The Film & More|
Interview Transcripts | Bibliography | Primary Sources
Edward Teller's Testimony in the Oppenheimer Hearings
April 28, 1954
Mr. GRAY: Dr. Teller, do you wish to testify under oath?
Dr. TELLER: I do.
Mr. GRAY: Would you raise your right hand and give me your full name?
Mr. TELLER: Edward Teller.
Mr. GRAY: Edward Teller, do you swear that the testimony you are to give the
board shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help
Dr. TELLER: I do.
Whereupon, Edward Teller was called as a witness, and having been first duly
sworn, was examined and testified as follows:
Mr. GRAY: Will you sit down.
Dr. Teller, it is my duty to remind you of the existence of the so-called
perjury ? with respect to testifying in a Government proceeding and
testifying under oath. May I assume that you are generally familiar with those
The WITNESS: I am.
Mr. GRAY: May I ask, sir, that if in the course of your testimony it becomes
necessary for you to refer to or to disclose restricted data, you let me know
in advance so that we may take appropriate and necessary steps in the interests
Finally, may I say to you that we consider this proceeding a confidential
matter between the Atomic Energy Commission, its officials and witnesses on the
one hand, and Dr. Oppenheimer and his representatives on the other. The
Commission is not effecting news releases with respect to these proceedings,
and we express the hope that witnesses will take the same view.
By Mr. ROBB:
Q: Dr. Teller, may I ask you, sir, at the outset, are you appearing as a
witness here today because you want to be here?
A. I appear because I have been asked to and because I consider it my duty
upon request to say what I think in the matter. I would have preferred not to
Q. I believe, sir, that you stated to me some time ago that anything you had
to say, you wished to say in the presence of Dr. Oppenheimer?
A. That is correct.
Q. May I ask you, sir, to tell the board briefly of your academic background
A. I started to study in Budapest where I was born, at the Institute of
Technology there, chemical engineering for a very short time. I continued in
Germany, first in chemical engineering and mathematics, then in Munich for a
short time, and finally in Leipzig in physics, where I took my doctor's
After that I worked as a research associate in Copenhagen. I taught in London.
I had a fellowship, a Rockefeller fellowship in Copenhagen.
In 1935 I came to this country and taught for 6 years at the George Washington
University, that is, essentially until the beginning of the war.
At that time I went to Columbia on leave of absence, partly to teach and partly
in the very beginnings of the war work in 1941-42, as I remember, and then I
participated in the war work. After the war I returned to teach in Chicago at
the University of Chicago, which also was interrupted with some work for the
AEC, and now for the last year I am at the University of California in
Q. Dr. Teller, you know Dr. Oppenheimer well; do you not?
A. I have known Dr. Oppenheimer for a long-time. I first got closely
associated with him in the summer of 1942 in connection with atomic energy
work. Later in Los Alamos and after Los Alamos I knew him. I met him
frequently, but I was not particularly closely associated with him, and I did
not discuss with him very frequently or in very great detail matters outside of
Q. To simplify the issues here, perhaps, let me ask you this question: Is it
your intention in anything that you are about to testify to, to suggest that
Dr. Oppenheimer is disloyal to the United States?
A. I do not want to suggest anything of the kind. I know Oppenheimer as an
intellectually most alert and a very complicated person, and I think it would
be presumptuous and wrong on my part if I would try in any way to analyze his
motives. But I have always assumed, and I now assume that he is loyal to the
United States. I believe this, and I shall believe it until I see very
conclusive proof to the opposite.
Q. Now, a question which is the corollary of that. Do you or do you not
believe that Dr. Oppenheimer is a security risk?
A. In a great number of cases I have seen Dr. Oppenheimer act-I understood
that Dr. Oppenheimer acted-in a way which for me was exceedingly hard to
understand. I thoroughly disagreed with him in numerous issues and his actions
frankly appeared to me confused and complicated. To this extent I feel that I
would like to see the vital interests of this country in hands which I
understand better, and therefore trust more.
In this very limited sense I would like to express a feeling that I would feel
personally more secure if public mattes would rest in other hands.
Q. One question I should have asked you before, Dr. Teller. Are you an
American citizen, sir?
A. I am.
Q. When were you naturalized?
A. In 1941.
Q. I believe you said that about 1941 you began to work on the atomic bomb
A. I don't think I said that. Certainly I did not intend to say it.
Q. I will rephrase the question. When did you begin to work on the Atomic
A. That again I am not sure I can answer simply. I became aware of the
atomic-bomb program early in 1939. I have been close to it every since, and I
have at least part of the time worked on it and worried about it ever since.
Q. Did you work during the war at Los Alamos?
A. I did.
Q. When did you go there, sir?
A. In April 1943.
Q. What was the nature of your work there?
A. It was theoretical work connected with the atomic bomb. Generally
speaking-I do not know whether I have to go into that in any detail-I was more
interested by choice and also be directive in advanced development, so that at
the beginning I think my work was perhaps more closely connected, with the
actual outcome or what happened in Alamagordo, but very soon my work shifted
into fields which were not to bear fruition until a much later time.
Q. Will you tell the board whether or not while you were in Los Alamos in 1943
or 1944, you did any work or had any discussions about the so-called
A. Excuse me, if I may restate your question. I got to Los Alamos in early
April 1943. To the best of my recollection, although I might be wrong-I mean
my date might not be quite precise-I left at the beginning of February 1946.
Throughout this period I had very frequent discussions about thermonuclear
Q. Will you tell us whether you ever discussed the thermonuclear method with
A. I discussed it very frequently indeed with him. In fact my discussions
date back to our first associations in this matter, namely, to the summer of
Q. What was Dr. Oppenheimer's opinion in those discussions during those years
about the feasibility of producing a thermonuclear weapon?
A. This is something which I wish you would allow me to answer slightly in
detail, because it is not an easy question.
Q. Yes sir.
A. I hope that I can keep my answer in an unclassified way. I hope I am not
disclosing a secret when I say that to construct the thermonuclear bomb is not
a very easy thing, and that in our discussions, all of us frequently believed
it could be done, and again we frequently believed it could not be done. I
think Dr. Oppenheimer's opinions shifted with the shifting evidence. To the
best of my recollection before we got to Los Alamos we had all of us
considerable hopes that the thermonuclear bomb can be constructed. It was my
understanding that these hopes were fully shared by Dr. Oppenheimer.
Later some disappeared and perhaps to counterbalance some things that might
have been said, I think I have made myself some contributions in discovering
some of these difficulties.
I clearly remember that toward the end of the war Dr. Oppenheimer encouraged me
to go ahead with the thermonuclear investigations. I further remember that in
the summer of 1945, after the test at Alamogordo it was generally understood in
the laboratory that we are going to develop thermonuclear bombs in a vigorous
fashion and that quite a number of people, such as the most outstanding, like
Fermi and Bethe, would participate in it.
I also know that very shortly after the dropping of bombs on Japan this plan
was changed and to the best of my belief it was changed at least in good part
because of the opinion of Dr. Oppenheimer that this is not the time to pursue
this program any further.
I should like to add to this, however, that this also thoroughly responded to
the temper of the people in the laboratory, most of whom at that time
understandably and clearly and in consonance with the general tempo of the
country, wanted to go home.
Q. Did you have any conversations with Dr. Oppenheimer at or about September
1945 about working on the thermonuclear?
A. We had around that period several conversations and in one of them, to the
best of my recollection, Oppenheimer and Fermi and Allison and I were present.
Oppenheimer argued that this is not the time at which to pursue the business
further, that this is a very interesting program, that it would be a wonderful
thing if we could pursue it in a really peaceful world under international
cooperation, but that under the present setup this was not a good idea to go on
I perhaps should also like to mention that to the best of my knowledge at that
time there was a decision by a board composed of several prominent people, one
of them, Dr. Oppenheimer, which decided in effect that thermonuclear work
either cannot or should not be pursued that it at any rate was a long-term
undertaking requiring very considerable effort. To my mind this was in sharp
contrast to the policy pursued a short time before.
