did I think about that?” And so, I wrote him back and I said, “Yeah. I think it’s a grand idea.” And, I don’t remember what else I said. But anyway, that’s what happened. Then, then he was the head of the laser program for quite a long time and they, they started out building a small glass system like we did at Livermore. And, but they were pretty far behind us. I mean we, we’d been going, we’d been using that kind of a system and so forth. So then, they, the next, what happened was that the next laser that seemed interesting was the carbon dioxide laser and it was interesting because it was a machine that could be pulsed, you see. So it, and it could be cooled so that if it did work you could use it for possibly a actually power production sort of thing with continuous operation. And so, Los Alamos had, had decided, “Well, Livermore has sort of gotten ahead of us on the glass program so let’s, let’s us work on the CO2. And, they built a very big CO2 system finally, and that was, well Boyer was in charge. And, the design and operation of the laser, I think, worked, worked very well. It was not the fault of the laser that they built, but it was the fault of the wave length of the light. It, when you absorb that long wavelength light at high intensities in a plasma you generate very fast hot electrons, which in turn are penetrating radiation and they will preheat the thing you’re trying to compress, and it gets hot and you can’t compress it. So, getting rid of the hot electrons was, it was one of the defects of CO2. And, the other was that the long wavelength light doesn’t couple very well with plasmas, quite apart from the hot electron problem. So I pointed both of those things out, I think, in a paper, and said that, [Laugh] in the papers I wrote. When I assumed a laser wavelength I assumed one in the blue, which turned out to be what we’ve got now in the, in the NIF. I always pick the, four-times the natural wavelength because that’s the one that interacted much more favorably with plasmas and also it didn’t produce hot electrons. So, I was right on that from the word “go” also. But, the CO2 laser itself was operated, I think, well. So anyway, that’s what, what happened, and so we got along, I thought. I was a good friend of Boyer’s. We were, whenever I went to Los Alamos I always went to see him and we had dinner together, usually. And, and but his, his laser program folded up because of the CO2, and then the HF [hydrogen fluoride] laser, and then Los Alamos simply got out of the laser, laser business.
Another question I had was about, you know, you’re working on a topic here that had different levels of declassification at different times, you know. In the ‘60s you’re not really supposed to say much of anything about it. By the early ‘70s, after the, you know, the Basov and the Nuckolls paper, and things like that, you can talk about compression but you can’t talk about hohlraums. In the ‘80s you can talk about hohlraums then. But, and you, you did publish in open literature a lot, especially on the laser work and things like this?
Yeah. None of the laser stuff. I don’t think any of the laser work was classified. The only laser stuff I got involved with which was classified was the application to laser enrichment. Because I, again, I started that enrichment program, not by myself of course, but I was, I think, more than instrumental in it because I, I was asked about the possibilities of lasers for this use. And, I’d already…
Is this before the radio optic or after, Radioptics? Or…
This, oh this was way after the Radioptics. Yeah. This, this, yeah I would, I was in England and I got a TWX from the lab saying they, there was going to be this big meeting in Washington about possible uses of, of lasers for isotope enrichment. And I had, with Teller. Teller and I had thought about some schemes for doing this. Anyway, the, I was, they said, “This meeting is already scheduled. It’s going to be held in Germantown and Livermore should have, if possible, some kind of a proposal, because Los Alamos is, has, is going to have a proposal for laser enrichment.” And so I, I had about three weeks, I think, so I thought about it and I decided that the Los Alamos proposal was a good one but, in principle, but in practice they, it wasn’t because they didn’t have a suitable laser capability to try it out, or could make one easily. Whereas, the, instead of exciting HF molecules, which is, well it, what they were, they weren’t, theirs was an HF laser. Theirs was what’s called a gas-dynamic laser and they didn’t have a laser at the right wavelength, you see, to start this process. And, on the other hand if you used the excitation of atomic uranium instead of HF-6 molecular uranium, UF6, I’m