Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

By Edward Teller; Judith L. Shoolery | Go to book overview

26
PLEASURES IN THE PACIFIC,
PERILS AT PRINCETON
April 1951-September 1951

THE NUCLEAR TESTS in the Soviet Union appear to have been executed in grim surroundings. Reading Sakharov's memoir, I formed the impression that the Russian physicist's strong negative feelings about nuclear explosives may have been related in part to the use of political prisoners as laborers at the test sites, and the lack of even rudimentary safety measures to protect them. The situation in the United States was very different. As a general rule, the spirit of the test-site workers—military men and laboratory employees—was excellent. And the surroundings in which the tests were conducted, although primitive, were beautiful rather than grim. That was certainly true of the tests held in the spring of 1951.

The test series scheduled for April and May 1951 had been the original reason for my return to Los Alamos. The thermonuclear test, the George shot in the Greenhouse series, had been the focus of my efforts for a considerable part of the year. George was an experiment rather than a test; its sole usefulness was to prove that our calculations were correct. The device had no military usefulness; the amount of tritium involved would have made it too expensive to be a practical weapon, and the device itself, because of the refrigeration required for the liquid deuterium, was much too cumbersome to travel as a single unit.

Because of my involvement in the Greenhouse series, I was invited to witness what we all hoped would be the first man-made macroscopic thermonuclear reaction. I felt confident that the test would be successful, but I still had enough misgivings to be excited about the event. Perhaps that explains how I happened to cut my thumb badly while shaving on the morning I was

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