Talk:Edward Teller

From Citizendium, the Citizens' Compendium
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is developed but not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
To learn how to fill out this checklist, please see CZ:The Article Checklist. To update this checklist edit the metadata template.
 Definition (January 15, 1908 - September 9, 2003) One of the most controversial scientists of the 20th century because of his role as the main developer of the hydrogen bomb, his outspoken defense of an unassailable nuclear arsenal, and support for President Reagan's Strategic Defensive Initiative. [d] [e]


What remains to be done with this article? It seems quite developed to me. Russell D. Jones 01:15, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

One note: it was less that the third-generation weapons and X-ray lasers were impractical, as that treaties, such as demilitarization of space, prevented any testing. --Howard C. Berkowitz 02:05, 31 January 2010 (UTC)
Yeah, but that didn't matter to Teller. But Brown and May make no reference about the political infeasibility, only that it was "technically unworkable." Russell D. Jones 02:31, 31 January 2010 (UTC)
Thus Brown and May don't really know if it was technically unworkable or not. You can't find out if an X-ray laser works without a nuclear explosion in space. --Howard C. Berkowitz 03:19, 31 January 2010 (UTC)


[Text copied from discussion page of Paul Wormer]:

Paul, what is lacking with Edward Teller that we would prevent it from being approved? Russell D. Jones 01:11, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

Not much, maybe a few more references? On the other hand, as I stated several times on the Forum, once it is approved, it is hard to change it. And who knows, you or I may read something interesting in the future that then will be hard to add. --Paul Wormer 13:09, 31 January 2010 (UTC)
Another thing: WP has a section about Teller and the Israel A- and H-bombs. Teller doesn't say anything about this in his Memoirs. The WP section is based on one book only (that I haven't seen and I don't know its trustworthiness). Since the fact whether or not Israel possesses nuclear weapons is formally top-secret, I decided not to chase after that book and to skip the topic altogether. Any opinion anyone? --Paul Wormer 14:04, 31 January 2010 (UTC)
As time permits in the next few days, I'll try to get more on the Israeli nuclear program and Teller, although the best use of time may simply be wikilink Israeli nuclear program and explore Teller's role there. Anyone have Mordechai Vanunu's or Avner Cohen's books at hand?
I can add some text about how Teller definitely was involved in establishing the United States intelligence community assumptions about the Israeli program. He contended that they would never do a full test, since that would be detectable and obviously end their policy of "strategic ambiguity".--Howard C. Berkowitz 18:08, 31 January 2010 (UTC)
Let me underscore this: Is all we have to go on regarding Teller's role in the Israeli weapons program is Wikipedia and one book of unknown trustworthiness? I say our article merits ten words on the matter. "Teller also may have been involved in the Israeli weapons program." Sorry, that's eleven words....
Our biography should focus, foremost, on what Teller's fame is grounded: his physics, the H-Bomb, LLNL, and his backstabbing of Oppenheimer. His life after (say) 1970 is pretty much a coda. I'm not persuaded that we need extensive sections on his roles on intelligence or Israel because, as Howard asserts, he was only "involved" in these activities. If it merits longer discussion of Teller's involvement in these issues, let's put it in Israeli nuclear program and United States intelligence community because they don't seem to bear directly on the four main points of Teller's life. Russell D. Jones 15:47, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
I have a strong preference of not writing at all about the Teller-Israel connection, because as I wrote here it will by necessity unprovable guesswork. I'm puzzled, however, why Russell removed my deliberations about the matter from this talk page. Was I politically incorrect in American eyes? To avoid misunderstanding: I had not intended to include any of it in the article. --Paul Wormer 16:42, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Sorry, Paul, I may have been a little too strong and too little clear. I do agree with your sensibilities on this matter. And, I guess I was a little sloppy with the editing. I didn't see (or read) the article organization and teller/Israel sections. I'm puzzled at how I missed it. I'll restore it. Sorry for the confusion. Russell D. Jones 16:49, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
After some additional research, I have seen nothing to suggest Teller's direct involvement in Israel's nuclear program. U.S. intelligence, yes, and there are data to suggest that he might have been sympathetic, at the U.S. policy level, to Israel having a justification (remember, this was pre-NPT) to develop a program. Frankly, given his reputation among U.S. weaponeers, I'm not sure he would been an asset to the Israeli program -- he was at best a conceptual designer and never really contributed to implementation in the U.S.
We do address other aspects of his involvement in U.S. policy, and I do regard it as quite appropriate to mention these confirmed snippets in a sentence or two about intelligence and nonproliferation policy (i.e., he wasn't opposed to Israeli proliferation). Howard C. Berkowitz 16:47, 1 February 2010 (UTC)

