Nuclear weapons

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Interview dates
September 9, September 25, October 9, October 19, November 3, November 9, November 23, November 30, December 7, and December 14, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Ernest Moniz, Emeritus Professor and Special Adviser to the President of MIT, discusses his time as U.S. Secretary of Energy under Barack Obama. Moniz discusses his time as an undergraduate at Boston College working under Joe Chen and their efforts building a resonant cavity. He speaks about his experience as a graduate student at Stanford University working Dirk Walecka on the study of theoretical condensed matter physics and how it led to his eventual publishing of a paper about using a modified fermi gas to understand deep inelastic scattering. Moniz describes his time working in Washington with the Office of Science and Technology Policy and how the OSTP became marginalized under the George W. Bush and Trump Administrations. He discusses the Wen Ho Lee scandal and subsequent development of the National Nuclear Security Administration and how it has evolved throughout the years. Moniz talks about his partnership with John Deutch at MIT on a policy-oriented study of the future of nuclear power which eventually became known as the series, The Future of... He details his time working in the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology during the Obama Administration and his eventual role as the Secretary of Energy. Moniz Discusses the development of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the cooperation of the countries involved, as well as how the U. S’s relationship with Iran has changed over the years. He reflects on how the Trump Administration undid several Obama era initiatives pertaining to energy and climate and the lasting impacts of those actions. He also discusses becoming an advisor to Saudi Arabia and the planned mega-city of the Tabuk region. Lastly, Moniz reflects upon the challenges the Biden Administration may face moving towards a more decarbonized energy future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Roald Sagdeev, professor of physics emeritus at the University of Maryland. He recounts his family’s ethnic Tatar heritage, his childhood in Kazan, and his family’s experience during World War II. Sagdeev describes his physics education at Moscow State University, and how he felt regarding the larger issues of physics and Soviet national security – especially during his time in Sarov, which was the equivalent of Los Alamos National Lab for nuclear weapons research. He discusses his work on radiation transport in stellar atmospheres, his subsequent research at the Kurchatov Institute, and his graduate research in controlled nucleosynthesis under the direction of Lev Landau. Sagdeev describes this time as the origins of his expertise in plasma physics and he explains the work he was doing at a classified site in Siberia. He explains how major Cold War events including the Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear diplomacy affected his career and his moral satisfaction in not contributing to weapons science. Sagdeev discusses his work at the Institute of Physics of High Temperatures, and his developing interests in astrophysics, and he explains his subsequent tenure at the Space Research Institute of the Academy of Sciences, and why the American moon landing demonstrated that Russia had ceded its dominance in the Space Race. He explains why manned space missions were always more politicized than unmanned missions and describes the political value of the Soviet-US Soyuz-Apollo test project as an opportunity for “hand shaking in space.” Sagdeev discusses his experiences advising Gorbachev on disarmament negotiations, and he shares his perspective on SDI and why it was actually the Pershing missile system that contributed more to the Soviet collapse than U.S. defense spending under Reagan. He describes witnessing the end of the Cold War as watching a movie in slow motion, and he explains how he met Susan Eisenhower and the circumstances leading to his move to the United States, where he joined the faculty at the University of Maryland and served as an adviser to NASA. Sagdeev explains his current interests in intergalactic shock waves and he shares his ideas on the newly formed U.S. Space Force and the weaponizing of space. At the end of the interview, Sagdeev shares that if he could start his career all over again, he would focus on neuroscience.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Peter Nanos discusses: family background and childhood in New Hampshire; decision to study at the Naval Academy; fraternal culture at the Academy; experience as a Trident Scholar working with Ralph Goodwin; Ph.D. at Princeton as part of the Burke Program; working in Bob Dicke’s gravity group on the first large-scale measurement of the polarization of the microwave background; work on the timing of the crab nebula pulsar; thesis advisor Dave Wilkinson; getting feedback on his thesis pre-publication from Bob Wilson; working with Captain Al Skolnick on the Navy High Energy Laser Program to demonstrate the ability to down supersonic aircraft with the Mid-Infrared Chemical Laser (MIRACL); decision to stay with the Navy as an engineering duty officer (ED); various assignments as ED, including on the USS America; involvement in Operation El Dorado Canyon (1986 U.S. bombing of Libya); effects of Reagan’s increased military spending; power of nuclear deterrence in reducing worldwide war fatalities; work with and promotion to director of Naval Strategic Systems Programs (SSP); use of the first GPS; START Treaty; work with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA); Drell commission to determine safety of the Trident II D5 missile; creation of the National Nuclear Security Administration; director position at Los Alamos; response to reports of “lost” nuclear material; explanation of laboratory shut down; position as associate director at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA); creation of R&D Enterprise at DTRA; investments in nuclear detection technology; experiences running exercises; work with the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins; and post-retirement consulting work. Toward the end of the interview, Nanos reflects on demanding technical excellence and on the value of his training and study of physics, “the liberal arts of STEM.” 