sorry, you had lasers that were available right now. In fact, we had them right at Livermore. I had people working on tunable dilasers. And so, their, their proposal was one that I felt might beat ours in the long run, but they certainly wouldn’t beat us in the short run. And so, I proposed that they do theirs and we do ours. And so we, the program was started. That meeting in Washington was in November. I remember, November ‘72. And, the meeting, meaning by the meeting I mean the one in Germantown that was a big meeting about this. And fortunately, the commissioner that was in charge of isotope enrichment at that time attended the meeting. And, I gave a, my presentation and, on the atomic vapor which is called now AVLIS, Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation, on the AVLIS process. I gave mine and Los Alamos gave theirs on the gas-dynamic laser enrichment scheme, molecular. And — but — and I pointed out, I had some Viewgraphs and I said that, this scheme that I was proposing, the AVLIS scheme “appeared to be far superior to gas, gaseous diffusion as a method of separating, the method of enriching uranium. And, and if, it might well even be superior to the use of gas centrifuges.” I said, “On that latter point I’m not sure that it is, would be. I think it could possibly be, certainly. But no question it’s way ahead of gaseous diffusion,” which is of course what they were busy, busy doing at, in the U.S. So anyway, fortunately this commissioner was there and he, of course, had, had the say-so about turning programs on and off, and money, and so forth. And so, three months after I gave that talk Livermore had a program on the AVLIS laser. And, I, I discovered, of course, very quickly that I hadn’t invented this, this method. I thought that I, I thought it up myself. But, I hadn’t invented it because people in Israel had, a fellow in Israel, I forget his name now, but I met him in Israel, he had thought of this eighteen months before I did. And, Avco, Avco at their Everett labs up in, you know, near, near Boston, they also had thought of this thing and in turn, indeed somebody in France had come up with the atomic method. So, I was the fourth guy to figure that out. [Laughter] But, I think I was the one that got the program going in Livermore.
I was going to say, are you the first in Livermore? That’s what matters, right? [Laughter]
Yeah. That’s right. So it — yeah. Because, this fellow, who I forget his name now, this commissioner, he had been the CEO of Oak Ridge, which was running gaseous diffusion, you see. And, and he was the commissioner in charge of this stuff, all the laser enrichment being done by the, by the Atomic, what I call the Atomic Energy Commission. So, he was Mister Big on that and he was there. And, I remember there, one of the fellows, when — what was it — I, oh, there had been a, this was interesting. There had been a paper given. This was in November. But, in the preceding summer, I think it was in June or July, maybe August, there had been a blue-ribbon panel on, “Could lasers be used for…” Or, I guess it was, maybe it was not just lasers, but what about new methods of enriching uranium. There had been several proposed, such as getting it out of the sea, for one thing, getting uranium, at least, out of the sea and doing things with it. But anyway, it was a blue-ribbon panel because Harold Urey was on it and he was a Nobel Prize winner who discovered, I guess, how to separate deuterium from, from, or heavy water from regular water. And, and another guy was Manson Benedict, and he was in charge of the program for gaseous diffusion. I don’t know whether he invented it but he was certainly in charge of it. So, Urey and Benedict, and I forget there’s a couple other heavyweights, and they, in their blue-ribbon report, had reviewed a number of possibilities. And one that they also considered was the possible use of lasers. And the, I remember the conclusion that they arrived at was that, “It doesn’t appear to us at the present time that lasers would be capable of, a practical enrichment method, but it is an interesting approach and should be followed,” they said. So when, when I was in this meeting in Washington I asked, I said, “Is there any,” this was, this was a trick. I said, “Is there anyone in the audience, any member of that Commission, the Blue Ribbon thing that wrote that commission, present in the audience?” There’s a big mob there. A lot of people, some from Oak Ridge and some from other places. And, as I expected, no there wasn’t, because see I was going to challenge him. But I, it had the right effect, because then when I found out no one was there I said, “Well,” and then I quoted what the report had said about the use of lasers. And, I