Teller: Changing Manager Won't Fix Nuclear Labs 'Father of H-Bomb,' Others Say Security Problems Exaggerated

Article excerpt

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Physicist Edward Teller isn't sure whether the nuclear weapons labs he helped found have a spy problem.

But the man known as the "Father of the H-Bomb" is sure that any problems aren't going to be fixed by ousting the University of California as manager of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

He's reminded of the crisis of 1949 when scientists working on the weapons program at Los Alamos, N.M., learned that secrets of the atomic bomb had been leaked to the Soviets.

"President Truman's reaction to this discovery was, in my opinion, precisely the right one -- speed up our work," the 92-year-old scientist said.

"Today, there is not even a whisper of speeding up our work," he said. Instead, there's been a "magnifying of the damage done when probably there was no damage or little damage."

"UC's management has been good. The connection with UC is valuable. It would be a grave mistake to interrupt it," he said in an interview.

Through his decades-long career, Teller has exerted a profound influence on America's defense and energy policies. In 1939, Teller was one of three scientists who encouraged Albert Einstein to alert President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the power of nuclear fission -- the splitting of an atom's nucleus -- could be tapped to create a devastating new weapon.

Today's troubles in the weapons program began last year with allegations that nuclear secrets had leaked to China. Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee was fired and later charged with mishandling classified information. However, Lee was not charged with espionage, and he denies any wrongdoing.

Next came budget and deadline troubles for a huge laser being built to simulate thermonuclear explosions at Lawrence Livermore.

And both Los Alamos and Livermore are being investigated for possible discrimination against Asians, a concern highlighted by the prosecution of Taiwanese-born Lee.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, under pressure from members of Congress to remove UC from its management role, has ordered major changes in security. He's scheduled to get a report on how to do that today, although no immediate announcement was expected.

Some feel public censure has gone too far.

Losing UC would be "a horrible thing," says Los Alamos scientist Manvendra Dubey. …