But I also should say that this sharp contrast was at least in part motivated
by the fact that in Los Alamos there was a crew of exceedingly able physicists
who could do a lot and at he end of the war were trying to get back to their
purely academic duties, and in this new atmosphere, it might have appeared
indeed hard to continue with such as ambitious program.
One member of the board which made this decision, Fermi, and who concurred in
that decision, told about that decision and told me that he knew that I am
likely to disagree with it, and asked me to state my opinion in writing. This
I did, and I gave my written statement to Oppenheimer, and therefore, both the
opinion, that the thermonuclear bomb at that time was not feasible, and my own
opinion that one could have proceeded in this direction are documented.
Q. Did there come a time when you left Los Alamos after the war?
A. That is right. As I mentioned, I left in February 1946. May I perhaps add
something here if we are proceeding in a chronological manner?
A. Perhaps if I might interject this not in response to one of your
Q. That is perfectly all right, sir.
A. I would like to say that I consider Dr. Oppenheimer's direction of the Los
Alamos Laboratory a very outstanding achievement due mainly to the fact that
with his very quick mind he found out very promptly what was going on in every
part of the laboratory, made right judgements about things, supported work when
work had to be supported, and also I think with his very remarkable insight in
psychological matters, made just a most wonderful and excellent director.
Q. In that statement were you speaking of Dr. Openheimer's ability as an
administrator or his contribution as a scientist or both?
A. I would like to say that I would say in a way both. As an administrator he
was so busy that his purely scientific contributions to my mind and in my
judgement were not outstanding, that is, not insofar as I could see his
original contributions. But nevertheless, his scientific contributions were
great by exercising quick and sound judgment and giving the right kind of
encouragement in very many different cases. I should think that scientific
initiative came from a great number of other excellent people whom Oppenheimer
not let alone but also to a very great extent by his able recruiting effort he
collected a very considerable number of them, and I should say that purely
scientific initiatives and contributions came from many people, such like, for
instance, von Neumann, Bethe, Segre, to mention a few with whom I am very
closely connected, and very many others, and I cannot begin to make a complete
list of them.
Q. Coming back to a previous question, Doctor, you say you did leave the
laboratory in January 1946?
A. I believe February 1946, but it might be the last days of January. I do
not remember so accurately.
Q. Would you tell us whether or not before that happened you had any
conversations with Dr. Bradbury and Dr. Oppenheimer about the question of
whether you should leave or not?
A. I had several conversations.
Q. Would you tell us about those conversations?
A. Of this kind. I am not at all sure that I can mention them all to you.
One was to the best of my recollection in August of 1946, at which time the
laboratory was still apparently going at full tilt. Dr. Oppenheimer came to
see me in my office.
Q. You said August 1946?
A. August 1945. Thank you very much for catching this mistake. He had a long
conversation with me from which it became clear to me that Dr. Oppenheimer
thought that the laboratory would inevitably disintegrate, and that there was
not much point in my staying there, at least that is how I understood him. I
had been planning to go to Chicago where I was invited to go, and participate
in teaching and research work, which I was looking forward to. Then somewhere
during the fall of 1945, I believe, Bradbury asked me to take on the job of
heading the Theoretical Division.
I was very much interested in seeing the continuation of Los Alamos, in a
vigorous manner, and in spite of my desire to go back to academic work, I
considered this very seriously. I asked Bradbury about the program of the
laboratory and in effect I told him-I certainly do not remember not words-that
I would stay if 1 or 2 conditions would be met, not both, but one of them.
Either if we could continue with the fission program vigorously and as a
criterion whether we would do that or not, I said let us see if we could test
something like 12 fission weapons per year, or, if instead we would go into a
thorough investigation of the thermonuclear question.
Bradbury, I think realistically, said at that time that both of these programs
were unfortunately out of the question. I still did not say no. Oppenheimer
was going to come and visit the laboratory shortly after, and I wanted to
discuss it with him.
I asked him or I told him that Bradbury had invited me, and asked him whether I
should stay. Oppenheimer said that I should stay and he also mentioned that he
knows that General Groves is quite anxious that I should . Then I mentioned to
him the discussion with Bradbury. I said something to this effect. This has
been your laboratory. This is your laboratory. It will not prosper unless you
support it and I don't want to stay here if the laboratory won't prosper.
Q. If what?
A. If the laboratory will not prosper. I think I know that there can be no
hard and fast program now, but I would like to know whether I can count on your
help in getting a vigorous program somewhere along the lines I mentioned
Again I am sorry I cannot quote any literal reply by Oppenheimer, but my
recollection of his reply was that it meant that he is neither able nor willing
to help in an undertaking of this kind. I thereupon said that under these
conditions I think I better leave the laboratory.
Oppenheimer's statement was that he thought that this was really the right
decision, and by leaving the laboratory at that time, I could be of greater
service to the atomic energy enterprise at a later period.
I remember having seen Oppenheimer the same evening at some party. I forget in
whose house it was. He asked me then whether having made up my mind, I don't
feel better, and I still remember that I told him that I didn't feel better.
But that was where the matter rested at that time.
I think this tied in more or less with my general impression that Oppenheimer
felt at least for 1 year after the laboratory that Los Alamos cannot and
probably should not continue, and it is just as wise and correct to abandon it.
I am exceedingly glad that due to the very determined action of Bradbury, who
was not deterred by any prophecies of this kind, the laboratory was not
abandoned, because I am sure had that been done, we would be now in a much
worse position in our armament race than we happen to be.
Q. Do you recall any remark by anybody to the effect, that the laboratory
should be given back to the Indians?
A. I heard this statement attributed to Oppenheimer. I do not remember that
he ever said so to my hearing.
Q. Thereafter, you did in fact leave Los Alamos, Doctor?
A. I left Los Alamos, but i did go back very frequently as a consultant.
Q. Where did you go from Los Alamos?
A. To the University of Chicago.
Q. When you went back as a consultant what was the particular problem you were
A. Actually I have been working on quite a number of problems as required. I,
or course, continue to be very much interested in the thermonuclear
development, and I did continue to work on it, as it were, part time. This,
however, at that time was a very minor portion of the enterprise of the
laboratory. I would say that on the average between 1945 and 1949-I don't
know-a very few people worked on it steadily. I would not be able to say
whether this number was 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 out of a thousand or more than a
thousand in the laboratory. But this was the order or magnitude, and therefore
popularly expressing and crudely expressing the state of affairs, in spite of
my working there and in spite of some reports being issued, I can say that the
work was virtually at a standstill.
Those were also the years when after some initial hesitation, the testing
program was resumed. I understand that this resumption of the testing program
was encouraged by the General Advisory Committee on which Oppenheimer was the
Chairman. I was also a little bit involved in planning the first extensive
test after the war. I don't mean now the Bikini test, but the following one,
which I think was called Sandstone. So I would like to say that even the
fraction of the time which was considerably less than one-half, which was
one-third, it perhaps was not even as much as one-third, I was spending at Los
Alamos. Perhaps one-third of my time went into Atomic Energy Commission work,
and this was divided between thermonuclear work and other supporting work for
Los Alamos, and work on an appointment which I got on the recommendation, I
believe, of the General Advisory Committee, on the safety of reactors.
So I would say that of my own time a really small fraction has gone into
thermonuclear development during those years and that altogether the effort was
very, very slow, indeed.
Q. You were familiar with the effort that was being put in Los Alamos in
respect of thermonuclear?
A. I was.
Q. Doctor, let me ask you for your opinion as an expert on this question.
Suppose you had gone to work on thermonuclear in 1945 or 1946-really gone to
work on it-can you give us any opinion as to when in your view you might have
achieved that weapon and would you explain your opinion?