Article organization

Right now, the "Biography" heading is superfluous, because there are no other headings at the same level. Either it could go and the subordinate headings promoted, or there could be major headings along the lines of "Scientific contributions" and "Policy involvement". --Howard C. Berkowitz 18:15, 31 January 2010 (UTC)


The assumption that Teller had knowledge of the Israeli nuclear program (in the middle of the 1960s) raises a number of questions.

Israel would have informed Teller only about their program if Teller at the time was assisting Israel in constructing nuclear weapons, otherwise Israel would have had no reason to tell Teller about their top-secret endeavor. However, if Teller assisted Israel without consent of the Johnson Administration, he would have committed treason of the kind that brought the Rosenbergs to the electric chair. The conclusion must be that the US government agreed in Teller assisting Israel. This raises the first question: why didn't the CIA know this? Second question: why was Teller the person to inform the CIA when high-placed government officials (maybe even cabinet ministers) knew about it?

Alternatively, let's make the unlikely assumption Teller was informed about the Israeli nuclear program without the US government knowing about the program (and Teller not committing treason). Then, surely, Teller must have told the Israel government that he was going to inform the CIA about it. This means that Israel decided that it was time that their closest and most powerful ally (the US) was to be enlightened about their nuclear program. But then again, Teller was an unlikely means of communication. One would expect either foreign ministers or high ranking secret service officials informing each other about this.

Finally, neither the Israeli nor the US government are in a position (even now after 45 years) to admit that the US helped Israel—through Teller—in developing nuclear weapons. Such an admission would be devastating for the US/Muslim-World relations. Hence, authors writing about the relationship between Teller and the Israel nuclear weapons program are necessarily guessing. If CZ wants to write about it, CZ must (i) mention the authors who make the guesses and (ii) make clear that the quoted authors make indeed educated guesses.

--Paul Wormer 13:00, 1 February 2010 (UTC)

