Climate Change for the Impatient: A Nuclear Mini Ice Age

Everyone has heard about climate change caused by fossil fuels, which threatens to raise Earth’s average surface temperature by about 3-5°C by the year 2100 unless we take major steps toward mitigation. But there’s an eerie silence about the other major climate change threat, which might lower Earth’s average surface temperature by 7°C: a decade-long mini ice age caused by a U.S.-Russia nuclear war.

This is colder than the 5°C cooling we endured 20,000 years ago during the last ice age. The good news is that, according to state-of-the-art climate models by Alan Robock at Rutgers University, a nuclear mini ice age would be rather brief, with about half of the cooling gone after a decade. The bad news is that this more than long enough for most people on Earth to starve to death if farming collapses. Robock’s all-out-war scenario shows cooling by about 20°C (36°F) in much of the core farming regions of the U.S., Europe, Russia and China (by 35°C in parts of Russia) for the first two summers — you don’t need to be a master farmer to figure out what freezing summers would do to food supply. It’s hard to predict exactly how devastating this famine would be if thousands of Earth’s largest cities were reduced to rubble and global infrastructure collapsed, but whatever small fraction of all humans don’t succumb to starvation, hypothermia or epidemics would need to cope with roving, armed gangs desperate for food.

What a nuclear mini ice age might look like.

Average cooling (in °C) during the first two summers after a full-scale nuclear war between the US and Russia (from Robock et al 2007).

Unless we take stronger action than there’s current political will for, we’re likely to face both dramatic fossil-fuel climate change and dramatic nuclear climate change within a century, give or take. Since no politician in their right mind would launch global nuclear Armageddon on purpose, the nuclear war triggering the mini ice age will most likely start by accident or miscalculation. This has has almost happened many times in the past, as this timeline shows. The annual probability of accidental nuclear war is poorly known, but it certainly isn’t zero: John F. Kennedy estimated the probability of  the Cuban Missile Crisis escalating to war between 33 percent and 50 percent. We know that near-misses keep occurring regularly, and there are probably many more close calls than haven’t been declassified. Simple math shows that even if the annual risk of global nuclear war is as low as 1 percent, we’ll probably have one within a century and almost certainly within a few hundred years. We just don’t know exactly when — it could be the day your great granddaughter gets married, or it could be next Tuesday when the Russian early-warning system suffers an unfortunate technical malfunction.

The science behind nuclear climate change is rather simple. Smoke from small fires doesn’t rise as high as the highest rain clouds, so rain washes the smoke away before too long. In contrast, massive firestorms from burning nuked cities can rise into the upper stratosphere, many times higher than commercial jet planes fly. There are no clouds that high (have you ever seen a cloud above you when peering out of your plane window at cruising altitude?), and for this reason, the firestorm smoke never gets rained out. Moreover, this smoke absorbs sunlight and heats up, allowing it to get lofted to even higher altitudes where it might stay for approximately a decade, soon spreading around the globe to cover both the U.S. and Russia even if only one of the two got nuked. Since much of the solar heat absorbed by the smoke gets radiated back into space instead of warming the ground, nuclear winter ensues if there’s enough smoke.

Just as with fossil-fuel climate change, nuclear climate change involves interesting uncertainties that deserve further research. For example how much smoke gets lofted to various altitudes in different scenarios? But whereas fossil-fuel climate research gets significant funding and press coverage, nuclear climate change gets neither. Part of the reason is probably that we can already start seeing effects of fossil-fuel climate change, whereas nuclear climate change arrives like ketchup out of a shaken glass bottle: nothing, nothing, nothing, and then way more than you wanted.

We should start treating both kinds of climate change with comparable respect, since there’s currently no convincing scientific case for nuclear climate change being a negligible threat compared to fossil-fuel climate change: the size of the temperature change can be comparable, the time until it gets dramatic can be comparable, and the nuclear version might wreak even greater havoc than the fossil-fuel version by being less gradual and leaving society less time to adapt.

Nuclear climate change is better than its fossil-fuel cousin if you’re impatient and like instant gratification. To end on a positive note, nuclear climate change also has the advantage of being an easier problem to solve. Whereas halving carbon emissions is quite difficult to accomplish, halving expected nuclear climate change is as simple as halving nuclear arsenals. Many military analysts agree that 300-1000 nuclear weapons suffice for extremely effective deterrence, and all but two nuclear powers have chosen to stay below that range. Yet the U.S. and Russia are currently hoarding about 7,000 each, and appear to be starting a new nuclear arms race. The U.S. is planning to spend $4 million per hour for the next 30 years making its nukes more lethal, which even former Secretary of Defense William Perry argues will make us less safe. Trimming our nuclear excess could not only free up a trillion dollars for other spending, but would be a huge victory in our battle against climate change.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Future of Life Institute (FLI) on nuclear security. It was originally posted here.

