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Interview of Wolfgang Panofsky by Jean Deken and Elizabeth Paris on 2004 April 9, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/39783-3
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In this interview Wolfgang Panofsky discusses topics such as: his time at the High Energy Physics Laboratory at Stanford University; Stanford Linear Accelerators Center (SLAC); Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); Edwin McMillan; Burton Richter; running a physical laboratory; Luis Alvarez; the Cold War; University of California, Berkeley; teaching and setting up research projects for graduate students; serving on the President's Science Advisory Committee; Robert Marshak; McCarthyism and House Committee on Un-American Activities; Paul McDaniel; Vietnam War's effect; working with Chinese physicists; Frank Oppenheimer; Department of Energy; safety measures in the laboratories; arms control; Marvin Goldberger; JASON group; Richard Garwin; John Holdren.
Today I’d like to start with a question that we mentioned yesterday just briefly. We’d like to get into it a little further today. That’s on the effects of the rise of safety and safety consciousness in society in general on SLAC and on high-energy physics.
When we started SLAC, I was very much concerned about safety and took a very personal interest in it. I did the first calculations on the radiation sickness required for everything and the technical notes which we made. At the same time, I felt that one had to be careful not to create too much of a formal safety organization because I thought an over-riding principle is that the line responsibility of people to accomplish things, be it constructions or operations, should not be diluted by the safety organization. Because there’s a certain danger if you create a formal safety organization, which is supposed to do all the analyses and is supposed to do all the governmental forms and all the rest of it, that the line people will tend to think, “Oh, that’s their business,” and then they don’t care. So I tried to make it very sure from the very beginning that whatever we did about safety should not dilute the line responsibility of the line people. We had a very good chief of safety, a fellow by the name of Fred Peregoy. He was the safety chief, and he is now retired near La Jolla. He was a great man. He would on the one hand go around and find things to criticize, but he then would basically assist the department or wherever he found things to fix it. In addition to that, all through the lab period, I did a lot of what’s called “the director’s walkthroughs” which means we would walk through with Peregoy and Neal and a bunch of other people, and we would poke our nose into everybody’s business and suggest various changes. Nevertheless, we had nothing like as large an organization as is now the custom. There was, of course, much less in the way of reporting requirements to the government about compliance with various rules. Even now, it’s my understanding, in discussing this with Burt[Richter] and now Jonathan [Dorfan], that their principle is still, and they hope that everybody understands it, that the line managers have the full responsibility, but that the organization is needed because the job is simply too complex for the line managers to handle and the reporting requirements too heavy. But still, excepting in case of real emergency, the safety organization are not cops who stop things and say, “You can’t do this,” but who then tell the line manager in charge that ‘that’s in bad shape.’
We had several severe problems during the construction of SLAC, all of which were very depressing, but all of which were associated with outside contractors. In the early construction of SLAC, one bulldozer driver took a cut on an embankment too steep, and the bulldozer rolled over and killed him. That was quite early. We had a second bad accident when a guy with a crane, again, a contractor went through the reentrance, and his rig hit an overhead power line, and he got out and got electrocuted. This is one of the rules that had been written down over and over again, that you’re supposed to retract your booms and all that when you do that, but he just didn’t. There is a problem of what to do when you have a contractor, who has been in this kind of business professionally for a long time and then suddenly he violates the rules. The third bad accident we had was when we placed the huge roof slabs on End Station A. A contractor directed the load right over himself. I don’t know if he was trying to commit suicide or if he was somehow or other disabled or what was wrong with him we don’t know. Again, the way you do rigging, if you have somebody who moves the controls and somebody who directs him to put the load where it’s supposed to go. He directed it right over himself, and then the thing failed and killed him. So we had those three very bad accidents, all of which involved our contractors, and all of which essentially consisting in contractors doing something terribly wrong in absolutely obvious violations of rules, which are not terribly new or original. Then, of course, we had investigations and reports.
But the question, how do you prevent this from ever occurring again? We really had no answer. Because here we had a contractor with long experience, lots of construction experience, and rules which were not particularly obscure or subtle but they just plain didn’t do it. So what do you do about that? I don’t really have any answer to that. In the first accident, here was an experienced earth-digger driver, and he just went onto much too steep of an embankment. You’re not supposed to do that! He certainly knew that, but he did it anyway. It’s really a very troublesome thing.
When the linac was first constructed, the safety systems were built as part of the original construction, right?
Very much so, yes.
The lock out procedures…
Initially the shielding procedures. In fact, there is an amusing story. In the shielding we actually innovated on a very major matter near all of the slits and collimators where the intense neutron source is. I decided it would be good to have the concrete loaded with boron-containing materials, because boron when it captures the neutrons gives a reaction which leaves no radioactive residue. It has not only a high cross-action for capturing neutrons, but it also the recapture products are non-radioactive. So, the result is that if you stick lots of boron into concrete, then the total activation by the neutrons is much less. And since in the linac, the radiation sources are very localized — at slits and collimators not all the way along the accelerator, by having boron-loaded concrete locally. So we worked with our AE firm to design aggregate which had what we call colmanite in it.
So was the boron mixed in…
In with aggregate. In fact, you asked me how my long-suffering wife was involved in this. It turns out that we then took a trip then to Death Valley to a colmanite mine and had a wonderful time climbing down, and then I negotiated the contract with the people of the mine and we arranged for shipping quite a few tons of boron-loaded ore. Then the AE firm designed the aggregate mix, and it is relatively poor concrete. It has about half the tensile-strength of regular concrete so you don’t want to do that, but just in the shielding environment, the concrete was not very heavily stressed so that didn’t make any difference. So up to this day, wherever there are slits and collimators the surrounding concrete is made with this special aggregate, and the result is that when you control reentry of people after shutdown you don’t have to wait so long.
So the concrete is built to be shielding concrete, not structural concrete.
Well, it’s lousy structural concrete. And it’s not really shielding: it basically absorbs neutrons without activation. So it’s not a big deal. But it simply means that with all the personnel control systems that we had — Part of our electrical engineering activity was to design the personnel control systems that they all involved that after shutting off the accelerator you are supposed to wait X seconds or minutes before you go in to let radioactivity die down, and because of the boron stuff you don’t have to wait so long. It’s not a big deal.