A. I actually did go to work on it with considerable determination after the
Russian bomb was dropped. This was done in a laboratory which at that time was
considerably behind Los Alamos at the end of the war. It is my belief that if
at the end of the war some people like Dr. Oppenheimer would have lent moral
support, not even their own work-just moral support-to work on the
thermonuclear gadget, I think we could have kept at least as many people in Los
Alamos as we then recruited in 1949 under very difficult conditions.
I therefore believe that if we had gone to work in 1945, we could have achieved
the thermonuclear bomb just about 4 years earlier. This of course is very much
a matter of opinion because what would have happened if things had been
different is certainly not something that one can every produce by any
Q. That is right.
A. I think that statements about the possible different course of the past are
not more justified but only less hazardous than statements about the future.
Q. Doctor, it has been suggested here that the ultimate success on the
thermonuclear was the result of a brilliant discovery or invention by you, and
that might or might not have taken 5 or 10 years. What can you say about
A. I can say about it this. If I want to walk from here to that corner of the
room, and you ask me how long it takes to get there, it depends all on what
speed I am walking with and in what direction. If I start in that direction I
will never get there, probably. It so happened that very few people gave any
serious thought in this country to the development of the thermonuclear bomb.
This was due to the fact that during the war we were much too busy with things
that had to be done immediately in order that it should be effective during the
war, and therefore not much time was left over.
After the war the people who stayed in Los Alamos, few and discouraged as they
were, had their hands full in keeping the laboratory alive, keeping up even the
knowledge of how to work on the simple fission weapons. The rest of the
scientists were, I think, equally much too busy trying to be very sure not to
get into an armament race, and arguing why to continue the direction in which
we had been going due to the war would be completely wrong. I think that it
was neither a great achievement nor a brilliant one. It just had to be done.
I must say it was not completely easy. There were some pitfalls. But I do
believe that if the original plan in Los Alamos, namely, that the laboratory
with such excellent people like Fermi and Bethe and others, would have gone
after the problem, probably some of these people would have had either the same
brilliant idea or another one much sooner.
In that case I think we would have had the bomb in 1947. I do not believe that
it was a particularly difficult thing as scientific discoveries go. I do not
think that we should now feel that we have a safety as compared to the
Russians, and think it was just necessary that somebody should be looking and
looking, with some intensity and some conviction that there is also something
Q. Is this a fair summary-
A. May I perhaps say that this again is an attempt at appreciating or
evaluating a situation, and I may be of course quite wrong, because this is
clearly not a matter of fact but a matter of opinion.
Q. Is this a fair summary of your opinion, Doctor, that if you don't seek, you
Q. Do you recall when the Russians exploded their first bomb in September
1949? Do you recall that event?
Q. Will you tell the board whether or not shortly thereafter you had a
conversation with Dr. Oppenheimer about the thermonuclear or about what
activity should be undertaken to meet the Russian advance?
A. I remember two such conversations. One was in the fall and necessarily
superficial. That was just a few hours after I heard, returning from a trip
abroad, that the Russians had exploded an A-bomb. I called up Oppenheimer who
happened to be in Washington, as I was at the time, and I asked him for advice
and this time I remember his advice literally. It was, "Keep your shirt on."
Perhaps I might mention that my mind did not immediately turn in the direction
of working on the thermonuclear bomb. I had by that time quite thoroughly
accepted the idea that with the reduced personnel it was much too difficult an
undertaking. I perhaps should mention, and I think it will clear the picture,
that a few months before the Russian explosion I agreed to ? Los Alamos for the
period of 1 year on leave of absence from the University of Chicago.
I should also mention that prior to that Oppenheimer had talked to me and
encouraged me to go back to Los Alamos, and help in the work there. I also
went back to Los Alamos with the understanding and with the expectation that I
shall just help along in their normal program in which some very incipient
phases of the thermonuclear work was included, but nothing on a very serious
I was quite prepared to contribute mostly in the direction of the fission
weapons. At the time when I returned from this short trip abroad, and was very
much disturbed about the Russian bomb, I was looking around for ways in which
we could more successfully speed up our work and only after several weeks of
discussion did I come to the conclusion that no matter what the odds seemed to
be, we must at this time-I at least must at this time put my full attention to
the thermonuclear program.
I also felt that this was much too big an undertaking and I was just very
scared of it. I was looking around for some of the old crew to come out and
participate in this work. Actually if anyone wanted to head this enterprise,
one of the people whom I went to visit, in fact the only one where I had very
strong hopes, was Hans Bethe.
Q. About when was this, Doctor?
A. To the best of my recollection it was the end of October.
A. Right. Again I am not absolutely certain of my dates, but that is the best
of my memory. I can tie it down a little bit better with respect to other
dates. It was a short time before the GAC meeting in which that committee made
a decision against the thermonuclear program.
After a somewhat strenuous discussion, Bethe, to the best of my understanding,
decided he would come to Los Alamos and help us. During this discussion,
Oppenheimer called up and invited Bethe and me to come and discuss this matter
with him in Princeton. This we did do, and visited Oppenheimer in his
When I arrived, I remember that Oppenheimer showed us a letter on his desk
which he said he had just received. This letter was from Conant. I do not know
whether he showed us the whole letter or whether he showed us a short section
of it, or whether he only read to us a short section. Whichever it was, and I
cannot say which it was one phrase was "over my dead body," referring to a
decision to go ahead with a crash program on the thermonuclear bomb.
Apart from showing us this letter, or reading it to us, whichever it was,
Oppenheimer to the best of my recollection did not argue against any crash
program. We did talk for quite a while and could not possibly reproduce the
whole argument but at least one important trend in this discussion-and I do not
know how relevant this is-was that Oppenheimer argued that some phases of
exaggerated secrecy in connection with the A-bomb was perhaps not to the best
interest of the country, and that if he undertook the thermonuclear
development, this should be done right from the first and should be done more
I remember that Bethe reacted to that quite violently, because he thought that
if we proceeded with thermonuclear development, then both-not only our methods
of work-but even the fact that we were working and if possible the results of
our work should be most definitely kept from any public knowledge or any public
To the best of my recollection, no agreement came out of this, but when Bethe
and I left Oppenheimer's office, Bethe was still intending to come to Los
Alamos. Actually, I had been under the impression that Oppenheimer is opposed
to the thermonuclear bomb or to a development of the thermonuclear bomb, and I
don't think there was terribly much direct evidence to base this impression on.
I am pretty sure that I expressed to Bethe the worry, we are going to talk with
Oppenheimer now, and after that you will not come. When we left the office,
Bethe turned to me and smiled and he said, "You see, you can be quite
satisfied. I am still coming."
I do not know whether Bethe has talked with Oppenheimer about that or not. I
have some sort of a general understanding that he did no, but I am not at all
sure that this is true.
Two days later I called up Bethe in New York, and he was in New York at that
time, and Bethe then said that he thought it over, and he had changed his mind,
and he was not coming.
I regretted this very much, and Bethe actually did not join work on the
thermonuclear development until quite late in the game, essentially to put on
the finishing touches.
I do not know whether this sufficiently answers your question.
Q. Yes sir. Then Doctor, the record here shows that on October 29 and 30,
1949, the GAC held its meeting, and thereafter reported its views on the
thermonuclear program. Did you later see a copy of the report of the GAC?
A. I did.
Q. Would you tell us the circumstances under which you saw that?
A. Immediately following the meeting, the decision of the General Advisory
Committee was kept very strictly confidential. I have seen at least one member
of the committee namely, Fermi, who in spite of our very close relationships
and the general support of my work in Los Alamos and his knowledge of my almost
desperate interest in the undertaking, said that for the time being he just
could not even give me an indication of what is happening except from the
general tenor of his remarks it was clear that whatever decisions were reached
were not terribly favorable to a crash program.