If the assumption is that Teller was involved in U.S. policy and intelligence towards Israel, but not active development there, the Israelis didn't need to tell him anything. By 1968, there was substantial intelligence information on the Israeli program, such as imagery of the Dimona facility.
"One would expect either foreign ministers or high ranking secret service officials informing each other about this" They might not need to be enlightened; U.S. intelligence isn't totally incompetent. Once Dimona's output could be estimated, it was clear they could do at least a first-generation fission weapon, and had an air force that could deliver it. If, for example, any of a number of sources confirmed a hydrodynamic or hydronuclear test facility, various high-speed X-ray cameras, etc., there would be evidence they had the tools to work on miniaturization and efficiency improvement. It's not so much that terrorists couldn't get a person that understood the principles, but they just don't have access to the test instruments. Briefly, a "smoking gun" for the Iranian program was a suggestion they were working on a bomb-specific uranium deuteride initiator, although that report appears to be a hoax. None of these are areas where Teller was expert.
Once a program was in weapons development, as in the U.S., Teller was not known for being able to contribute. Conceptual and high-level design, such as radiation pressure and directed radiation in third-generation weapons, sure. Once a country has the fissionable material, much of the most valuable information is non-nuclear, as in design of the implosion system, or in nuclear technology, such as tritium boosting, which may seem simple but are not. There's a widespread assumption that India's first attempts at tritium boosting failed.
The part that makes Teller assisting Israel least plausible is that his areas of expertise were not ones they would have needed. Without getting into Teller vs. Ulam, it's still a long way from the concept of radiation pressure to the engineering design of a Secondary. The skills here involve such things as X-ray diffraction and reflection, and plasma physics of compression. It's still not clear, in the open literature, what happens when the X-rays reach the Hohlraum: the most widely accepted guess is that they cause symmetrical ablation of the tamper of the Secondary; an earlier assumption that they needed intermediate coupling through the conversion of high-density polystyrene-pentane, which actually exerts the pressure, is less popular. In either case, I don't think there's much to suggest that Teller worked on these problems. Howard C. Berkowitz 18:55, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Howard, I see what you are saying here and it confirms my opinion that the Teller-Israel connection is not worthy of mention in the article. But why did you enter the following sentence?
In 1968, Teller had discussions with Carl Duckett, then Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for Science and Technology, which led to the basic United States intelligence community assumptions about the Israeli nuclear program.
As I understand your above comments, Teller had nothing new to tell to Duckett and the discussion between Duckett and Teller is of no historical interest whatsoever. Hence we may scratch the sentence, don't you think? --Paul Wormer 20:25, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
I would disagree that the conversation had no historical significance. It set the basis for U.S. assumptions that Israel had nuclear weapons, and guided future policy. What I am saying is that while it is unlikely Teller had a direct role on Israel, he definitely did have a role in U.S. policy about Israel, just as he had influence on thermonuclear weapons, ballistic missile defense, and militarization of space. Essentially, he confirmed the CIA assumptions, and they passed on his approval to Lyndon Johnson. They might not have done so without his imprimatur, although I can think of quite a few weapons developers that would have been more authoritative -- but not have his reputation. Howard C. Berkowitz 20:45, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Howard, I'm totally confused now. You say that the CIA knew from imagery of the Dimona facility (not from Teller) about the possibility that the Israelis could and did construct nuclear weapons. You also say that the Israelis didn't tell Teller anything. In other words, in the middle 1960s Teller did not know anything about the Israeli program that was of value to the CIA. But then I don't understand how discussions with Teller led to the basic United States intelligence community assumptions about the Israeli nuclear program. What exactly was Teller's input in these discussions, how could he, with his lack of knowledge, have instigated assumptions about the Israeli nuclear program? --Paul Wormer 21:15, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Clearly, Paul, you wouldn't be as confused had you spent time in the weirdness of U.S. government. Are you now going to expect that Dick Cheney would have known the slightest thing about actual interrogation practice before ordering policies about it? See, for example, Office of Special Plans as an example of wanting to have justification for a policy.
Seriously, Teller had a reputation, so people listened to him, whether or not he actually knew anything about the matter. In the case of Duckett, quite competent intelligence analysts had been analyzing the Israeli program for years — Duckett appeared not to report it to higher authority until he discussed it with a Distinguished Nuclear Physicist. Teller confirmed Duckett's belief based merely on Teller's informal conversations with friends in Israel. [1]
U.S. intelligence, and President Kennedy, were actively demanding information from Israel in 1961. [2] Nevertheless, in 1967, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms was denying, within the U.S. government, that Israel had nuclear weapons. [3] Policy officials at the National Security Council did not appear to want to tell Johnson. [4]]. So, the fact that invoking Teller finally caused Lyndon Johnson to be told is very, very significant; it meant that the President of the United States could start dealing with reality.
Teller didn't add any significant information, but he affected the policy of the United States toward Israel. I'm afraid you're looking for rationality that is not always present. Howard C. Berkowitz 22:21, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Exactly, Howard, Teller didn't add anything significant except adding the weight of his name to some policy recommendations. As I said above, and I think I'm in agreement with Paul on this (but I've already messed things up once today trying to agree with Paul), I don't think that this merits more than a few words in this article if at all. Russell D. Jones 22:33, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
A few words, but not no words. The weight of his name was important. Arguably, it was more that weight, than, for example, reasoned analysis of a security risk, that gave him so much influence over Oppenheimer. One can argue that it was the weight of his reputation that created a second U.S. nuclear weapons lab, although you will get back some arguments that LLNL was a safeguard against LASL going off in blind alleys -- which they did at times. Howard C. Berkowitz 22:45, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Add something. Russell D. Jones 22:52, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Russell, I was responding to Paul's questions. The information already there seemed adequate to me. Removing it entirely seemed inappropriate, so I added some text giving perspective. I don't think this needs much more discussion. Have you seen me actually trying to put extensive text into the article? No. I was responding to questions here. Howard C. Berkowitz 23:10, 1 February 2010 (UTC)