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Peter Zimmerman, Emeritus Professor of Science and Security in the War Studies Department, King’s College London. Zimmerman recounts his upbringing in Wisconsin and then New Mexico in support of his father’s work in civilian and military defense, and he describes his early interests in science. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Stanford and the influence of Walter Meyerhof, and his decision to remain at Stanford for graduate school. Zimmerman discusses his postdoctoral appointments at DESY and then Fermilab until his first faculty appointment at LSU. He explains his involvement with the nuclear issues at the federal level in the 1970s and his offer to join the ACDA. Zimmerman discusses his opposition to strategic missile defense and he explains how his policy analysis work at the Carnegie Endowment filtered its way into policymaking. He describes the debates around ending nuclear testing and his interest in looking at nuclear weapons in the context of international terrorism. Zimmerman explains the negative security ramifications of the ACDA being folded into the Department of State and he explains his move to become Chief Scientist of Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He describes the scene in Washington on 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks in Congress, and he explains why he never believed that Saddam Hussein had a WMD capability before the Iraq War. Zimmerman discusses his professorship in London and his opportunity to create a new center on science and security, and he shares his perspective on the JCPOA and what bothered him the most about Trump’s foreign policy decisions. At the end of the interview, Zimmerman reflects on how to best translate scientific analysis into good policy outcomes, and why a lack of public interest or media coverage should never make us lose sight of ongoing security threats.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
January 30, February 6, 13, 20 & 27, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview Dr. Kenneth Watson, Dr. Richard Garwin, Dr. Curtis Callan, and Dr. Roy Schwitters participate in a roundtable discussion on the origins and early history of the JASON scientific advisory group. Watson, an emeritus from University of California San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography, discusses the early efforts of Charles Townes and Marvin Stern in forming JASON. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratory of IBM, reflects upon IDA, the management organization that allowed for the formation of the JASON group. Callan, Professor of Physics at Princeton University, discusses the Charney Report and the sponsorship of Ari Patrinos of the Department of Energy, and his relationship with JASON. Schwitters, Regents Professor Emeritus from University of Texas Austin, and Garwin detail JASON’s 1980 report on tunnel detection. The group reflects upon the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and how it added urgency to the creation of JASON. Watson and Garwin discuss the early agenda of JASON and their focus on detection of missile launches, nuclear effects, and Nick Christofilos work with particle beam weapons. They discuss the involvement of JASON in the Vietnam War effort and how some members were targeted by protestors for their involvement. Watson and Schwitters reflect on the presence of Claire Max and the time it took to get more women involved in JASON in face of the traditional “boys club” atmosphere that was present in professional circles at the time. Garwin speaks about the development of the sonic boom report. Callen talks about his study on neutrino detection and the purpose of JASON in a post-Cold War era. He also discusses JASONs work on CHAMMP, Computer Hardware, Advanced Mathematics and Model Physics. The group describes the Human Genome project of the late 1990s. Schwitters and Garwin discuss how JASON can offer independent judgment in ways U.S. Intelligence agencies cannot, such as in 2009 when they were commissioned to study North Korean nuclear capability. Lastly, Watson speaks about how he believes GPS will become an important issue of study for JASON in the future, a point which is furthered by Garwin who also cites cybersecurity in general as a main focal point for JASON moving forward.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, retired as President of Sandia Corporation. He discusses his advisory work since retirement, and the various ways he has remained connected to Sandia. He recounts his childhood in Memphis and his early interests in physics, and he describes the opportunities that led to his graduate research at Florida State University. Robinson describes his thesis work under the direction of Robert H. Davis, who headed the nuclear accelerator laboratory, where he worked on alpha particle scattering on Calcium 40. He describes his interest in pursuing postgraduate work at Los Alamos, and he explains how the academic and the national security sides of the Lab worked to mutual benefit. He describes the Lab’s early work in internal fusion and laser-induced chemistry, and his steadily rising responsibilities at the Lab, including that for the design