I sort of understood that some kind of action or discussion was under way which
can proceed properly only if it is kept in the very smallest circles. This
also, of course, became known in Los Alamos, and caused quite a bit of worry
After passage of a little while-and I do not known how much time, but I would
say roughly 2 weeks-the secretary of the General Advisory Committee, Dr.
Manley, who also was associate director in Los Alamos, returned to Los Alamos.
He called me into his office and showed me both the majority and minority
report of the General Advisory Committee, and in showing me these reports, he
used words which I at least at that time interpreted as meaning that
Oppenheimer wanted me to see these reports, which I thought was kind. My
general understanding was that these reports were also shown to something like
half a dozen or dozen of the senior people in the laboratory.
At any rate, the contents of the report were known without my telling it to
people. It was just public knowledge among the senior people practically then
and there. Of course I was just most dreadfully disappointed about the
contents of the majority and minority reports, which in my eyes did not differ
a great deal.
I also should say that in my opinion the work in Los Alamos was going to be
most seriously affected by the action of the General Advisory Committee, not
only as an official body, but because of the very great prestige of the people
who were sitting on it. Therefore, it seemed to me at that time, and it also
seems to me now entirely proper that this document should have been made
available in Los Alamos.
Q. Doctor, in what way did you think that the work would be affected by the
A. I would say that when I saw the report, I thought that this definitely was
the end of any thermonuclear effort in Los Alamos. Actually I was completely
mistaken. The report produced precisely the opposite effect.
A. Immediately, of course, it stopped work because we were instructed not to
work, but it gave people in Los Alamos much greater eagerness to proceed in
this direction and from discussions I had in Los Alamos in the following days,
I gathered the following psychological reaction:
First of all, people were interested in going on with the thermonuclear devise
because during the ware it had been generally understood that this was one of
the things that the laboratory was to find out at some time or other. It was a
sort of promise in all of our minds.
Another thing was that the people there were a little bid tired-at least many,
particularly of the younger ones-of going ahead with minor improvements and
wanted to in sort of an adventurous spirit go into a new field. However, I
think the strongest point and the one which was a reaction to this report was
this: Not only to me, but to very many others who said this to me
spontaneously, the report meant this. As long as you people go ahead and make
minor improvements and work very hard and diligently at it, you are doing a
fine job, but if you succeed in making a really great piece of progress, then
you are doing something that is immoral. This kind of statement stated so
bluntly was not of course made in the report. But this kind of an implication
is something which I think a human being can support in an abstract sense. But
if it refers to his own work, then I think almost anybody would become
indignant, and this is what happened in Los Alamos, and the result was that I
think the feelings of people in consequence of this report turned more toward
the thermonuclear development than away from it.
Q. You mean it made them mad.
Q. Doctor, in the absence of the President's decision of January, would that
anger have been effective?
Q. Let us go back for a moment_____
A. There is no doubt about it. The laboratory just could not put aside a
major fraction of its effort on a program of this kind unless we were going to
be instructed to do it. Actually, I am pretty sure the anger in a way would
have been effective in that more people would have been willing to put aside a
little part of their time and worry about it and think about it, and so perhaps
it would have been a little effective. But I think that still would have been
a very slow and painful progress and probably even now we would be just
Q. Dr. Manley has submitted an affidavit here to the effect that he showed you
those reports as a result of an impending visit to Los Alamos by Chairman
McMahon, Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy. Would
you comment on that, and tell us just what it was that Dr. Manley said that
gave you the impression that it was Dr. Oppenheimer who wanted you to see the
report and tell us whether or not Dr. Manley's remarks were susceptible of the
interpretation that it was Chairman McMahon who wanted you to see them?
A. I must say this is possible. To the best of my recollection, I was even
struck at that time by these words-Manley said something of that kind, that our
Chairman, or the Chairman, I don't know which, sends his regards and wants you
to see this. Now, this is to the best of my recollection, and I don't remember
that Oppenheimer's name was mentioned. At that I time I interpreted this as
meaning that it was the Chairman of the General Advisory Committee-that is
Oppenheimer. I am quite sure that Manley did not say explicitly that it was
McMahon, and to refer to him as simply Chairman would seem to me to be a little
remarkable. However, Manley has been showing this document to quite a few
people, and perhaps in repeating the phrase a few times parts of the phrase got
dropped off. I interpreted it at that time as meaning that Oppenheimer wanted
me to see the document. I think it is not excluded that it was Senator McMahon
who wanted me to see the document; and if Manley says this, then it must be
Q. Did you know Senator McMahon?
Q. Let me ask you whether or not in that conversation with Manley he mentioned
Senator McMahon by name.
A. To the best of my memory, no. I do remember that Senator McMahon came out
shortly afterward. I believe I heard about his visit only later, but I might be
Q. On the subject of Senator McMahon, will you tell the board whether or not
you had proposed to see Senator McMahon about the thermonuclear matter?
A. I did.
Q. When was that?
A. This was quite shortly after the meeting of the General Advisory
Q. Did you see him?
A. I did.
Q. Did you have any conversation with Dr. Manley before you saw him?
A. I did.
Q. Tell us about that.
A. I had two conversations with him; the one which I think is more relevant,
and which certainly strikes more clearly in my mind, was a telephone
conversation. This was after the meeting of the General Advisory Committee. I
was on my way from Los Alamos to Washington. The main purpose of my visit was
to see Senator McMahon. On the way I stopped in Chicago and saw Fermi in his
office. It was at that time that I got the impression which I mentioned to you
earlier. During my conversation with Fermi, Manley called and asked me not to
see Senator McMahon. I asked why. He said that it would be a good idea if the
scientists presented a united front-I don't know whether he used that word-I
think what he really said was something of this kind, that it would be
unfortunate if Senator McMahon would get the impression that there is a divided
opinion among the scientists, or something of that kind. I said I had an
appointment with Senator McMahon and I wanted to see him. Manley insisted that
I should not. Thereupon I made the suggestion that I would be willing to call
up Senator McMahon and tell him that I had been asked not to see him, and for
that reason I would not see him.
At that point Manley-I don't know whether I said to Manley that I had been
asked by him or whether I would just say I had been asked-and thereupon Manley
said, "All right; you better go and see him." That was essentially the
contents of my discussion with Manley over the phone.
When I arrived in Washington, Manley met at the station. I had already the
feeling from the discussion with Fermi that at least Fermi's private feelings
were not for a crash program. I knew what was in the wind, but I did not know
what the decision was. Manley had originally in Los Alamos agreed that we
should proceed with the thermonuclear weapon. At least, that was my clear
He received me on the station with these words, "I think you sold me a gold
brick." I remember this particularly clearly, because my familiarity with the
English language not being excellent, I did not know what he meant, and I had
to ask him what a gold brick is, which he proceeded to explain.
Q. What did he explain, Doctor?
A. A brick covered with gold fill which is not as valuable as it looks.
Q. What did you understand him to refer to?
A. To the thermonuclear program, which, in my opinion, was what we should do,
what would be the effective way for us to behave in that situation. Manley
implied that in the discussions of the General Advisory Committee another
proposal emerged, which was much better, much more hopeful, a better answer to
the Russian proposals-excuse me, to the Russian developments-he, however, would
not tell me what it was. I was a little mystified. I then went to see Senator
McMahon. He did not tell me what was in the report of the General Advisory
Committee, but he used some very strong words in connection with it, and did so
before I had opened my mouth, words to the effect, "I got this report, and it
just makes me sick," or something of that kind.
I did then say that I hoped very much that there would be some way of
proceeding with the thermonuclear work, and Senator McMahon very definitely
said that he will do everything in his power that it should become possible.