said, “The Blue Ribbon Commission seemed somewhat cautious about that possibility of using lasers, but,” I said, “we’ve got one right here. I’ve got one that I can, I’m going to describe to you.” And then I said, “that will beat the socks off of gaseous diffusion,” which was this commissioner’s business. [Laugh] And, a lot of people from Oak Ridge were in the audience. They were, they were there, and I said, “That this, and would possibly be superior to the use of the gas centrifuge.” And, then I said, since I couldn’t find anybody that had been on the panel, I said — there was a, there were two people that had written papers, pointing out that there was a fundamental problem with separating uranium with lasers and it had to do with what were called “hot bands.” And what that means is that if you take a highly symmetrical molecule, this was a molecular approach, you take a highly symmetrical molecule like UF6 and you look at the absorption spectrum, the energy, the populations of the various energy levels, due to the very high symmetry it’s very, these levels are highly degenerate and that means that at low temperatures, levels, very, very high up in the, in the spectrum are, or in the energy are highly populated. Much more so than if those levels hadn’t been degenerated. And so, these generate a whole lot of extra bands, you see. They’re called the “hot bands.” So, you can’t exhort, the one you want to energize is only the one for one isotope, which doesn’t differ much except by the difference between 238 and 235. You want to excite only one of those and not both. But, the hot bands prevent you from doing that. They smear them together. And, he’d written a paper about that. And so, I, I asked if either of those two guys was in the audience and one was. He got up and he said, “Yes.” He said, well I said, “You’ve heard my talk, and I’ve read your paper, and you say that using the, this approach that you’re talking about,” which was a common one, using the molecule, molecular approach, “that it won’t work because of the hot bands.” And, and then, then I said, “You’ve now heard my talk in which we’re using an atomic method, not the molecular method at all, and would you say that this method of mine, that I’ve just described, wouldn’t work?” Because, his paper had gotten a lot of publicity and people sort of felt well this, that, this isn’t probably a good way to do things. So he, and he said just the right thing. [Laugh] He said, “No. That method is quite different and it seems to me that it might very well work.” [Laughter] And here was the guy that ran the whole show right in the audience. So, I said, “Okay. I’ve, I’ve done my job.” [Laugh] And then that went ahead and I showed a lot of Viewgraphs and I even did some economics, which probably were a bit shaky at that time, but, but not that bad. And anyway, three months later the program started at Livermore and Livermore got that job, really. And, Los Alamos didn’t. And, they had a program for a while but it faded out. And so, that’s sort of the way the isotope program began at Livermore and it was, it went ahead for, oh, a long, long time, but it was classified, you see. Because that was sort of a, well anything having to do with some way that might be good for a small country to enrich uranium that didn’t need acres of diffusion, you know, stages, or, you know, huge bunches of high-speed centrifuges or something, something they could, that was ideally suited to making a small amount of material but with a small amount of money, and something that might be concealable, they felt that wasn’t a good thing to talk about. So that the atomic vapor program at Livermore, a lot of it, at least in the early parts of it, was classified particularly. See, right in my talk I showed some Viewgraphs and after the, I must have — they asked, they asked me to — no. No. Here’s — no, that wasn’t it. What happened was that I gave the talk and showed Viewgraphs, but I didn’t, I didn’t have copies of the View graphs to hand out. So after I, after the talk was over a couple of days later I got a call from Washington saying, “You know, a lot of people wondered if, if there are copies of your Viewgraphs that you could give them?” And so, I said, “Sure. I’d be happy to do that.” So, I made copies and gave a, and the, Washington had given me the names of a whole bunch of people who were interested in these Viewgraphs. So I gave a, Washington sent out a bunch of them, but I sent out some also to people that I felt might be interesting, because none of this was classified. Well, what happened then another, about a week later I got a call from Washington again. “We have decided that the copies of the Viewgraphs that you presented in your talk in