Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

By Edward Teller; Judith L. Shoolery | Go to book overview
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38
UPHILL
1964-1972

FOR ROUGHLY A decade, beginning about 1962, I was deeply concerned about three issues. The Plowshare program, now four years old, was making wonderful technical progress, but the combined effects of the fear of low‐ level radiation and the lack of political leadership was making commercial applications increasingly unlikely.

Second, the chance for the people of South Vietnam to live in freedom was being lost, and with the fall of South Vietnam, the freedoms of the people of Cambodia and Laos were also likely to disappear. At the same time, student protests throughout the world transformed universities from havens for considered discussions to little more than arenas for mob action.

Finally, after many decades of neglect, the effort to develop an antimissile defense system was launched with considerable promise, only to be abandoned once again in spite of my best efforts to prevent its demise. Reviewing that period today makes me feel as if I, a one-footed man, spent my time struggling uphill against a heavy wind.

Between 1961 and 1973, the Livermore laboratory developed sharply modified explosive devices that provided great earth-moving ability at small cost while producing a minimal amount of radioactive residue. Those devices were used in the United States on three occasions. The Sedan Plowshare demonstration produced an impressive crater in the desert at the National Testing Grounds almost the size of Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona. The crater from the Sedan experiment has become a national monument, but the technique was never turned to more practical ends, such as building a harbor or a canal. Another of our tests demonstrated the production of a huge cavity in a salt deposit near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Three further tests were conducted in connection with increasing the production of gas wells by breaking up the shale. The wells proved more produc

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