But nevertheless, it was something that was designed for SLAC.
It was designed for SLAC, and again, I thought by having myself be interested in this, it sort of gave a signal that the technical people should worry about these things. And if they had some solutions by all means do it rather than going and reading the handbook. So it worked. Not a big deal.
Now today’s culture, of course, there are many, many more things. There are the Tiger Teams and the question about whether OSHA or the DOE should be running it and so forth.
Right. Did that culture change begin while you were director?
That began while you were…
That began afterwards. During my tenure there was safety consciousness, and if something goes wrong we had to report of course. We also had one power supply fire in SPEAR in one of the interaction halls.
I’ve seen photographs of that.
Other than wrecking a power supply rack it didn’t do much. But by and large, our safety record has been extremely good. But the general formality of it wasn’t all that bad. There always had been a tendency in the relations with DOE/AEC, whenever something entered the public domain, be it safety or be it security or be it operational reliability, the DOE or AEC or whatever it was would always exert pressure on you to appoint a czar for operational efficiency and for security and for safety and so forth, and I always resisted that to the maximum extent, because by having some kind of how-to process be institutionalized under a separate czar tends to dilute the responsibility of the line manager from feeling responsible as to how to do that particular job in that particular respect. So in this whole question in terms of “how-to” management, “what” management, I always try to run things simply that everybody has a line responsibility what to do, but the “how to” included everything from safety to efficiency to getting enough sleep to virtue, to whatever.
To saving money.
To saving money and so forth, and being nice to everybody working with you and not beating up your friends. One of the current evolutions is that there is much too much pressure for having ad hoc “how-to” organizations.
That DOE tends to impose, sometimes with contractual authority, rules which institutionalize a “how-to” department — a security department, operational safety department, radiological safety department. And I thought, in SLAC, we did extremely well. For instance, of course SLAC pioneered a relatively new era in radiation-related safety, and in so doing, a lot of really good scholarly work was done. I mean, for instance Dick Taylor, the Nobel Prize winner, he designed the secondary containment system under the beam switchyard. It was not done by the safety department. So in the beam switchyard where there are fairly intense beams and lots of cooling water, we were worried about the fact that the cooling water would get activated, so if then there would be some kind of water leak that the water would then get in the environment. So the entire beam switchyard has a stainless steel catch basin, essentially engineered under the beam switchyard. But that was not done by a safety engineer; it was done by Brother Taylor.
By Brother Taylor. That’s interesting.
And similarly, there is the EGS program.
Yes, by Ralph Nelson. EGS.
Ralph Nelson and company. That’s the basic computer program, which traces what’s called the soft cascade in the electron making/radiating a photon, the photon makes a pair, the pair fragments radiate and so forth. So you get a cascade. And so in order to calculate shielding properly quantitatively, you have to do the analysis of that cascade. So the EGS program has been sort of a best seller for medical radiation-shielding and all that.
But that was not originally developed for medical, it was developed here.
No, it was developed here just for specifying shields all over the place.
So this was a secondary use of it, or another use?
It was being used wherever you have high-energy electron or photon beams and want to shield them. So it’s the same use, primary or secondary. But it was originally written by the — We did create a Health Physics Department, but again we organized it that it be part of the research division, not part of a safety administrative unit, and the people who joined it were good physicists and analysts, so rather than work in rules and regulations, they really calculated stuff. Which is sometimes hard do to because of the complexity.
Now was Peregoy head of Health Physics?
No. Peregoy was in the business services department. He was a deputy of whatever to Pindar. But on the diagram we had a dotted line to the director. He had stop-work authority in extremis and he would run around with me on the walkthroughs.
So he sort of had an informal connection with you; not a line connection.
Yes. But his line connection was as a second layer of the Business Services Department. He was good. He understood things. He had a tradition back into atomic energy.
Now he was a physicist?
No. Not a PhD-level physicist. He may have a technical bachelor’s level degree. I have no idea.
I can dig into that.
You can find out.
Yes. One of the from very early on questions about putting a two-mile linear accelerator on this location has always been the earthquake danger. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about both about the solutions to that and also handling the perception of that danger.
Well, that’s a very good question. Obviously there was a worry about earthquakes very close to us. Now during the early days before we actually got authorized, we got lots of volunteer assistance on that. There were some very excellent experts on these questions on the faculty of Stanford. This one gentleman who died recently, Benjamin Page, who was a senior geologist who had written a report, and he spent a lot of effort and time to basically chart all the active and dormant fault lines on the site. And then originally of course before we settled on the site we looked at various alternative sites. The interesting thing was that one of the alternate sites was a site near Moffett Field on the tide flats out there, and it has no active fault lines, but it has risk of subsidence, and what is called liquefication. In a major earthquake the soil will turn to jelly essentially. After we started going, the AE Firm —
Aetron, Blume and Atkinson?
Aetron, Blume and Atkinson had some excellent geologists who wrote an even more detailed than Ben Page, and I don’t remember whether Ben Page worked with them or not. Again, so they are in the file somewhere detailed maps of dormant and active fault lines. We basically convinced ourselves that we did not cross any active fault lines. Despite of the fact that the injector is only half a mile from the San Andreas Fault, which is an active fault line, that the accelerator site itself had no earthquake hazards different from essentially any place in this part of the world. And our judgment was pretty well borne out. We went through two quite large earthquakes, and in no cases were there any significant damage. In addition to that we did earthquake modeling on all the essential structures. We modeled the basic suspension structure of the accelerator, the klystrons and all that and we put them on shake tables. And we also put on a shake table a cross section of some of the tall fills in the basic — You see the basic alignment of the accelerator was designed to try to balance the cut and fill and minimize excavation costs. The result was that some of the accelerator is below grade and some above grade, and the above grade meant that we had a big fill, and we modeled that, and on the base of that decided it was not earthquake-safe and through a lot of that we broadened the base tremendously of that fill.
So you essentially did a section of fill and put that on a shake table?
Yes, a scaled-down section. A small model, that’s right.
And it all fell apart and you decided you had to do something different?
After that we decided that it needed a much broader base in order not to what we call to have a circle failure. What was shown up in the tests or that there was an unacceptable risk of the thing sliding up and out.