Washington are classified, [Laugh] and did you send any out? We know who we sent some to, but did you, who did you send some to? And, the reason we’re, we have to know that is we’re sending the FBI out to pick up all those copies [Laugh] and tell the recipients that they’re classified and they should hand them in to the FBI and not make copies of them.” Which of course how do they know whether anybody’s going to make a copy? And, I told them the list of people that I had sent copies of, who, people I knew personally and thought were people that would be interested, because none of it was classified. So anyway, after the, after the smoke all cleared away I called the, the Washington people and just, just curiosity I said, “Did you reach all of the people that received copies of this, these Viewgraphs that I presented?” And they said, “Well, we, yes we did. We reached all except one.” And I said, “Well, who’s that?” They said, “You sent one to a chemist, [Laugh] a Canadian chemist and we felt that we would not try to get it back from anyone who was not a U.S. citizen.” So, they never told him that it was secret, and of course I don’t know whether, I didn’t contact him. I don’t know whether he ever found out that it was or not, or what he did with his copy, but that was an exception they made. They weren’t going across national boundaries to chase after [Laugh] the copies of this report that I, these Viewgraphs that I had. So, that was a sort of a fun sideline on the, on this whole business of how the uranium enrichment thing, or at least my involvement with the enrichment program, started. And, I think it was, since the guy who counted was in this, right there in this meeting and heard these other people saying, “Yeah. This method that we wrote about, well you can’t do it. That won’t work for the reasons we say, but Kidder, this, he’s got a different way of doing it and this doesn’t apply.” So that, that all worked out very well. So then the, we started a program at Livermore and then they played a dirty trick on the other guys. What happened was that Avco, who had actually done work on this — before I even had thought of it, they had formed a consortium or a partnership for this development with, you know, the oil, oil, New Jersey Oil Company. That’s what it used to be called Standard Oil in New Jersey. I think it’s Exxon. Exxon is now Exxon Mobil. Anyway, they formed a, formed a combination with one of the oil companies and then they, and they formed a laser group that was going to be operating and produce a pilot plant in the state of Washington, and it was called Jersey Nuclear. And so, what happened was — and, I thought this was a shame because these, these guys had certainly priority over anything I had done. I wasn’t aware what they did but I, they were way ahead of me and so were, as I mentioned, I think four other outfits. So, anyway, what finally happened was that the government closed them down, Jersey Nuclear. I, I remember when, when after Jersey Nuclear was formed the guy who was in charge of it used to call me on the telephone occasionally. I mean he, his work was not to be discussed over the phone and neither was mine, but he, he called me just sort of, “How are things going,” sort of talk, and I would talk to him like that. I forget his name. But, what the government did finally is they simply closed that outfit down. I think they were making, at that time they were probably making better headway with it, they were probably ahead of us, because they were using an atomic vapor thing themselves and they, they thought of that method before, before I did, certainly. Others may have thought of it too, as I mentioned. But, so anyway the government shut them down and I felt, you know, I felt badly about that because, I mean I had nothing to do with it, but, but it seemed to me that it was so unfair that people who had actually gotten a head start on Livermore and had a reputation for working in this kind of a field that was excellent, Avco Everett Research Lab, that they would start something like this and actually plan a pilot plan. I mean they felt, they really felt they were ready to go with something. And then have the heavy-handed government just step in and say, “Stop! No more. This is, the whole enrichment stuff in the United States is going to be done by nobody outside the government,” and they were killed. That was [Arthur] Kantorovich’s, you know. He was the head of AVCO Everett. Kantorovich is a very good friend of Teller’s.
Is this Everett, Massachusetts? Or…
Right outside Boston.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s right by where we are. [Laugh]
Yeah. Right. Yeah. No, it’s the Avco Everett Research Labs.
Yeah. Well, that’s really interesting.