Science, Religion, and Obama’s Mixed Legacy on Nuclear Weapons

In April 2009 in Prague, President Obama highlighted the continuing risks posed by nuclear weapons. He promised to “take concrete steps” to reduce those risks and “put an end to Cold War thinking.”

Since then, the administration has in fact taken some positive steps, including concluding the Iran nuclear deal, and the New START treaty that reduces U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear forces.

But it has also taken some negative steps, such as planning for a $1 trillion program to completely rebuild the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next three decades and to build new types of nuclear warheads. This is classic Cold War thinking, and is the kind of step that fuels an arms race.

Cloud from the Nagasaki bomb. (Source: National Archives)

Cloud from the Nagasaki bomb. (Source: National Archives)

Former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry recently warned, “The danger of a nuclear catastrophe today, I believe, is greater than it was during the Cold War.” Things are moving in the wrong direction, and the administration needs to take some positive steps—and soon.

In response to this situation, UCS joined with several faith groups to call for something we all agree on: President Obama should take new steps to reduce the danger posed by nuclear weapons and a new arms race. In particular, we jointly call for:

The president is reportedly considering a visit to Hiroshima when he is in Japan for the G7 meeting at the end of May, to highlight the humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons.

But giving another speech is not enough. The president should announce concrete steps, picking up the work he started in Prague.

The science-faith statement was signed by


This article was originally posted on the Union of Concerned Scientists blog, and the Spanish version of the statement can be found here.

The Nuclear Terror Threat and Funding Mismatch

The following article, written by Erica Fein, was originally posted on Huffington Post.

What if terrorists in Belgium had employed a crude nuclear or radiological device? Those who have followed news from the attacks know that the premise is not really that far-fetched. The two brothers alleged to have carried out the attacks are also thought to be the same men found surveilling a top Belgian nuclear official at his home in late 2015. While their intent isn’t fully understood, this incident and previous ones underscore that the threat of nuclear terrorism is alive and well.

In the coming weeks, Congress will consider funding for nuclear terrorism prevention. Prospects for adequate funding look quite dim. In a preview of what’s to come, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water just released its draft bill for fiscal year (FY) 2017 spending. Like the President’s own budget request, the Committee’s bill decreases spending on nuclear security programs by over $100 million from last year. Moreover, projected funding levels will be approximately 50 percent lower than what was anticipated in Obama’s FY 2013 budget requests, as the Harvard Belfer Center explains in a new report.

While historic U.S.-Russia cooperation on nuclear security has been virtually cut off and the Department of Energy has maintained carry-over balances from previous years, neither explanation justifies such an extreme drop in funding, especially given the increased threat.

Rather, intense competition for resources seems to play an outsize role. Nuclear weapons programs and nuclear security are funded out of the same Department of Energy allocation, and with a $1 trillion plan to maintain a nuclear arsenal indefinitely, nuclear weapons are winning the day.

At least some Members of Congress are paying attention. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, pointed out at a hearing recently that nuclear weapons funding enjoys “unrestrained growth.” Indeed, at an expected $27 billion in FY 2017, funding for U.S. nuclear weapons sustainment and upgrades dwarfs global nuclear security spending. Moreover, these nuclear weapons costs are only projected to rise over the next decade. During her opening statement, Senator Feinstein aptly asked, “Where does it end? How much is enough?”

Make no mistake, the Islamic State, al Qaeda, criminal organizations, and rogue operators are trying to get their hands on nuclear material, according to open source reporting. For instance, smugglers have been caught with nuclear material in Bulgaria, Paris, and Moldova in 1999, 2001, and 2011, respectively, all from the same Soviet-era cache according to the Center for Public Integrity. Adding to the gravity of the problem, Russian officials have refused to acknowledge that nuclear materials are missing. Even a grapefruit-sized amount of weapons-grade material used in a bomb could kill hundreds of thousands of people and cause global panic.

The $1 trillion nuclear weapons program takes away from addressing real threats to society, like terrorism – conventional or nuclear – advanced cyber weaponry, and faltering domestic needs while only increasing tensions with Russia and China. Those countries may be spending their own resources on maintaining and bolstering nuclear weapons capabilities – though not comparable to U.S. spending; however, such activity does not justify the U.S. program. In fact, a Department of Defense report on Russian nuclear forces concluded that Russia “would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario…” For its part, China reportedly has hundreds of weapons, not the thousands still held by the United States.

Non-proliferation and global nuclear security funding generally enjoy bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Yet, without a strong advocate from the executive branch and with topline budget pressures from existing budget caps, it will be difficult for even the most committed lawmakers to increase funding. Nonetheless, as the fiscal year 2017 budget process advances, concerns about nuclear terrorism ought to outweigh only half-baked plans and rationale for nuclear weapons spending. Across government, budget prioritization looms as one of the biggest challenges to moving our country in the right direction; the nuclear weapons vs. nuclear security trade-off should be an easy one to get right.