Q. What was your purpose in seeing Senator McMahon?
A. May I say very frankly I do not remember. One of my purposes, I am quite
sure, was a point not connected with the thermonuclear development. It was
this, that at some earlier time-I am not sure whether it was a year or earlier
or when-Senator McMahon was in Los Alamos at the time when I was visiting
there. I had an opportunity to talk to him. Senator McMahon asked me to talk
with him, and he asked me what I thought would be the best method to increase
effectiveness of Los Alamos. I made a few general remarks at that time, which
I do not recall, but I remember very clearly that Senator McMahon asked me a
question, which I answered, and the answer to which question I regretted later.
It was whether the salary scale in Los Alamos was adequate.
Later, when I got a little bit closer back and talked with people, I felt that
I had given the wrong answer and I wanted to correct this, and therefore I
wanted to see Senator McMahon. However, by the time I actually went to see
him, the thermonuclear discussion had gone, as I have indicated, to a point
where it was perfectly clear to me that I wanted to talk with him about that
question and certainly even by the time I left Los Alamos and before Manley's
telephone conversation, I fully hoped to discuss this matter with him because
by that time it was quite clear to me that this was one of the very important
things that was going on in Los Alamos. This is to the best of my
recollection. But I am not at all sure. It may ever be possible that I had
seen Senator McMahon about another matter at an earlier time. I believe,
however, that all this took place in the same conversation
Q. In January 1950, the President decided that we should go ahead with the
thermonuclear program. Do you recall that?
A. I do.
Q. After that decision was announced, did you go to work on the
A. I most certainly did.
Q. Was the program accelerated?
A. It was.
Q. What was done in general to accelerate it?
A. A committee was formed which for a strange and irrelevant reason was called
a family committee.
Q. Who was on that committee?
A. I was the chairman and there were a number of people representing various
divisions in the laboratory, and this committee was in charge of developing
some thermonuclear program and within a very short time this committee made a
number of proposals directed toward some tests which were to give us
information about the behavior of some phenomena which were relevant.
At the same time I exerted all possible effort and influence to persuade people
to come to Los Alamos to work on this, particularly serious because theoretical
work was very badly needed.
Q. What was done in respect of the number of personnel working on the
thermonuclear? Was it increased, and if so, how much?
A. It was greatly increased. As I say prior to that there was at most half a
dozen people working on it. I am not able to tell you how many people worked
on the thermonuclear program in that period. I would say that very few people
worked on it really full time. I am sure I didn't work on it full time
although in that time the major portion of my effort was directed toward the
thermonuclear work. I believe that Los Alamos has prepared an official
estimate in response to a question, and that would be, I think, the best source
of how many people worked on the thermonuclear program at that time. I would
guess, but as a very pure guess, and I should not be surprised if that document
would disprove me, that the number of people working on the thermonuclear
program increased then to something like two, three, or four hundred, which
still was something like 10, 20, or perhaps a little more percent of the
laboratory's effort. Perhaps it was closer to 20 percent. I might easily be
Q. At all events it was a very large increase.
A. It was a very large increase. As compared to the previous one it was just
between standing still and starting to go.
Q. Did you at or about that time, that is, shortly after the President's
decision, have any discussion with Oppenheimer as to whether or not he would
A. I had two discussions with him, but one was shortly before. I would like
to quote it a little. Actually the time when President Truman made the
announcement I happened to be in Los Angeles and was planning to stay there, in
fact had accepted an appointment at UCLA which I at that time had to postpone
at any rate because I saw this in the paper. You see, I was not going to stay
in Los Alamos much longer, and the fact that there came this announcement from
President Truman just changed my mind. Prior to the announcement, preceding it
perhaps by 2 or 3 days, I saw Dr. Oppenheimer at an atomic energy conference
concerning another matter, and during this meeting it became clear to me that
in Dr. Oppenheimer's opinion a decision was impending and this decision would
be a go-ahead decision.
At that time I asked Oppenheimer if this is now the decision, would he then
please really help us with this thing and help us to work, recalling the very
effective work during the war. Oppenheimer's answer to this was in the
negative. This was, however, very clearly before President Truman's decision.
However, I also should say that this negative reply gave me the feeling that I
should not look to Oppenheimer for help under any circumstances.
A few months later, during the spring, I nevertheless called up Oppenheimer and
I asked him not for direct help, but for help in recruiting people, not for his
own work but for his support in recruiting people. Dr. Oppenheimer said then,
"You know in this matter is am neutral. I would be glad, however, to recommend
to you some very good people who are working here at the Institute," and he
mentioned a few. I wrote to all of these people and tried to persuade them to
come to Los Alamos. None of them came.
Q. Where were those people located?
A. At the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton.
Q. There has been some testimony here that a scientist named Longmire came
down to Los Alamos to assist you with the cooperation of Dr. Oppenheimer. Do
you recall whether he came down there before the H-bomb conference or
A. I should like to say first of all that Dr. Longmire did help in the H-bomb
development and helped very effectively indeed. I should say helped in fission
work and in the thermonuclear work, and is now one of the strongest members of
Los Alamos. He came before all this happened. I remember that I tried to get
him on the recommendation of Bethe some time early in 1949. I also remember
that a little later in the spring or early in the summer I learned-I think it
was in May-that Longmire had declined an invitation to Los Alamos, and I also
learned that the salary offered him was some 20 percent less that the salary I
had recommended. I thereupon talked with the appropriate people in Los Alamos
and got them to make a second offer to Longmire at the original salary level,
and after I secured agreement on that I called up Longmire and told him that we
can offer him this salary and would he please come. Longmire said "Yes." He
would come. However, he had accepted an invitation in the meantime at the
Institute of Advanced Study and he now no longer could change his mind.
Thereupon I said, "Well, what about if I try to get this chance? Come with us
anyway for a year. After a year you can go back to the Institute. I will talk
to Oppenheimer about this." Longmire said, "If Oppenheimer will agree to this,
I will consider coming very seriously."
I thereupon called up Oppenheimer on the phone, and at least I believed I
approached him directly, I am not sure, somebody approached him but I think I
did it directly, and I remember on that occasion Dr. Oppenheimer was
exceedingly cooperative and did give whatever formal assurance he could give.
It was not terribly formal. He gave assurances that after a year if Longmire
wanted to come back to the Institute, he would be very welcome, and if he wants
to go to Los Alamos, that is a very good idea, and so on, and after this was
arranged, Longmire did come.
Q. This was when?
A. This was all, however, before anyone of us dreamed about the Russian
explosion. That was in the early summer or late spring of 1949. I should also
say that after Longmire got to Los Alamos, he not only worked effectively, but
liked it so much that then on his own choice he really just stayed there, and
is still there, although in he meantime he also taught for certain periods in
Rochester, I believe, or in Cornell.
Q. Except for giving you this list of names that you have told us about of
people all of whom refused to come, did Dr. Oppenheimer, after the President's
decision in January 1950, assist you in any way in recruiting people on the
A. To the best of my knowledge not in the slightest.
Q. After the President's decision of January 1950, did Dr. Oppenheimer do
anything so far as you know to assist you in the thermonuclear project?
A. The General Advisory Committee did meet, did consider this matter, and its
recommendations were in support of the program. Perhaps I am prejudiced in
this matter, but I did not feel that we got from the General Advisory Committee
more than passive agreement on the program which we evolved. I should say
passive agreement, and I felt the kind of criticism which tended to be perhaps
more in the nature of a headache than in the nature of enlightening.
I would like to say that in a later phase there is at least one occurrence
where I felt Dr. Oppenheimer's reaction to be different.
Q. Would you tell us about that?
A. I will be very glad to do that. In June of 1951, after our first
experimental test, there was a meeting of the General Advisory Committee and
Atomic Energy Commission personnel and some consultants in Princeton at the
Institute for Advanced Study. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Oppenheimer.