Is that why on the photos of the construction there’s kind of a stepped down excavation?
No, that’s for another reason?
No, the step down in the construction actually has to do with the fact simply that in order to have access, you didn’t want to have a very long sloping thing. But you have a sloping thing and then a horizontal thing where you can get access and then slope and then so forth. That had to do with just the mechanics of doing it.
The earthquake business of course played a major role in the congressional hearing. We introduced, if I recall, I may be wrong, but I think we introduced these geological reports into the hearing records.
And basically we didn’t have much trouble.
I got the impression that there was sort of, the whole run-around you were getting from the committee because their nose was out of joint.
That the earthquake was part of the run-around.
That’s right. When the committee decided not to authorize SLAC, they had several reasons. They had Varian Associates getting too rich from it and conflict of interest by Ginzton; and earthquakes; and maybe other cheaper sites… But that was essentially it. The neighbors, basically the only time we had major problems with the neighbors was with the power line business, but not with earthquakes or pollution or run-off. We had one conflict with the neighborhood with noise.
With noise, early on?
Yeah, no it was during the construction of PEP actually. It was sort of interesting. A neighbor complained that our modulators were buzzing and keeping him awake. So we visited him and then established a radio link with our modulators being on and off, and it turns out what you heard had no absolutely no correlation with whether the damn things were on or off.
What was he hearing? Was it something from SLAC?
I think the Lord… (Laughs) I mean, I have no idea.
Was he a fairly close neighbor?
Oh gosh, I don’t remember. He was toward the west. Again, there is some correspondence on that.
I’ll have to look into that.
But it was basically sort of an amusing episode because he wrote letters to newspapers and all that, that we were keeping him awake nights, but it turned out the things he heard had zero correlation with us being on or off.
The activities at SLAC. Well, was he satisfied once you presented…
Oh yes, he just quit.
That’s great. Excellent. Well another questions I wanted to ask, and EGS is a good lead-in to that, is the medical uses, or medical spin-offs.
Maybe we could start back sort of chronologically, start it early at the Berkley cyclotron.
Yeah well Berkeley cyclotron of course, you probably know the history that E.O. Lawrence’s brother John Lawrence was interested in medical applications of accelerators, and when I came to Berkley in 1945 there was already a medical program at the 60-inch cyclotron.
So they were treating people at the 60-inch?
I don’t think routinely. Frankly I don’t know whether they were treating people or dogs. I just don’t know; I wasn’t close to it. But there was lots of interest in it. You know the Lehrer song, “50 millicuries were half-past 9.”
No, Tom Lehrer?
Yeah, that’s right. Tom Lehrer wrote it. I don’t remember know exactly but Lawrence promised to add so many millicurie to cure the tumor of his friends, and he was browbeating the operators. The song, you can probably find it, I have it also stuck somewhere: “‘Round and ‘round and ‘round go the deuterons, 40 millicuries by half-past 9.”
So he was mocking the efforts, or their schedule?
It was a slightly tongue-in-cheek satire about the goings on. And then in Berkeley at the 184 inch cyclotron, even in the early days when always the running time was very precious, there were biological experiments being done in the external beam of the 184-inch cyclotron. There was a fairly large radiological effect in Berkeley, and some of it quite controversial. There was this John Gofman, I don’t know if you know about him, he basically maintained that all of the permissible radiation doses were much too high, and he demonstrated some correlations that didn’t hold up very well. But there was very large activities.
And then, of course ever since then medical applications of accelerators — protons, electrons, neutrons — have been an active subject. My brother-in-law Dick Wilson, was involved in a major program in Harvard in radiation therapy at the Harvard Cyclotron.
Just to stay with Berkeley for a second, you talked about the running time being precious, and as taking some of that running time, did you ever have any encounters where your experiments were…?
No, it was just part of the scheduling bureaucracy that there was some time reserved for the medical things, but at the same time physicists were all struggling around trying to get their things done. No, it wasn’t any… no direct interaction; it was just part of the allocation machinery.
Was there tension between those who wanted to do the basic physics and using this for medical…?
No, not at all. It was accepted that this was part of the things which Lawrence wanted to do. And McMillan who at that time was really sort of the Renaissance Man, he was interested in anything natural, and he really did a lot of detailed looking into the biology of radiation physics. He really knew a lot more about it than Lawrence did. No, there was some real activity which was going on, and most of that was at the 60-inch cyclotron on the main campus, while the 184-inch cyclotron where I worked had some runs on medical things, but not very many. But there was interest, and mainly there were seminars and discussions.
But then here at Stanford there was a linkup between Ed Ginzton and Henry Kaplan, who was professor in the medical school. They jointly did a lot of work on cancer treatment with electron beams, including the highly publicized case where they were able to pinpoint a tumor in the eye of a little boy without destroying the eye.
Yes, I’ve seen the photographs.
And then something happened, which didn’t work very well. When SLAC was proposed, Ginzton got support from what is called the MARK 4 Accelerator, which was supposed to simultaneously be the prototype for the SLAC sections and the tool for medical radiation physics, and that plain didn’t work. There the scheduling problem became very intractable because when you actually tried to treat patients, by definition they had to take precedence because they were usually acute cases. So combining that with having a machine which was supposed to be a prototype, and if you have a prototype you’ve got to tear things out and make it new, so you have to have a protracted shutdown, and then during that time you couldn’t treat any patients. So having coexistence between a medical accelerator and a prototype for a 2-mile accelerator that turned out to be pretty much of a not very successful enterprise.
But then of course, Varian Associates started getting into the accelerator business and there was a spin-off here called Spectromagnetic Industries, which was manufacturing magnets, and then Karl Brown, you talked to him extensively, he firstly was a cofounder of Spectromagnetics and then he joined Varian. And of course now at the Varian it’s a large industry, I think the peak sales volume was half a billion dollars a year… or more… for a few MeV electron accelerators. And then at SLAC the only medical direct things which we did which I recall, there may be others was when SPEAR did experiments on angiography of heart circulation. Do you know what I mean by the K edge?
No I don’t.