One of the guys that used to work for me went, in the laser program, he, when our laser program, or my laser program, was folded up in 1972 he left and went to work for Avco Everett and, in fact, he was their liaison for a while between Avco Everett Labs and Jersey Nuclear. So, [Laugh] anyway, I felt badly because here, here were people that were known to do very good work in this kind of field, because he’d done it for the Navy and on the, they were thinking of using a big pulse CO2 laser for anti-missile defense on ships. That didn’t pan out, but they did a lot of work on this laser, and good work. And, but they were just peremptorily shut down and here’s Livermore not perhaps doing as well as they had getting the chance to go ahead. And, that’s the way that worked. And, but again classification was, was probably it. This was an unclassified program. I doubt that they could have shut, shut them down. They would just be another commercial enterprise in competition. But, the classification wiped that out at Jersey Nuclear.
I find these cases of these private companies that try to do this work, which ends up either becoming classified or being classified from the beginning, maybe they don’t know about it and things like that, really fascinating, because it’s the sort of butting of the heads of different priorities and different approaches, and this idea of sort of questioning the idea, which is sort of in the Atomic Energy Act that the government has a monopoly on all of this stuff and sort of coming in and saying, “Well, maybe we can…,” you know, sometimes they’re even offering to help the government or to work under a government contract or something, and sometimes like with KMS they got, they did get some money for the government for a while to keep their research up. But, in this case they just didn’t, it didn’t pan out that way, you know. It’s an interesting…
Well, you know, speaking of classification I think one of the, one of the things that I always felt was the, a fundamentally troublesome problem and that was that, for example, when I was asked by a good many members of Congress to do this study for them on whether or not the U.S. stockpile could be maintained if there were no nuclear testing, so I did the, did the study for these people and wrote a, as I would have to, both an unclassified and a classified version of the report. And I, I, that was my “work product” as they call it. The conclusion was that if you did certain things in the maintenance of the weapons you had, you know, would, with proper perception of what might go wrong and so forth, and the equipment and so forth, then yes you could, you could maintain the stockpile that the U.S. had first, very well. And, the claim had been made by Livermore Lab and Los Alamos Lab that you couldn’t do that, that for reasons that they gave. Well anyway, one of the things — of course, I had to send in these reports. And, one of the things that happened was that one of the sponsors of my report, one of the, one of the, it had, there were several representatives and several senators, including the head of the Armed Services Committee, who were, formed this group that was requesting that I, specifically, Ray E. Kidder, do this report for them. And, they were telling that, the Livermore Lab that I should be given every and all assistance in that endeavor, and Livermore did. But, when I got all through writing the report, of course the, the real guts of the report was classified and the unclassified version – you see, what I, what I chose to do in the report is I could have even either written a classified version or a separate, entirely separate, unclassified version, or I could write a classified version and then redact it for the unclassified version. And, I liked the latter idea because I wanted the record to show that there was a hell of a lot more in the classified report than they were reading in the unclassified one and that it was important. Okay? So, I did that and they, you know, I was the boss because I had all these people in Washington in the, in the Senate and the Congress behind me, and that’s what I did. Well then, when I sent this, I finished the report and, of course it was sent, it was going to be sent to the people that sponsored it, these senators and congressmen. And, the way it works, as you probably know, is that the classified version it goes to, let’s say you’re sending it to the, to a senator, it doesn’t go to the senator directly. It goes to a vault in the Senate to which the senator has access but to which almost none of the staffers have access. So, now you’re confronted with the situation that the guy who can read the thing that counts is a busy senator who may or may not have any real comprehension of some of the details in a report of that kind. And, on the other hand there may be people on the senator’s staff and probably are, if he, he may have them on there deliberately if he’s interested in these issues, there may be people on his staff who know a lot about it. But, they can’t read it and he hasn’t got time. Now, there’s a problem right now about where, the way the system — now, that’s the way it worked when I was involved with it and I doubt that it’s changed. So, I don’t know what you do about that. I think I told you about the case where I, my report on, was way late, sent to the White House Science Advisor, and then he had never seen it and he was astounded when he, that the government, that is the Department of Energy, had never sent him a copy of this, the classified or unclassified report. He was outraged and he immediately wanted, he said, “I’m going to, I’m going to get some more copies of this thing right now and I’m going to…” he asked me to make sure that I sent him some more copies, but he was going to find out why he hadn’t gotten copies of it. As soon as something gets classified then there, then there is a compression of the, there’s a sieve that allows certain peoples to read it and many other people who would benefit, perhaps far more, from seeing it. Not that they couldn’t. This guy was the president’s Science Advisor, had top secret clearance. “But, don’t bother to send it to him. He’s busy. We won’t bother him with this.”