and certification of nuclear weapons. Robinson discusses his work on nuclear strategy and policy, and he explains the difference between mutually assured destruction and maintaining a second-strike capability. He explains his decision to leave Los Alamos in 1985, and the circumstances leading to him becoming Head of the US Delegation and Ambassador and Chief Negotiator during nuclear testing talks with the Soviet Union. Robinson discusses how the end of the Cold War reformulated U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and the circumstances that led to him joining Sandia. He conveys his pride in Sandia’s leadership work on technology transfer and applying supercomputing toward energy security. At the end of the interview, Robinson reflects on what he has learned in his career in U.S. national security policy, and he speculates on the threats the U.S. faces in an uncertain future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP interviews Siegfried Hecker, Professor Emeritus with the Department of Management Science and Engineering, and Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Security and Cooperation, at Stanford University. Hecker recounts his family background as the child of ethnic Austrian and German parents who lived in Bosnia at the outbreak of World War II. He describes his family’s ordeal during the war and the circumstances surrounding his mother’s decision to move the family to the United States. Hecker recounts his experiences growing up in Cleveland and his decision to attend Case Tech for his undergraduate education. He explains his decision to switch his focus from physics to metallurgy, his formative summer at Los Alamos Lab before returning to Case for his Ph.D. work, and his decision to return to Los Alamos for postdoctoral research in metallurgy and elastic to plastic transitions. He describes his work at the General Motors Research Lab and his decision to return once again to Los Alamos, where he was assured he could focus on science and not management issues. Hecker explains how he became more involved in plutonium research and the various national security implications of this work. He describes his rise in the ranks at Los Alamos and how he became involved in national policy decisions in Washington. Hecker recounts the circumstances leading to being named director of Los Alamos, and he reflects on the challenges and opportunities he saw to improve the lab in this position. He provides an overview of nuclear weapons policy at the end of the Cold War and the renaissance in plutonium research in the 1990s. Hecker reflects on his decision to join the faculty at Stanford, and why he wanted to pursue matters of international security studies, and he describes his record of advisory work on nuclear verification in North Korea and elsewhere. At the end of the interview, Hecker describes his ongoing interest and research in metallurgy, and he reflects on how these interests bring him back full circle to the origins of his career. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Mary Elizabeth (MaryBeth) Beerbohm, longtime secretary to Pief Panofsky at SLAC. Beerbohm recounts her childhood in northern Minnesota and she explains how her training in shorthand during high school helped her get a job at SLAC. She describes the origins of “Project M,” and she discusses Panofsky’s daily schedule, his work style, and his management techniques. Beerbohm describes how Panofsky made SLAC feel like a family atmosphere, and as a “good Democrat,” Beerbohm humorously wonders what Panosfky would have thought of Trump. She relates Panofsky’s ideas about nuclear weapons and the Cold War and that his commitment to the Lab remained strong throughout his retirement. At the end of the interview, Beerbohm reflects on her long career at SLAC, and she credits Panofsky for making it both an exciting and meaningful place to work.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Richard Garwin. AIP has several interviews with Garwin already on record; the discussion here focuses on Garwin’s interest and work in recent years. Garwin describes his involvement in pandemic research generally and the Covid-19 crisis specifically. He discusses his involvement in advising on bioterrorism, and he reflects on the import of his research in the realm of national policy. Garwin describes the strength of the United States today in the world arena relative to earlier parts of his career, and he describes his involvement in the creation of the hydrogen bomb. He discusses the current status of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, and he discusses the prospects for ongoing nuclear security in the face of threats from Iran and other U.S. adversaries. Garwin offers his views on the ongoing threats from climate change and terrorism and the challenges facing America’s energy future. He describes his work for the JASON national security advisory work, and he reflects on some of the individuals that he considers heroes. At the end of the interview, Garwin reflects on the singular genius of Feynman, and he reflects on the life of his wife, Lois, who died in 2018.

Interviewed by
Dan Ford
Interview dates
July 2004
Location
La Jolla, California
Abstract

In this interview Herbert York discusses topics such as: Richard Garwin, Edward Teller, hydrogen bomb, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, nuclear weapons, Antiballistic Missiles (ABM), JASON, President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), Permissive Action Links (PAL), command and control system, Harold Brown, satellites, global positioning system (GPS), nuclear test ban treaty. York's wife, Sybil York, occasionally participates in the interview as well.This interview is part of a collection of interviews on the life and work of Richard Garwin. To see all associated interviews, click here.