Frankly, I went to that meeting with very considerable misgivings, because I
expected that the General Advisory Committee, and particularly Dr. Oppenheimer,
would further oppose the development. By that time we had evolved something
which amounted to a new approach, and after listening to the evidence of both
the test and the theoretical investigations on that new approach, Dr.
Oppenheimer warmly supported this new approach, and I understand that he made a
statement to the effect that if anything of this kind had been suggested right
away he never would have opposed it.
Q. With that exception, did you have any indication from Dr. Oppenheimer after
January 1950 that he was supporting and approving the work that was being done
on the thermonuclear?
A. My general impression was precisely in the opposite direction. However, I
should like to say that my contacts with Oppenheimer were infrequent, and he
might have supported the thermonuclear effort without my knowing it.
Q. When was the feasibility of the thermonuclear demonstrated?
A. I believe that this can be stated accurately. On November 1, 1952.
Although since in was on the other side of the date line, I am not quite sure
whether it was November 1 our time or their time.
A. I don't know whether it was November 1, Eniwetok or Berkeley time. I
watched it in Berkeley.
Q. Did you have a conversation with Dr. Oppenheimer in the summer of 1950
about you work on the thermonuclear?
A. To the best of my recollection he visited Los Alamos in the summer of 1950
and then in the early fall the General Advisory Committee met in Los Alamos-I
mean he visited in Los Alamos early in the summer, and then they met in Los
Alamos sometime, I believe, in September, and on both occasions we did talk.
Q. What did Dr. Oppenheimer have to say, if anything, about the
A. To the best of my recollection he did not have any very definite or
concrete advise. Whatever he had tended in the direction that we should
proceed with the theoretical investigations, which at that time did not look
terribly encouraging, before spending more money or effort on the experimental
approach, which I think was at that time not the right advice, because only by
pursuing the experimental approach, the test approach, as well as the
theoretical one did we face the problem sufficiently concretely so as to find a
more correct solution. But I also should like to say that the opinion of Dr.
Oppenheimer given at that time to my hearing was not a very decisive or not a
very strongly advocated opinion, and I consider it not helpful, but also not as
anything that need worry us too much.
I must say this, that the influence of the General Advisory Committee at that
time was to the best of my understanding in the direction of go slow, explore
all, completely all the designs, before looking into new designs, do not spend
too much on test programs, all of which advice I consider as somewhat in the
nature of serving as a brake rather than encouragement.
Q. Doctor, I would like to ask for your expert opinion again. In your
opinion, if Dr. Oppenheimer, if Dr. Oppenheimer should go fishing for the rest
of his life, what would be the effect upon the atomic energy and the
A. You mean from now on?
Q. Yes, sir.
A. May I say this depends entirely on the question of whether his work would
be similar to the one during the war or similar to the one after the war.
Q. Assume that it was similar to the work after the war.
A. In that case I should like to say two things. One is that after the war
Dr. Oppenheimer served on committees rather than actually participating in the
work. I am afraid this might not be a correct evaluation of the work of
committees in general, but within the AEC, I should say that committees could
go fishing without affecting the work of these who are actively engaged in the
In particular, however, the general recommendations that I know have come from
Oppenheimer were more frequently, and I mean, not only and not even
particularly the thermonuclear case, but other cases, more frequently a
hindrance than a help, and therefore, if I look into the continuation of this
and assume that it will come in the same way, I think that further work of Dr.
Oppenheimer on committees would not be helpful.
What were some of the other recommendations to which you referred?
A. You want me to give a reasonably complete list? I would be glad to.
A. And not distinguish between things I know of my own knowledge and things I
know from hearsay evidence?
Mr. Robb, May I go off the record just a moment?
(Discussion off the record.)
Mr. GRAY. We will take a short recess.
(The last question and answering preceding the recess were read by the
By Mr. ROBB:
Q. Doctor, in giving your answer, I wish you would give the board both those
items that you know of your own knowledge and the others, but I wish you would
identify them as being either of your own knowledge or on hearsay.
A. Actually, most of them are on some sort of hearsay. I would like to
include not only those things which have occurred in committee but also
I furthermore felt that I should like at least to make an attempt to give some
impression of the cases in which Dr. Oppenheimer's advice was helpful. His
first major action after the war was what I understand both from some part of
personal experience and to some extent of hearsay, as I have described, his
discussions which led at least to some discouragement in the continuation of
Los Alamos. I think that it would have been much better if this had not
Secondly, Oppenheimer published shortly after in connection with the
Acheson-Lilienthal report a proposal or supported a proposal, I do not know
which, which was based on his scientific authority to share denatured plutonium
with others with whom we might agree on international control. I believed at
that time and so did many others that denaturing plutonium is not an adequate
One of the first actions of the General Advisor Committee-this is hearsay___
Q. Excuse me, doctor. Have you finished your discussion of the other
A. I intended to have if finished but I will be glad to stop and answer
Q. Let me ask a question in that connection as to whether or not Dr.
Oppenheimer either at that time or subsequently recommended some inspection of
the Russian atomic plants.
A. My understanding is that inspection was an integral part of the
Acheson-Lilienthal report and that, in turn, Dr. Oppenheimer had very actively
participated in drafting this report.
I should like to say that in my personal opinion-perhaps I should have said
that right away-the Acheson-Lilienthal proposal was a very good one, would have
been wonderful had been accepted, and the inspection to my mind was a very
important portion of it. I did not follow these things very closely but I
believe it was something with which Dr. Oppenheimer had also agreed or
recommended. Which ever the case was, if I am not mistaken in this matter, I
really should include that among the very valuable things he did after the
Q. Excuse me, and now go ahead.
A. Thanks for bringing up this matter.
One of the first actions of the General Advisory Committee was to advise that
reactor work at Oak Ridge should be discontinued and the reactor work should be
concentrated at the Argonne Laboratory in Chicago. That was recommended, as I
understand, by a great majority.
I also understand that Fermi opposed this recommendation. All this is hearsay
evidence, but of the kind which I heard so often and so generally that I think
it can be classed as general knowledge within AEC circles.
Now, I should like to say that it appeared to many of us at the time, and I
think it has been proved by the sequel, that this recommendation was a most
unfortunate one. It set our reactor work back by many years. Those exceeding
good workers who left-the great majority of those very good workers who left
Oak Ridge-did not find their way into the Argonne Laboratory but discontinued
to work on atomic-energy matters or else worked in a smaller group on the side
very ineffectively. The very small and determined group which then stayed
behind in Oak Ridge turned out in the long run as good work as the people at
the Argonne Laboratory, and I feel that again being a little bit uncertain of
what would have happened if this recommendation had not been and would not have
been accepted, we would be not have been accepted, we would be now a couple of
years ahead in reactor development. I would like to count this as one of the
very great mistakes that have been made.
I understand having finished with this one, that among the early actions of the
General Advisory Committees was, after it was decided that Los Alamos should go
on, to recommend strong support for Los Alamos and particularly for the
theoretical group. I understand that Oppenheimer supported this and I again
think that this was helpful. I have a little personal evidence of it, although
it is perhaps somewhat presumptuous of me to say so, that Oppenheimer was
active in this direction, for instance, by advising me unambiguously to go back
at least for a limited period. I know similarly that in that period he helped
us to get Longmire. I also have heard and have heard in a way that I have
every reason to believe in a number of minor but important details in the
development of fission weapons. Oppenheimer gave his expert advise
effectively, and this included the encouragement of further tests when these
things came along.
Q. Tests on what?
A. Test of atomic bombs, of fission bombs.
Now, the next item is very definitely in the hearsay category, and I might just
be quite wrong on it, but I have heard that Dr. Oppenheimer opposed earlier
surveillance, the kind of procedures____
Mr. SILVERMAN. I did not understand. Opposed what?