And his staffers aren’t going to see it?
Staffers aren’t going to see it.
You know, well normally in an organization it would seem like the guy at the top, as you’re saying with the senator, they’re busy guys. The whole point of a bureaucracy itself is to have people underneath you who do all the grunt work and then report back the important stuff.
But, if you’ve made it so only the guy at the top has access, who’s going to do the grunt work?
That’s right. Well, a funny thing happened. That was I, maybe I told you that, that when I sent this report in I sent it in and then, oh, it must have been a week or two later I got a call from senator, senator — he’s still a senator from Iowa — [Tom] Harkin. Senator Harkin called me up and he says, “Ray,” he says, “I understand you sent this report to us and we haven’t received it. What’s, what’s happened?” “Well,” I said, “Senator I didn’t send it to you. I had to send it to the people in Germantown, the Department of Energy people in Germantown first. That’s the rule that had to be because it had, the classified stuff had to go to a classified, a place that had, was proper to receive a document like this. And then it was my understanding that when they, I had to send it to them rather than to the Forrestal Building. But, when they got it then obviously they were going to send it promptly to the people who were going to receive it in the House and the Senate.” “Oh,” he said, “well.” So, then he got in touch with Germantown and he contacted, I forget the guy’s name now, but they, the big shot in Germantown who was, did receive the stuff properly from me, and who was deliberating whether he was going to send it to this Congress at all. And, [Laugh] and then of course Harkin, he hit the ceiling and so what he did, he called in some reporters and he, [Laugh] he said that, that “the Department of Energy in Germantown has the audacity to interfere with a senator’s mail.” [Laugh] That was in the, he got that, it was, he was, he did it in a very sort of nice way that he put this whole thing, and that really worked. He told me then that it wasn’t more than twenty-four hours before he had a copy [Laugh] of the stuff. But, they were deliberating whether they were even going to give it to him, is what they told, told me.
So, anyway, there’s classification is a real, real problem and we, we see that all the time. The government is, is saying, “Oh, I can’t tell you about this because it’s, it’s classified.” “Why is it classified?” “Well, that’s classified.” [Laugh] And so, and when the, when the classification mantle finally, over time, dissolves for good reason they often find out that there really wasn’t any reason for classifying this but it was a pretty embarrassing situation. [Laugh] So, that’s the sort of thing, you know, in your line of work here that makes this really important. Because, because classification, per se, is one thing but the misuse of classification, I think, is the, is the real problem that you, you run into.
One other question I had. Livermore just switched over to the Bechtel Consortium, didn’t it, just recently went into effect?
That was, what was it? It’s been now a year, a little over a year ago I think.
Did you notice any big changes in your…
Oh yes. Well, I’m, I didn’t because I’m, you know, you see me. I’m not, [Laugh] I have, I’m not much connected with the lab. I go in a half a day on Wednesdays and do my own thing. So, but, and I’m, I’ve retired. I retired in 1990. I kept working at the lab for another, oh, several, a good many years, but then I quit even doing that. So I’m, I’m now qualified as a, only as a visiting guest, with no pay, which is fine. I’m happy with that. But anyway, when Bechtel came in and, what is it, there’s, there are, I think there’s four, four different outfits. There’s…
Bechtel UC. There’s…
Is it BMX, or BWX, or something like that?