When you plot the absorption coefficient of x-rays as a function of energy, as the energy goes up, the absorption goes down, and then it suddenly jumps when you have enough energy to excite another electron to a higher orbit. So each element has a characteristic K edge. So it’s been understood, if you inject iodine into the circulatory system, then you would then switch the x-ray energy above the K edge and below the K edge of iodine, you enhance the contrast by a huge amount because the curve loops like this, like that. So Hofstadter and Rubenstein, here another professor at the Medical School, collaborated. You must have those in the file somewhere.
Yes. In fact I’ve corresponded with Rubenstein about that work.
Ed Rubenstein. He’s a nice man. They have some lovely pictures of circulation in the dog. So the system was to use synchrotron radiation then go through a monochromator which selects only a narrow band of x-rays, then you switch the setting of the monochromator either below the K edge or above the K edge of iodine, and that way the contrast you can get in angiography is really outstanding.
The trouble is that the total number of heart problems in the United States is enormous, and the total number of synchrotrons is a handful, so having that be a generally accepted thing simply hasn’t taken hold. You can talk to Mr. Rubenstein, but as far as I know, even though that was a very impressive result, it has not been applied as such. I’ve had two heart bypasses and I did not get irradiated with a synchrotron but with the conventional x-ray tube. Then of course you are familiar with the transition of the proton radiography from Fermilab to the Loma Linda Hospital in southern California. The deputy director of Fermilab (I’m sorry I’ve suppressed his name for a moment; the guy who worked with Bob Wilson), they were doing some treatment of patients at Fermilab, and this was so successful that the Loma Linda Hospital in southern California got very interested and they built, not a prototype, an actual accelerator specialized for proton therapy was built at Fermilab and then moved to southern California together with the deputy director of Fermilab.
Now, because there was someone interested at Loma Linda, you…?
I don’t know how the collaboration proceeded. The thing you have to understand is that different particles have very different properties, and therefore depending on what kind of medical application you have, whether protons or electrons or x-rays, a better way to go depends on the answer. The main advantage of heavy-particles, protons, is that their range is very sharp. They penetrate, they stop at a predetermined distance, and then the amount of energy per unit length they deposit peaks up just before their stop, and therefore you can deliver a heavy dose at the end of the range. So proton therapy is good if you have a deep field tumor and you want to reach it, but where if you used x-rays or something else you would do too much damage on the way in. That means you have to however do very detailed prior measurements and calculations to find out what energy you really need or how much absorber you have to put ahead and all that so that the radiation is deposited where it’s supposed to be.
Where it’s supposed to go. So you have to know exactly where the tumor is, where the target is.
You have to know where the tumor is. So it turns out that in accelerator application of radiations, very often the radiation time is much shorter than the preparation of the patient — clamping him down, putting a plug in the right place and aligning everything and so forth and so forth. There is now in Harvard a proton accelerator at the Massachusetts General Hospital, which got terribly delayed, but I looked at it once — it’s amazing. The accelerator is just a little cyclotron and all the rigging for positioning the patient and for directing the beams around is just much more massive and monstrous than the accelerator itself. Have you seen it?
I haven’t seen it. I’ve seen pictures. Not that one, but a different one.
There are still some experiments being done in synchrotron radiation here which had medical applications.
But there weren’t ever patients treated here on the linear accelerator here?
No. But there were patients treated at and still are being treated at Stanford medical school with small linacs.
And actually that work, if I’m understanding correctly; that predated SLAC? That was Ginzton and Kaplan?
Yes, predated SLAC but continued and is continuing today. It is basically an industrial, small linear accelerator is basically an industrial enterprise, and a big one.
Well I think the next thing we wanted to talk about is to bring the Harvey Lynch interview up to date from ‘97 to the present on developments in arms control, or deterioration in arms control.
When did Harvey end?
Well, I am very much interested in arms-control ever since the detonation of the first nuclear weapon, and it has been an avocation ever since, and since retirement it has been essentially my …primary occupation. So I’ve been involved in various things since the Harvey Lynch… since 1979, most of it in connection with, they have a standing committee of the National Academy of Sciences called the Committee on International Security and Arms Control. Now the National Academy of Sciences was chartered under President Lincoln quite a while ago to advise the government, and most of their advice today is being managed through what’s called the National Research Council, which convenes committees on an ad hoc basis which get a certain charge, what they’re supposed to look at, and then they labor and produce a report and then are discharged with thanks. The National Academy, in parallel with that structure, has three permanent standing committees: one is the Committee on Science and Public Policy; the other one is the Committee on Human Rights; the other one is the Committee on International Security and Arms Control, and I was the chairman of that until a few years ago, and John Holdren became my successor. Frankly I’d had to look up whether that happened before or after ‘97; I think it happened after ‘97 but you have to…
I can check that.
I can check it too; but I just don’t remember it. It’s a standing committee, and it does three things: it writes studies, either on its own incentive or by request from government agencies; but then it meets in bilateral meetings with other countries. Currently there is a cycle of meetings with the Chinese, the Russians and the Indians; and third, there is a multilevel meeting called the Amaldi Meeting, which basically is a convening of representatives from the European academies to talk shop about arms control. I instigated that, but that is probably in Harvey’s report. That was started about fifteen years ago.
I believe it is mentioned. The Amaldi Conference?
Maybe briefly… I knew about it before, so I’m not sure.
What happened there was that even during depths of the Cold War, we, the National Academy, had meetings with the Soviets. Then it was suggested that ‘why did we talk to adversaries, not to our friends?’, but on the other hand… So then I took a trip around Europe together with a Harvard professor Paul Doty and we made speeches about the work of the National Academy group, and Eduardo Amaldi, he is one of the cofounders of CERN, he is a very senior statesman and physicist in Italy, really caught fire about this. So we organized multilevel meetings to talk about arms control one a year with representatives largely but not exclusively from European academies. The assumption was, which turned out not to be very good, that European academies tend to consult more extensively with their senior scientists than maybe the United States, and therefore since arms-control is one of the pressing problems of humanity right now, the people better know what they are talking about. Since very few of the senior scientists in Europe have any direct relationship with security affairs. So the purpose of these meetings, other than just exchanging views and positions, is to increase the acquaintance of the senior European community with arms control issues to make them more useful as consultants to governments.
