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Richard Rhodes on: The Super Conference at Los Alamos
Richard Rhodes Q: In 1946 the Los Alamos weapons laboratory organizes a conference to assess where the hydrogen bomb effort stands. What happens at that conference?

RR: The Super Conference was called at Los Alamos in April of 1946, basically in the spirit of putting away your fur coat in mothballs. They had done a certain amount of work. Everyone was leaving. Let's get it all down on paper so we can set it away. And this is where we are at this point. There'll be a record.

Where they were was what has been called the Super (Teller called it a superbomb), which was essentially a pipe filled with liquid deuterium (which is a kind of hydrogen), with an atomic bomb screwed to one end. The idea was that the bomb would heat the deuterium hot enough to start thermonuclear burning (another kind of nuclear reaction, a fusion reaction), and the burning would proceed up the pipe, and you would have a big explosion. It was presumably more complicated than that, but that basically was the design. The atomic bomb had to be not an implosion bomb but a pipe type bomb itself, for various technical reasons.

The report that was issued said that this was a feasible project, that-- meaning from a physical point of view, from a technical point of view, the design would probably work. One of the participants, Robert Serber, told me later that when he saw the draft report, he was horrified, because they hadn't agreed that at all. To the contrary. They weren't at all sure that it was feasible. And he asked Teller to rewrite the draft. And he said, when it was finally issued as a finished paper, Teller hadn't changed a thing.

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