A big outfit. Yeah. Yeah. And then the Bechtel. Four of them. And, well and Bechtel, I guess is, I don’t know whether they’re, the four are co-equals. I don’t think so. Bechtel is running a lot of the stuff. And, even before this happened they were running the test site in Nevada, which is sort of dormant. But still. But, things have changed. I mean, the first, the first thing that’s happened now is that Bechtel came in and Bechtel’s practice in paying their upper management was light years away from UC’s upper management. And so, here they were going to have a management of the lab where they’d have some Bechtel employees mixed in with the lab employees in the top management positions, the director, and the associate directors. Well, it seems to be that Bechtel people were, who were going to be shoulder-to-shoulder to our associate director people were making ten times as much money. And so, the Bechtel people thought, “Well, we are not going to decrease our people by ten. [Laugh] We’re just simply increase all those guys by ten and some of their next level too.” So they, I think they ran, I think they ran up a charge of $80 million for that and which they didn’t have money for. So now, what’s happened is the budget of the, of the Livermore and Los Alamos labs has, has had to be drastically cut because of this. Two things. One is the Bechtel salaries that they gave these people. The other was, some idiot had forgotten that these operations, which were tax, operations which were tax-free for California were not [Laugh] once they changed over. That was a huge tax bill. So, the combination of the tax bill and the huge salary increases that they had for their top people, I think it was about $350 million deficit for this year. So now, then they first, then they, what they did is they decided, “Well, we’ve got to get rid of people.” So, first of all they had a, then they had a, at the beginning of when they started this they said, “We’ll get rid of people.” So, they had a voluntary thing where they offered, it was a, one of those things that they, if you were willing to retire at this time then you get a bonus of so much, of so many, maybe you’re offered six months of work or something, and they didn’t, they didn’t get enough, very many people, for that. So then they did it again, just recently, and they didn’t get enough people for that either and now they’ve got this huge budget deficit looming. So, for the first time in history of the lab out here they have an involuntary layoffs going on and people are waiting for the bad news, you see, over there, right now. So that, that’s what happens when — and, and they’re, it’s a totally different philosophy. I mean I’m working at the lab and have now for several, a good, good many years now, for free. I don’t cost them anything. I’m occupying an office which is, it’s, [Laugh] it’s one of the best offices in the lab. It’s an office on the top floor of the highest building, up on the 7th Floor and I’m the only guy in it, just about. But, it’s, you’d say, “Well, my god, what a, what a life.” I can hardly move in it. It’s being used as a place for chairs that they haven’t been able to redeploy yet or something. So, the office is not being used for me. It’s being used for — I’m making absolutely no calls on their, on their — I’m using a little bit of their computer time. That I’d have to say, but very little. My demands on, I’m a theorist. I don’t use computers. I figure it out in my head most of the time and then I use computers to make sure what I did is right. That’s about the way it works. So anyway, but I’m not at all clear that come October 1 I’ll be able to get in the lab. [Laugh]
One of the things that happened is that we, we have a lunch group, which is, there’s, there’s four of us. All four of us are, well three of the four are retirees and other ones that outside consultant that is retired also but is a consultant to the lab. The rest of the three of us are, well I’m a, well two of us are visiting guests. He’s still a consultant. And, the third one is none. He’s just a retiree. And now, we had, we, our, we can’t even meet in the lab because they’ve decided that he is not allowed to get a day pass so he can have lunch with us in the cafeteria and it, he’s, they’re, he’s in, he’s not in one of the classified sections of the lab, at all. The cafeteria’s not. It used to be open to the public. Well, they decided to close the public door and now, and he used to be able to go to the, to the Pass Office and get a day pass that he had to hand in when he went home, when he went back. Bechtel killed that. So now, if he wants to join us for meetings we have to meet outside the lab. I mean, all of these little things, and Los Alamos feels the same way, it’s all kind of nitpicking little things and, and no improvement on, on the running of the place really. The scientific quality of the people is not getting any better. Certainly, the, many of the very experienced people aren’t there anymore. I mean, there’s a whole bunch of experienced – I’m still around, at least, but a lot of our, our very experienced designers are, who knows where they are. So, that’s – everybody thought that the UC management was, at least, in terms of the way it treated employees and so on, very good, and it was sort of not, you didn’t have anything like university freedom or, tenure, or anything, but they were, [Treasure barking] you were treated as a, as a sort of professional person. But when the, when you get under the thumb of these for-profit outfits then money is all they care about. And, and it kind of shows up. I mean, they’ll say, “Well, we want to get the best people,” and all this, but the best people don’t want to go there.