So the senior European physics community, make them… ?
Generally physics, and now beginning also chemists. So they’ve been going on. They’ve been rotating around different European sites. The one last year was in Helsinki and next year will be in Trieste. So that’s the good news.
Another thing is that the result of that initiative, the Royal Society of Britain organized an arms control group which has been very effective, mainly in biological and chemical warfare problems. It has been consulted very extensively by the government. The French started but then sort of fell asleep and didn’t get anywhere. And the Italians have a fairly active group, which mainly works on management of materials from nuclear reactors and nuclear power. So, the Italians have an active group as a result of that initiative and the Brits do, and the French don’t.
Theirs is still stalled, or abandoned or… ?
It’s dysfunctional. I don’t know. At least it has no visible output.
So there is one activity which is still going on. Then the bilateral activities are still going on. I’ve been particularly involved in the bilateral activity with China. Not with India; I never went on the Indian trips. The Chinese bilateral activities are going extremely well. The one with the Russians are sort of medium-well: it’s not that they are adversary, but they tend to be a little bit perfunctory and keep seeing the same people. There’s sort of a scarcity of ideas.
With the Russians, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, did the whole cast of characters change?
Not very much.
But now you have multiple governments to deal with?
No, no. Now we deal with the Russian Academy of Sciences. But we sometimes have a representative from the Ukraine and Belorussia. They are largely from the Russian Federation.
So the Russian Academy of Sciences has had their landscape change, maybe?
Well, not the landscape. The name; it used to be the Soviet Academy of Sciences and now it is the Science Academy of the Russian Federation. Same building.
I see. But the political people that they advise…
Oh, they have wildly changed.
Wildly changed. So they suddenly have multiple governments to advise, or is that what they do?
No. The Russian Academy of Sciences advises the Russian government. There’s also the Ukrainian academy and the Belarussian academy and all that. The academy situation is very confused in Europe. I don’t want to take time to go into it. Germany doesn’t have any national academy. They have lots of essentially provincial and city academies and they have never been able to get their act together. The Italians have a central academy which is called the Academia de Lincei, which is the Academic of the Lynxes because they can see far away.
That goes way back to Galileo.
I don’t know how far it goes back. But they are situated in a wonderful 16th-century building in the Palazzo de Corsini and all that, but they have some quite good leadership and very interesting…
Do you feel like that Russian Academy of Sciences is an effective partner with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences?
Oh yes! There are a huge number of collaborative programs between the two academies on all sorts of things, going between environmental problems and energy problems and lots of things other than this particular area. The trouble in this particular area, it is not clear how well the Russian Academy communicates with the rest of the government. Now during the last two years there has been an ad-hoc committee which was established as a result of a Putin-Bush meeting, called the Holdren-Laverov committee. Holdren is the chairman of our thing. That’s a separate activity; it’s not under the Committee of National Security and Arms Control. It has its own staff and its own money. Holdren is the chairman; I am the vice chairman. We have been working together with the Russians specifically on management of weapons-usable material. The Russians have the vast stockpiles, enough to make about 100,000 bombs of weapons-usable materials. They are in a huge spectrum of a variety of conditions, including some being very well guarded, some being badly guarded, some being not guarded at all.
We have a subgroup worrying specifically on highly-enriched uranium in research reactors. Then recently we had a meeting with the Russians which wrote a report which we will publish very soon, which is basically a very frank discussion between Americans and Russians about all the impediments which are slowing down our collaboration in securing the Russian stuff. There are many impediments on both sides, and it was interesting to actually meet together to decide, in our case, if either situation is completely impossible. We had the meeting, which was mandated by Putin and Bush, and Mr. Laverov was supposed to come here to meet with us and we couldn’t get to get him a visa, even though he had been in this country thousands of times. He is the Vice President of the Russian Academy.
Yeah, this is because of changes after 9/11…?
Yes, and the legislation and the simply gross incompetence and stove-piping that information. What happens now, that’s a sideline, is that when the Chinese or Russian applies for a visa, and if what he does is technical in any way, it goes to Washington for review, and then independently the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and the Homeland Security Department each goes over the thing, looking at their respective computers who don’t talk to one another, and if there is any hiccup in any of those four power channels, then the thing gets held up. So in our collaboration with the Chinese it usually takes as much as three months for them to get a visa. It’s a mess. And it’s very difficult to tell the difference between bad intentions and incompetence.
Anyway, on the other hand, the inverse is that the money for cooperative programs to secure Russian weapons-usable material comes largely from the United States. There is a so-called Nunn-Lugar program, but sometimes the Russians are still very reluctant to have our people have access to the relevant facilities simply out of a Cold-War-mentality. So there are bureaucratic impedances on both sides. And the programs, although they have some impressive accomplishments, if you look at the magnitude of the programs, they are going disappointingly slow. So anyway, I’m very much involved in that.
And that is Holdren and Laverov?
Laverov, he is an interesting gentleman. He is the de facto science advisor to Mr. Putin.
Is he a physicist?
Yes. He is not a particle physicist. He is a physicist, very outspoken, but doesn’t speak English very well. But he has an amazing amount of access, and he is the right gentleman on their side.
And that’s been going on for two years, did you say?
Yes, two years. Yes.
You had started to talk about the bilateral efforts with China.
Yes, the bilateral efforts with China started 12 years ago, and it was opened on our initiative by an exchange of letters between the president of the National Academy, Frank Press, and the… [tape break] …then they said that they were isolated from national security affairs, so they instead said that this should be organized under the auspices of what at that time was COSTND, the Committee on Science and Technology for the National Defense, which is the organization in China which runs their military R&D. They in turn went through a bunch of convolutions, but now they’ve organized a group called the Scientist Group of Peace and Disarmament whose main purpose is to talk to us, but the members of that august group are basically senior scientists versed in their nuclear weapons and missile establishments.
So they basically organized their group in response to the request from Frank Fisk?
That’s right because somehow or other the official major body — The Chinese Academy of Sciences — is definitely isolated from military affairs. So then they passed the responsibility over to the military R&D organization, and they in turn organized the one and then another ad hoc group. The people initially were always the same. The chairman on their side is Hu Se De [?] who used to be the Director of the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics, which is the Chinese counterpart of the Livermore and Los Alamos combined. I don't know how well you follow your literature: in he charges against Wen Ho Lee, one of his charges was that he was being hugged by Hu Se De.