The WITNESS: Earlier surveillance, the sort of thing which was designed to
find out whether or not the Russians have detonated an atomic bomb. If this
should prove to be correct, I think it was thoroughly wrong advice. Then I
think generally the actions of the General Advisory Committee were adverse to
the thermonuclear development, but to what extent this is so and why I believe
that it is so, we have discussed and I do not need to repeat any of that.
Finally, when, about 3 years ago, the question arose whether this would be a
good time to start a new group of people working in a separate laboratory along
similar lines at Los Alamos and competing with Los Alamos, the General Advisory
Committee, or the majority of the General Advisory Committee and in particular
Dr. Oppenheimer, was opposed to this idea, using again the argument which was
used in the case of Oak Ridge, that enough scientific personnel is not
available. In this matter I am personally interested, of course, and I was on
the opposite side of the argument and I believe that Dr. Oppenheimer's advise
was wrong. Of course, it is quite possible that his advice was right and mine
was wrong. In the meantime, however, we did succeed in recruiting quite a
capable group of people in Livermore. I think this is essentially the extent
of my knowledge, direct or indirect, in the matter. I think it would be proper
to restrict my statements to things in close connection with the Atomic Energy
Commission and to disregard advice that I heard that Oppenheimer has given to
other agencies like the Armed Forces or the State Department. This would be
hearsay evidence of a more shaky kind than the rest.
By Mr. ROBB:
Q. Doctor, the second laboratory, is that the one in which you are now working
A. That is one at which I had been working for a year and at which I am now
working part time. I am spending about half my time at the University of
California in teaching and research and half my time in Livermore.
Q. Did you have any difficulty recruiting personnel for that laboratory?
A. Yes, but not terribly difficult.
Q. Did you get the personnel you needed?
A. This a question I cannot really answer, because it is always possible to
get better personnel. But I am very happy about the people whom we did get and
we are still looking for very excellent people if we can get them, and I am
going to spend the next 3 days in the Physical Society in trying to persuade
additional young people to join us.
Q. Numerically at least, you have your staff; is that right?
A. I would say numerically we certainly have a staff but I do not think this
answer to the question is relevant. It is always the question of whether we
have the right sort of people and I do believe we have the right sort of
Q. Is that laboratory concerned primarily with thermonuclear weapons or is
A. To the extent that I can believe what I read in Time magazine, it is not
classified, but I would like to say that my best authority on the subject is
Q. What does Time magazine say about it?
Mr. SILVERMAN. Well____
Mr. ROBB. I will skip that.
By Mr. ROBB:
Q. I will ask you this, Doctor: Will you tell us whether or not the purpose
of establishing a second laboratory was to further work on the thermonuclear?
A. That was a very important part of the purpose.
Mr. ROBB. Mr. Chairman, that completes my direct examination, and it is now
Mr. GRAY. I think we had better ask the witness to return tomorrow morning at
Mr. GARRISON. Mr. Chairman, we only have one or two questions.
The WITNESS: I would be very glad to stay for a short time.
Mr. GRAY: I have some questions, but I do not think it will take too long, and
if you only have a few____
Mr. SILVERMAN: We have so very few, I am almost tempted not to ask them.
By Mr. SILVERMAN:
Q. You were just testifying about the Livermore Laboratory?
Q. Did Mr. Oppenheimer oppose the Livermore Laboratory as it was finally set
A. No. To the best of my knowledge, no.
Q. His opposition was to another Los Alamos?
A. It was to another Los Alamos, and when the Atomic Energy Commission, I
think, on the advise from the military did proceed in the direction, the
General Advisory Committee encouraged in particular setting up a laboratory at
the site where it was set up. But prior to that, I understand that the General
Advisory Committee advised against it.
Q. That is when there was a question of another Los Alamos?
Q. Dr. Teller, when was Livermore set up in its present form?
A. This is something which is more difficult____
Q. You think that is classified?
A. No. It is more difficult to answer than the question of when a baby is
born because it is not born all at once. I think the contracts were signed
with the Atomic Energy Commission sometime in July 1952. There was a letter of
intent sent out earlier and the work had started a little before that.
Actually, we moved to Livermore on the 2nd of September 1952 and work before
that was done in Berkeley.
Q. Do you now have on your staff at Livermore some people who had been or who
are members of the Institute for Advanced Study? I am thinking particularly of
A. The answer is no. Dr. Karplus has been consulting with us for a period.
He had accepted an invitation to the University of California and he is
maintaining his consultant status to the Radiation Laboratory in general, of
which Livermore is a part. I believe, but this is again a prediction about the
future and my expectation, that Dr. Karplus in the future will help us in
Livermore by consulting, but I also believe that for the next couple of years,
if I can predict his general plans at all and I talked a bit with him, this is
likely not to be terribly much because he will have to adjust himself to the
new surroundings first.
Q. Do you know whether Dr. Oppenheimer recommended that Dr. Karplus go to work
A. I have no knowledge whatsoever about it. It is quite possible that he did.
Mr. SILVERMAN. I have no further questions.
Mr. GRAY. Dr. Teller, I think earlier in your testimony you stated that in
August 1945, Dr. Oppenheimer talked with you and indicated his feeling that Los
Alamos would inevitably disintegrate. I believe those were your words, and
that there was no point in your staying on there. Is my recollection correct?
The WITNESS. Yes, I am not sure that my statement was very fortunate, but I
am pretty sure that this is how I said it.
Mr. GRAY. Would you say that his attitude at that time was that it should
The WITNESS. I would like to elaborate on that for a moment. I think that I
ought to say this: I do not like to say it. Oppenheimer and I did not always
agree in Los Alamos, and I believe that it is quite possible, probably, that
this was my fault. This particular discussion was connected with an impression
I got that Oppenheimer wanted me particularly to leave, which at first I
interpreted as his being dissatisfied with the attitude I was taking about
certain questions as to how to proceed in detail. It became clear to me during
the conversation-and, incidentally, it was something which was quite new to me
because prior to that, while we did disagree quite frequently, Oppenheimer
always urged no matter how much we disagreed in detail I should certainly stay
and work. He urged me although on some occasions I was discouraged and I
wanted to leave. On this occasion, he advised me to leave. I considered that
at first as essentially personal matters. In the course of the conversation,
it became clear to me that what he really meant at that time-I asked him-we
disagreed on a similar thing and I forget the thing, but I do remember asking
him in a similar discussion that, 3 months ago-"You told me by all means I
should stay. Now you tell me I should leave." He said, "Yes," but in the
meantime we had developed these bombs and the work looks different and I think
all of us would have to go home-something to that effect. It was at that time
that I had the first idea that Oppenheimer himself wanted to discontinue his
work very rapidly and very promptly at Los Alamos. I knew that changes were
due but it did not occur to me prior to that conversation, that they were due
quite that rapidly and would affect our immediate plans just right then and
there. I do not know whether I have made myself sufficiently clear or not.
I failed to mention this personnel element before. I am sorry about that. I
think it is perhaps relevant as a background.
Mr. GRAY. Do you think that Dr. Bradbury has been an effective director of the
Los Alamos Laboratory?
The WITNESS. I am quite sure of that.
Mr. GRAY. It is my impression that he was selected by Dr. Oppenheimer. Do you
know about that?
The WITNESS. I heard that statement. I also heard the statement that it was
General Groves who recommended Bradbury. I have not the least information upon
which to decide which of these statements or whether any of these statements
are correct. Perhaps both of them are correct.
Mr. GRAY. It could be. Were you aware of the presence of any scientists on
the project following the January 1950 decision who were there for the purpose
of proving that this development was not possible rather than proving that it
The WITNESS. I certainly would not put it that way. There have been a few who
believed that it was not possible, who argued strongly and occasionally
passionately for it. I do not know of any case where I have reason to suspect
Mr. GRAY. Excuse me, Dr. Teller. I would like the record to show that is was
not my intention to impute intellectual dishonesty to anybody, but you have no
knowledge of this.