Well, this has been really, really useful, real interesting. I think that covers everything I want to talk about today.
I might, I might get in contact with you via email or something —
— or on the phone in the future?
Michael May to E. C. Shute (12 September 1963), forwarding R. E. Kidder to F. Fairbrother, “Evaluation of Sanders Associates Proposal of 6/12/63 and General Committee,” (12 August 1963), UCRL-ID-124776 (COT-63-35), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Archives.
Glenn A. Schurman and Ray E. Kidder, “Anchoring System for Floating Drill Structure,” U.S. Patent 2,939,291 (application filed 6 June 1955, granted 7 June 1960).
Ray E. Kidder, “Laser Fusion: the first ten years 1962-1972,” in Guillermo Velarde and Natividad Carpintero Santamaria, eds., Inertial Confinement Fusion: A Historical Approach by its Pioneers (London: Foxwell & Davies, 2007): 49-68.
John Nuckolls, Lowell Woods, Albert Thiessen, and George Zimmerman, “Laser Compression of Matter to Super-High Densities: Thermonuclear (CTR) Applications,” Nature 239 (15 September 1972): 139-142.
Hohlraum is German for “hollow area” and refers to the use of small cavity to re-radiate the laser energy to a fusion target as part of indirect drive laser driven fusion. It is analogous to the use of a radiation case in a Teller-Ulam design hydrogen bomb, and was for this reason classified for many years even after the use of laser implosion for laser driven fusion (direct drive) was classified.
United States v. The Progressive Magazine (1979).
Edward Teller and Stainslaw Ulam, “On Heterocatalytic Detonations I. Hydrodynamic Lenses and Radiation Mirrors” (9 March 1951), Los Alamos Report LAMS-1225.
Robert W. Seidel interview with Keith Boyer (5 November 1984), in the Niels Bohr Library, American Institute of Physics, on 35.
Referring to the presentation by John Nuckolls and Lowell Wood at the International Quantum Electronics Conference in Montreal in May 1972.
Stefano Atzeni and Jügen Meyer-ter-Vehn, The Physics of Inertial Fusion: Beam Plasma Interaction, Hydrodynamics, Hot Dense Matter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
”Halite-Centurion” refers to a series of nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site by Los Alamos (who program was code-named “Centurion”) and Livermore (“Halite”) from 1978-1988 for the purposes of narrowing down the necessary physical parameters for “break-even” with inertial confinement fusion.
Ray E. Kidder, “Has DOE Declassified Information That Has or Might Contribute to Proliferation?” talk given at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government workshop on Secrecy versus Openness: Finding a Balance at the Department of Energy (29 November 1999).
Howard Morland, The Secret That Exploded (New York: Random House, 1981).
Alexander De Volpi, et al, Born Secret: The H-Bomb, the Progressive Case and National Security (New York: Pergamon Press, 1981).
Hans Bethe, “Observation on the Development of the H-bomb” (1954), reprinted as Appendix II in Herbert F. York, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller, and the Superbomb, 2nd, edn. (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1989).
In 2006, management of Los Alamos (not Livermore) was taken over by University of California, Bechtel, BWX Technologies, and Washington Group International as the Los Alamos National Security, LLC. In 2007, management of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was taken over by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, comprised of University of California, Bechtel, Babcock and Wilcox, URS Corporation, and Battelle Memorial Institute.