He was being hugged?
Oh, that’s pretty serious.
He’s never hugged me [laughs], but we are on friendly terms. Actually, I was sort of surprised about that. The Russians are great huggers. Whenever you meet with them in conferences, you always get hugged by everybody, but the Chinese tend not to be going in much for hugging. Be it as it may, I am contaminated by Mr. Hu Se De also as is Wen Ho Lee, and we’ve talked a lot. There are several other quite senior individuals in the Chinese establishment involved in this. We had some very constructive discussions. We were unusually frank. The modality of these discussions is usually very good. We are not negotiating; we are talking. We are not trying to generate a consensus document between us, but we try to talk to one another and reach as much consensus as is practical. Then each side writes a trip report, which anybody who’s got the bad judgment to read it can read, and we distribute that at the government. The Russians and the Chinese I’m sure do likewise. So we are basically talking indirectly to their government, but we are in no way delegated to agree on anything. On the other hand, in both the Russian and the Chinese discussions, I think we deserve credit, or depending on your point of view, blame, for having injected some ideas into the official arms control context, for instance, the whole idea that ballistic missile defense can be destabilizing and escalatory was generated in all of our bilateral discussions.
With Russia. This is a detailed situation and negotiations are part of a comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Chinese for a long time insisted that there should be an exception for peaceful nuclear explosions. Both the Russians and the Americans had a program for a long time called Peaceful Nuclear Explosions. Teller used to be a big promoter of that for excavating harbors, for stimulating oil shales, for making underground cavities for storage of hydrocarbons…
So using it like a super dynamite?
Using it like super dynamite. For instance, one proposal was to stimulate natural gas underground. The only problem being that the natural gas turned out to be radioactive, so if the housewives are cooking with gas, they get about 100 millirem per year. At any rate, Russia went in for this very heavily. They set off …something like 200 of their nuclear test explosions were dedicated to basically economic missions. The United States had a program called Project Plowshare. Some very good summaries of that are available in the literature. I think we deserve credit for the fact some of us had analyzed many of these things in some detail. It turned out that if you look carefully, every one of them, technically, work: you can stimulate gas, you can fractionate oil shale, you can make a big hole underground, you can excavate in the harbor. But if you look at the concurrent problems about radioactivity and having to move people and all that and translate those into economic terms, there simply is no advantage to doing it. So, we persuaded the Chinese in our bilateral meetings about that, and that got into the official channels and the Chinese withdrew their insistence on an exception of a nuclear test ban for peaceful nuclear explosions because that would have been an infinite loophole, because there’s no way to tell the difference between a peaceful and a military nuclear explosion.
So there are things marginally useful there because the Chinese had some very enthusiastic scientists espousing some of these rather nutty programs, and we have been very useful in putting some words of sanity in some of them. This is not of direct military adverse interest, but simply us reviewing some of their programs and some of these sensitive fields and getting independent opinions. Since our group is basically on very good terms with the Chinese and they know that we are fundamentally friends — I mean, we’ve been collaborating, and as we discussed yesterday, the Beijing electron positron thing and so forth. So when we say, “That’s a bum idea,” we have a certain amount of credibility.
So your credibility, because you’ve been cooperating on other things, you have this credibility now.
That’s right, also because we are known. Holdren is on several committees of the Academy on Energy. The Chinese have enormous energy problems.
So he’s on committees of the Chinese?
No, Holdren is the chairman of the committee in National Security and Arms Control. He’s a plasma physicist, but his expertise is mainly in energy. He’s a very prolific writer. A lot of writing went on with him.
I guess I’m not making the connection here. He advises the Chinese?
No. He’s the chairman of the committee in National Security and Arms Control, and at most meetings with the Chinese, he only goes a small fraction of the time. Most of the time I’m the delegation leader or whatever you call it. But there are a lot of other collaborative activities outside the arms control national security area. Our National Academy and The Chinese Academy of Sciences have joint committees on energy problems, and pollution is a terrible problem in China. There’s lots of open communication on that.
In a related question, it seems like you sort of naturally got into the arms control work via your early work with Alvarez during the war, and sort of one thing led to another. How do the sort of the up and coming physicists of today get —
Well, that’s a major problem. The major problem is that the up and coming physicists of today, to use your phrase, who are working in particle physics or other basic sciencing have essentially no contact with the military sectors. Usually by the time you get a bachelor’s degree you decide between peace and war, basically. You know what the JASON Group is?
The JASON Group was actually created in response to just your question. Namely after the war, most of the basic science people who had been helping in the war against the Nazis went back to their academic activities, and some people stayed in the military business. Then under the initiative of Marvin Goldberger (he was president of Caltech, generally known as Merv), and created this JASON group, which is essentially a group of academic basic science, initially physicists now lots of biologists, who maintain security clearances so they can then get together each summer and study some national security problems. But at the same time, since they are academics, they have no conflict of interest and no economic interest in anything, so they are extremely valuable to basically blow the whistle on nonsense activities in the military arena and also draw attention to the negative consequences of some of the military activities.
So does the JASON Group recruit scientists in particular areas of need?
Yes, but they are like the Academy itself, they are a mutual admiration society. They don’t have objective searches, but they basically add new members by nomination from the existing members. They’re a sort of an incestuous self-propagating activity. As you know, Sid Drell and Burt [Richter] are card-carrying members of the JASON. So am I.
But the group does have a mechanism for continuing and for adding new people.
Oh yes. Not only that, because of the increasing problems of biological activities in the security area, they have shifted from being largely physicists to being sort of 50/50 biologists and physicists.
So mainly physicists were the ones who said “Wait a minute. We need more biologists,” and nominated biologists?
I don’t know whether they said that, but that’s an evident fact. Sort of atmospheric, if you wish. Yes. So as you probably know, the JASONs had a major crisis last year where the administration wanted to put three completely unqualified people, and we basically said no…
Yes. They cut your funding.
They cancelled the contract, and then we made an end run and got it re-funded.
DARPA was who funded you?