The WITNESS. I would like to say that on some visits when Bethe came there, he
looked the program over somewhat critically and quite frankly he said he wished
the thing would not work. But also he looked it over carefully and whatever he
said we surely agreed. In fact, we always agreed.
Mr. GRAY. Yes, I think that clears it up perhaps.
You talked with Dr. Fermi soon after the October 1949 meeting of the GAC, and
whereas he was not at liberty to tell you what the GAC decided, you got the
impression that they were not favorable to a crash program, as you put it.
The WITNESS. Actually, Dr. Fermi gave me his own opinion, and this was an
essential agreement with the GAC. This discouraged me, of course. He also
gave me the impression that the GAC really decided something else, something
Mr. GRAY. You subsequently saw the GAC report?
The WITNESS. I did.
Mr. GRAY. Is my impression correct that the tenor of the report was not
altogether only a question of not moving into a crash program but was opposed
to the development of the weapon altogether.
The WITNESS. This was my understanding. In fact, that is definitely my
Mr. GRAY. Now, Dr. Teller, you stated that the GAC report stopped work at Los
Alamos. I assume you meant work on thermonuclear devices.
The WITNESS. I said that and may I correct it, please. What I really should
have said was prevented the start of work because work really did not get
Mr. GRAY. I think that is important because I thought I heard you say that you
instructed not to work. What you mean is that you were instructed not to start
The WITNESS. That is correct. I am sorry if I expressed erroneously.
Mr. GRAY. Was a result of the GAC report that the 6 or 8 or 10 or whatever it
was people who were then working, did they stop their work?
The WITNESS. No, certainly not. In fact, there was an increase of people
working right then and there, which was in the relatively free community. Not
all of this work was directed in this relatively free atmosphere. It was
evident that some work would continue. It was quite clear that in the period
November-December, January, we did do some work and more that we had done
earlier. However, we did not make a jump from, let us say, 6 people to 200,
but we made a jump of 6 people or 20. I could not tell you which.
Mr. GRAY. Dr. Teller, General Nichols' letter to Dr. Oppenheimer, which I
assume you have some familiarity with ____
The WITNESS. I read it. That is, I read the New York Times. If this is
assumed to be a correct version____
Mr. GRAY. As far as I know, it is correct. There is one sentence which reads
"It was further reported that you departed from your proper role as an advisor
to the Commission by causing the distribution, separately and in private, to
top personnel at Los Alamos of the majority and minority reports of the General
Advisory Committee on development of the hydrogen bomb for the purpose of
trying to turn such top personnel against the development of the hydrogen
If this conversation you had with Dr. Manley about which you have testified and
in which he referred to our chairman or the chairman was the source of this
report, am I right in assuming that your testimony is that you are not prepared
to say that Dr. Oppenheimer did cause the distribution of this?
The WITNESS. My testimony says that I cannot ascertain that Dr. Oppenheimer
caused distribution. I have presented in this matter all that I can
Mr. GRAY. Dr. Teller, you are familiar with the question which this board is
called upon to answer, I assume.
The WITNESS. Yes, I believe so.
Mr. GRAY. Let me tell you what it is and invite counsel to help me out if I
misstate it. We are asked to make a finding in the alternative, that it will
or will not endanger the common defense and security to grant security
clearance to Dr. Oppenheimer.
I believe you testified earlier when Dr. Robb was putting questions to you that
because of your knowledge of the whole situation and by reason of many factors
about which you have testified in very considerable detail, you would feel
safer if the security of the country were in other hands.
The WITNESS. Right.
Mr. GRAY. That is substantially what you said?
The WITNESS. Yes.
Mr. GRAY. I think you have explained why you feel that way. I would then like
to ask you this question: Do you feel that it would endanger the common defense
and security to grant clearance to Dr. Oppenheimer?
The WITNESS. I believe, and that is merely a question of belief and there is
no expertness, no real information behind it, that Dr. Oppenheimer's character
is such that he would no knowingly and willingly do anything that is designed
to endanger the safety of this country. To the extent, therefore, that your
question is directed toward intent, I would say I do not see any reason to deny
If it is a question of wisdom and judgment, as demonstrated by actions since
1945, then I would say one would be wiser not to grant clearance. I must say
that I am myself a little bit confused on this issue, particularly as it refers
to a person of Oppenheimer's prestige and influence. May I limit myself to
Mr. GRAY. Yes.
The WITNESS. I will be glad to answer more questions about it to you or to
Mr. GRAY. No, I think that you have answered my question. I have, I think,
only one more.
I believe there has been testimony given to this board to the effect-and again
I would like the assistance of counsel if I misstate anything-that the
important and significant development in the thermonuclear program since
January 1950 have indeed taken place at Los Alamos and not at Livermore. Am I
wrong in stating that?
Mr. ROBB. Somebody said that.
Mr. GRAY. Do you recall?
Mr. SILVERMAN. My recollection is that there was testimony that the important
developments in the thermonuclear bomb which have thus far been tested out and
which were the subject of the recent tests were developed at Los Alamos. I
think that was the testimony.
Mr. GRAY. Will you assume that we have heard something of that sort? Do you
have a comment?
The WITNESS. Is there a ruling that I may answer this question in a way
without affecting security? I would like to assume that. I think I should.
Mr. RELAUNDER. If you have any worry on that point, perhaps the board may wish
you to give a classified answer on that.
The WITNESS. I mean I would like to give an unclassified answer to it and if
you think it is wrong, strike it later. I understand that has been done
before. I would like to make the statement that this testimony is
substantially correct. Livermore is a very new laboratory and I think it is
doing a very nice job, but published reports about its importance have been
grossly and embarrassingly exaggerated.
Dr. EVANS. I have one question.
Dr. Teller, you understand____
The WITNESS. May I leave that in the record? I would like to.
Mr. RELAUNDER. Yes.
Dr. EVANS. You understand of course, that we did not seek the job on this
board, do you not?
The WITNESS. You understand, sir, that I did not want to be at this end of the
Dr. EVANS. I want to ask you one question. Do you think the action of a
committee like this, no matter what it may be, will be the source of great
discussion in the National Academy and among scientific men in general?
The WITNESS. It already is and it certainly will be.
Dr. EVANS. That is all I wanted to say.
Mr. ROBB. May I ask one further question?
By Mr. ROBB:
Q. Dr. Teller, you did a great deal of work on the thermonuclear at the old
laboratory, too, at Los Alamos.
Mr. SILVERMAN. I have one question.
By Mr. SILVERMAN:
Q. I would like you, Dr. Teller, to distinguish between the desirability of
this country's or the Government's accepting Dr. Oppenheimer's advise and the
danger, if there be any, in Dr. Oppenheimer's having access to restricted data.
As to this latter, as to the danger in Dr. Oppenheimer's having access to
restricted data without regard to the wisdom of his advice, do you think there
is any danger to the national security in his having access to restricted data?
A. In other words, I now am suppose to assume that Dr. Oppenheimer will have
access to security information?
A. But will refrain from all advice in these matters which is to my mind a
very hypothetical question indeed. May, I answer such a hypothetical question
by saying that the very limited knowledge which I have on these matters and
which are based on feelings, emotions, and prejudices, I believe there is no
Mr. GRAY. Thank you very much, Doctor.
Mr. GRAY. We will recess until 9:30 tomorrow.
(Thereupon, the hearing was recessed at 5:50 p.m., to reconvene at 9:30 a.m.
Thursday, April 29, 1954.)
In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer
Transcript of Hearing Before Personnel Security Board
April 12, 1954, through May 6, 1954
Published by the United States Government Printing Office Washington:
(back to Primary Sources)