The matter is clear to me now. Personally I wouldn't have added this short section, but since CZ is a wiki, I obey Howard's wishes. I added one of Howard's references because this hush-hush business requires as much underpinning as is possible.--Paul Wormer 23:23, 1 February 2010 (UTC)

Oh, I see, too. It wasn't my intention to push anyone to make the article worse. If I had understood that you, Howard, liked the article as it was, we could have left well enough alone. I'm okay with a reversion too. Russell D. Jones 03:10, 2 February 2010 (UTC)


Howard, I like a lede to be compact and full of information, so that ledes by themselves form an encyclopedia. Your anecdote, good as it is, is orthogonal to this philosophy. Couldn't you move the anecdote down? --Paul Wormer 15:59, 2 February 2010 (UTC)

I'll certainly defer to you as senior author here. There's individual style here; I tend to think the occasional anecdote in ledes draws the reader to go beyond. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:41, 2 February 2010 (UTC)
I couldn't agree more for newspaper articles. With regard to encyclopedia articles I'm less frivolous than you. --Paul Wormer 18:03, 2 February 2010 (UTC)

Opinion of Bethe

Howard you added:

By the summer of 1942, theoreticians in the Manhattan Project, notably Hans Bethe and Teller, believed fission conceptual design was moving well under Robert Serber and his colleagues, and they turned their attention to fusion, considered a distraction by some.

This is in contradiction to what I wrote earlier in the article:

However, even at this early stage, Teller's obsession with the fusion bomb caused tensions with others, particularly with Hans Bethe, the division leader who pragmatically aimed for the development of a fission bomb before he would even contemplate the use of thermonuclear fusion reactions for weapons

We don't want a WP style article, do we? All my info points to Hans Bethe being against spending time on a fusion bomb. Even after the war he had great doubts about its usefulness.

--Paul Wormer 06:09, 8 May 2010 (UTC)

I don't think it's immediately contradictory, although there might be expansion. Oppenheimer convened a group, in the summer of 1942, that he called the "luminaries". It was intended to work on bomb design theory, not necessarily nuclear or thermonuclear, and included Bethe, Teller, Van Vleck, Felix Bock, Emil Konopinski, Robert Serber, and others. (Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, pp. 415-422. Teller convinced Konopinksi should review his "Super" proposal of a fission device adjacent to deuterium. "The theoreticians let Teller's bomb distract them. Rhodes quoted Bethe, " The theory of the fission bomb was well taken care of by Serber and two of his young people. [They] seemed to have it well under control so we felt we didn't need to do much." The team addressed the possibility that a fission bomb could trigger fusion in the atmosphere (Compton and Oppenheimer).
At this stage, remember that the Super idea was a deuterium-deuterium reaction in a cylinder next to a fission bomb, which was nowhere close to any of the 1948-1950 ideas that made more theoretical sense.
James Bryant Conant and Vannevar Bush heard the study, and the U.S. was devoting some design effort to thermonuclear reactions by July 1942. (p. 422). The next milestone was Fermi's demonstration of fission in Chicago, but the power -- Teller was a poor bureaucratic infighter -- shifted to Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer and Groves met in October and decided on the need for a fast-neutron (i.e., fission bomb) lab in October. (pp. 447-448). Teller, then at Fermi's lab in Chicago, asked to come to Oppenheimer's "Site Y", or Los Alamos lab, but was put in a Theoretical Division. (pp. 453-454).
It's fair to say that Bethe opposed continued major work on a fusion bomb. It is fair to say he explored -- and rejected it -- in mid to late 1942. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:11, 8 May 2010 (UTC)