DARPA funded us and cut us off, and then an end run to DDR, Director Defense of Research & Engineering funded us directly. So, we are now alive and well at the present.
Yes. I remember reading that in the paper and following it, because it seemed yet another example of —
Yes. And it was sort of stupid, but it was a real crisis.
Well, they were not qualified to be on the committee.
Well, it depends. They were experienced industrial managers, but that’s essentially the problem. The whole idea of JASON is not to have a conflict of interest in terms of financial or professional interest in military affairs. There are lots and lots of advisory groups all through the Pentagon and all over the place, but a very large number of them are basically the foxes guarding the chicken coop…
I want to see if we can move up a few more years, more recently. How has 9/11 or the Homeland Security Agency changed the practicality of the climate or the operations of your arms control activities?
Not at all. We’ve actually been remarkably unimpeded. Even though when we get together, the Chinese and Russians and Indians, we obviously do not talk about anything which is classified. But because, after 9/11, there have been all these questions about sensitive and unclassified, all the gray area restrictions. We have felt basically very free to talk about “sensitive” subjects, which are not classified on both sides, because that’s the only way that this is possible. Of course on their side, there are fairly senior characters who know… the Chinese people we talk with know in considerable detail what’s going on and their plans. When we’ve had extensive, rather frank discussions, to what extent the American withdrawal from the ABM treaty would affect Chinese plans for augmenting their missile stuff. We had frank discussion on the subject. We didn’t by definition resolve anything, but we got at least a clear answer by them saying, “We will wait and see whether that really amounts to anything technically.” They maintained… they’re not being stampeded into reacting in any way, but they were keeping careful eye whether it really has any technical capability.
Have you been asked to serve on any other sort of panels or commissions?
This is another slightly annoying thing. I was on a NNSA advisory committee. NNSA is the military branch of DOE.
The National Nuclear Security Agency?
That’s right. That was actually under the initiative of a committee which Sid [Drell] was involved in that was made somewhat more independent from DOE than it used to be. That advisory committee was fired from one day to the next by simply a low-level the Secretary writing us a letter saying, “You don’t exist anymore.” This is one of the grievances which we have. One reason being that we wrote some rather frank reports disagreeing with some of the plans, but that’s what an advisory committee’s supposed to do: it doesn’t have to be followed. This is again part of the pattern, which is not necessarily 9/11, but which is basically something which the administration engages in. That panel I worked on, I was on a subcommittee, and Sid Drell was on the main committee, was suddenly disestablished from one day to the next without any reason given.
Was it replaced by a substitute panel?
No. We inquired. They said, “We have many good scientists within the nuclear weapons establishment.” But that’s the wrong answer: We knew that.
They always did have good scientists.
Some of them are extremely good. But that doesn’t mean that an independent review does not have value in a democratic society.
You mentioned that it fits into the pattern. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by a pattern?
Well, yes. There’ve been similar things. There’s a similar advisory committee on the State Department on arms control, which some of my colleagues served on. It was suddenly disbanded, and they said it had expired. They’re now looking for new members, but that was two and a half years ago, and they haven’t done anything. That’s basically a pattern. The other part of the pattern, which is outside my competence, namely that in several of the advisory committees which the Environmental Protection Agency had, and where they basically do an assessment of the maximum permissible quantities of various kinds of substances and so forth, and a lot of these keep getting politically edited because the impact of the scientific findings have, in some cases, negatively impacted commercial interest. I have no personal experience of that. I have no expertise in the subject.
In other areas, have you had your reports changed?
No. I have never been involved in any case where our reports have been changed. I’ve been involved only in cases that we just got fired, and fired rather summarily without the term being exceeded or whatever.
Have you worked at all, and in what capacity, in issues having to do with Korea perhaps in your China negotiations?
No. I am well informed on it, both through the JASON group and also because one member of the Academy’s Committee on International Security Arms Control, Jonathan Pollack, is an expert in-depth on it. I’m also a close friend of Professor John Lewis here on campus, who recently led this delegation to North Korea, looking at their reprocessing facilities and at the storage pools of spent fuel.
What’s his last name again?
John W. Lewis. He’s is a well-known professor of political science here, and he wrote a book called China Builds a Bomb. I have it here on the shelf somewhere… He asked me actually to go along to the North Korea trip, but I decided because of some of my impediments in getting around I would probably be a damn nuisance, so I didn’t go. Instead then Mr. Siegfried Hecker, the ex-director of Los Alamos, went with him. That had a fair amount of publicity. They both came back and of course the North Koreans put a dog and pony show on for them and let them touch some plutonium. They inspected and saw that the spent fuel rods in the storage fuel pool had actually been removed. But on the other hand, on the question whether North Korea had made any progress on actually producing a weapon out of all of this, nothing conclusive emerged. That’s all been public.
Anyway, I have no first-hand experience. Although in our discussion with the Chinese, we had extensive discussions about the North Korean situation. Most of the talking on our side was done by Mr. Pollock, who has more primary experience than I do. These various consultative groups, each of us have different experiences in different things, excepting for Dick Garwin who knows everything. We tend to be a bit specialized.
He just gave the Drell lecture?
That’s right. We are very good friends. He’s a great man.
He’s Ed’s brother, right? Ed Garwin who works here?
Is he older or younger than Ed?
I think he’s older.
He’s affiliated with…?
He is essentially retired. He worked for a long time for IBM. He was science advisor to the CEO of something of that kind. I don’t know the exact title, but he was basically… had no line responsibility that he was doing analysis for a living for IBM. But otherwise served on every committee which had ever been created.
How did you first meet him?
Oh, we worked together. We worked together at CERN measuring G minus 2 over mu matter and we became good friends there. Then we’ve been together on more committees than one likes to count. He’s a very excellent analyst, and very numerical.
I had a question which is sort of totally off the radar that occurred to me yesterday when I was looking through your papers trying to find something on this Budker question that you asked me. I came across some 1960s National Academy of Science’s correspondence on a completely different topic, but it got me to thinking. It was on the problem of gray literature, on the preprints, and what are we going to do about managing preprints in high-energy physics. Does any of this ring a bell with you?
No. I mean we instigated here in the library, and the preprints.
The “Preprints in Particles and Fields.”
We involved the — I didn’t know I had corresponded with the Russians on that, but it’s possible.
No, it was the National Academy of Sciences’ initiative just within the National Academy of Science?
I don’t know. No bell.
But that started fairly early. The “Preprints in Particles and Fields” was a very effort of SLAC before it even came up the hill here.
That was something at your initiative, at your instigation?
Pretty much because I got sort of annoyed that basically preprints got circulated — this was of course before computers and so forth — that the access to preprints was relatively haphazard as to whether your friend or enemy sent you a preprint or not. So, I proposed to the library whether they couldn’t centralize that some, and then of course they did a magnificent job in starting the system.
In starting the system up, and worked with DESY from the very beginning.
And they worked with DESY from the very beginning. I think I probably deserve credit or blame for having needled the library to start that.
That’s what it looks like from the record to me.
That’s probably correct, because of the fact that I was really annoyed that the preprints, the physical review and so forth was fairly slow, and the preprints were extremely valuable. Their circulation really was in the hands of the individual author and whom he or she knew. That sounded like a bad system.
Yeah. Sounded like no system.
Essentially no system. That’s right.
So then they systematized —
So then Louis Addis got interested in that proposal, and she ran with the ball. That’s essentially what happened. I think that’s correct, although that’s my recollection. There’s lots of other things in the arms control business, but because that has been my main activity in the last recent years.
So you’ve mainly done arms control, and you’ve been retired 20 years…
No. I retired as director, yes, 20 years ago; but as member of the senior staff 15 years ago.
Oh, I see. So you were five years on the staff after…
That’s right. I was basically on the faculty, but with Burt [Richter] being the director. See, what we did, which is sort of interesting. We made a gentleman’s agreement. At that time, there was a congressman in Congress by the name of Claude Pepper who served until he was well over 80, maybe 90, I’m not sure. He passed a law in Congress which said you could not retire people by chronological age. He said sort of, “What’s wrong with me?” So, then we made a gentleman’s agreement among the directors that we would retire as bureaucrats at age 65 and members of the senior staff at age 70. Joe Ballam, Dick Neal, and I honored that. Burt and Sid Drell and so forth I think cheated by one year or two or whatever. At any rate, there’s no way you can retire people by chronological age, so the universities have to prove you’re incompetent.
Better to just go off quietly…
I didn’t want to be proven to be incompetent [laughs], so we made that arrangement here. But it has no legal power.
So you’ve been “officially” retired for 15 years?
I’ve been “officially” retired from SLAC. I’m off the SLAC payroll. I’m living off TIAA-CREF. But very kindly the successive directors have given me an office and a computer terminal and a secretary, so that’s the present status. Sid Drell is now in a similar situation. He is fully retired. Of course, there’s value to it quite apart from the fact that one should turn things over. Also, here the staff, particularly the faculty, has limits set not so much by the need of SLAC, but by the university, so retiring and making room for junior billets helps the general vitality of the whole staff. So that’s the reason we did that.
I had one more question sort of to follow up. I think yesterday or the day before we talked about the issues of literal interpretation, of the Soviets not speaking English and there being interpreters. These days, have you noticed a change?
With the various people though; not just with the Russians, but if you could include…
Oh, yes. There’s no question that at least in the scientific community English is winning. For instance, the Chinese, we used to have successive translation usually and then sometimes simultaneous translation. During the last few years, we have no translation at all. We just speak English. So we suddenly find that in our bilateral meetings on the Joint Committee on Collaboration and High-Energy Physics between China and DOE, suddenly the agenda takes half as much time to get done and we just sit around and looking at one another or going for a walk. So it’s absolutely dramatic.
So it’s sort of amusing. I was asked to give a memorial lecture at DESY in honor of Willibald Jentschke, the ex-director who was a good friend. I offered to give the talk in German, and they told me, “No, you’d better speak English because some of our people in DESY don’t speak German.” The reason being that they have had a lot of people in physics coming to DESY from Eastern Europe, so they have a lot of Russians and Poles and so forth in DESY who don’t speak German but who speak English. So as a visitor giving the memorial lecture, I was asked, to my great relief I might say [laughs], to talk English and not German.
That’s also true in going into interaction with the Russians, and it’s very much true in interaction with the Chinese. In the Chinese arms control discussions, we usually have simultaneous translation, partially because of the sensitivity of the subject so that even though most of our interlocutors speak reasonable English if you talk to them in hall, when we are sitting around the table, they prefer to have a translator. But that’s mainly to protect themselves, and us as far as that goes, against misinterpretation.
It’s very interesting, I don’t know whether you know this, when I was a chief negotiator on the test ban in 1959, we talked with the Soviets, and then there’d be translation into little earphones. In addition to that, the State Department had a person there who monitors their translation. Say I would say something, and the Russian would reply, and this young lady would whisper in my ear, “Don’t get mad. He didn’t say that.” [laughs] In some of the most sensitive things, we actually needed two layers of translation. They’re basically three approaches. One is to speak English, which is what we do now in all the high-energy physics things. The other one is to have official simultaneous translation where you’re having electronics and all that. But then you have another layer of backup to protect against errors in the simultaneous translation.
Did they also have the protection?
Darned if I know. I don’t remember. There were people sitting around; I’m not sure what they were doing. I have no idea whether they could understand it. It wasn’t particularly a problem there because this was at the Geneva office of the United Nations and they had very experienced translators, but they didn’t know technical terms. Also they were accustomed to relatively short sessions, and we would keep chattering away for four or five hours, so the translators were absolutely exhausted. Simultaneous translation is very hard work in addition to the fact that mistakes are mistakes. There’s certainly no question that in the last few years in high-energy physics things, translation has essentially disappeared. I’m going to a meeting in Novosibirsk. I hope to go where they’re commemorating 40 years collaboration between this place and the Novosibirsk Institute. I assume the language will be English. I don’t know that for sure, but I doubt they’re going to have any translation.
The experience at DESY was sort of interesting. It turned out that the people in Hamburg, a lot of people at the lab don’t speak German.
So English is the lingua franca — it’s what everyone has in common…
English is winning. There’s little question of that.
I’m through with my list. Thank you so much.