Cambridge Divests $1 Billion From Nukes Following Grassroots Campaign

“Didn’t the threat of nuclear holocaust end with the cold war?”

“Actually no, the threat is even greater now than ever before.

There are approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons on Earth, about 1,800 of which are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within minutes – which has nearly happened by mistake during a large number of close calls. Yet rather than reduce this risk by trimming its excessive nuclear arsenal, the US plans to invest $4 million per hour for the next 30 years — for a total of $1 trillion — to make our nuclear arsenal even more lethal. This is in no small part due to lobbying by nuclear weapons producers. This new nuclear arms race is driven partly by money, but that also means it can be mitigated using money: by divesting from companies that produce nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons divestment not only takes money out of the hands of nuclear weapons producers, but it also creates strong stigmatization that can lead to policy change, as previously happened with both land mines and cluster munitions.

At the Future of Life Institute, we took up the challenge of engaging our local city of Cambridge on this issue. Using publicly available documents, we found that the city of Cambridge was both directly and indirectly supporting the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Among their investments, for example, was Honeywell International, which is responsible for the construction of Trident II (D5) nuclear missiles.  Little did we know, but with this knowledge and a single email to Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons we would be setting off on a campaign that would end in a vote recommending a $1,000,000,000 divestment from nuclear weapons.


On January 19th, Max Tegmark and I sat down with Mayor Denise Simmons at the Cambridge City Hall and found a wonderful friend and ally. Mayor Simmons was enthusiastic about the prospect of nuclear divestment and wanted the city of Cambridge to be an example for other cities, universities, and institutions to follow. We set out from that meeting and, in cooperation with Mayor Simmons and her assistant, drafted a resolution to be introduced and voted on at a city council meeting scheduled for March 21st.

With about two months to go until the vote, we began engaging with the community and local activists to garner as much support for the resolution as possible. We worked to rally the community to give public testimonies at the city council meeting and initiated an email campaign to encourage councilors to adopt the resolution. Attendance and support at the city council meeting was largely garnered through presentations at citizen group meetings, such as at the Cambridge Residents Alliance, and at a Massachusetts Peace Action Conference. Perhaps most importantly, we drafted a 207 page report that detailed Cambridge’s investments and provided nuclear-weapons-free investment alternatives. We were able to provide a list of nuclear-weapons-free mutual funds by aggregating the holdings of socially responsible mutual funds and comparing them to our database of institutions that are directly and indirectly involved in nuclear weapons production. Crucial information about the producers of nuclear weapons and about the institutions that are invested in these companies was provided by Pax’s Susi Snyder and their 2015 Don’t Bank on the Bomb report.  Furthermore, we found that only 1.8% of the S&P 500 companies were directly involved in nuclear weapons production. Thus only a minuscule amount of Cambridge’s portfolio weight was in need of divesting. From our research and findings we were able to conclude that nuclear divestment is extremely feasible even for a $1,000,000,000 pension fund.

We soon found ourselves among friends and allies at the March 21st city council meeting. The meeting kicked off with about an hour of 3-minute public testimonies, a large majority of those being in support of the nuclear divestment resolution. When the testimonies came to an end, we anxiously awaited our resolution to be addressed. After a few heart palpitations induced by some council jargon that made it sound like our resolution had been suspended, the resolution was brought before the council. Before the vote was held, multiple councilors spoke to the absolute necessity of divestment. In particular, one councilor reflected on the irrationality of profiting from institutions that make us all less safe. How can our species survive if its economic prosperity is based on an economic system that profits from investing in the inhumane?  A vote was finally called and the city of Cambridge unanimously approved the policy order, thus recommending to make $1,000,000,000 unavailable to nuclear weapons producing companies.

Lucas Speaking at Cambridge Meeting

Lucas Perry speaking to the resolution at Cambridge City Hall.

Shortly thereafter, we held a conference on reducing the threats of nuclear war at MIT, where Mayor Denise Simmons announced the divestment to a packed auditorium. She spoke on the moral, political, and social necessity of divestment and exclaimed, “Not in our name!” She added, “It’s my hope that this will inspire other municipalities, companies and individuals to look at their investments and make similar moves.” We are thrilled with this success as Cambridge becomes the billion dollar investor in the U.S. to make such a move, joining over 50 European institutions.


Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons announcing the divestment resolution at the MIT conference.


BUT, WAIT!  DIVESTMENT DOESN’T END THERE!  You can help keep this going. As Mayor Simmons said, a successful nationwide campaign of divestment and stigmatization requires a large grassroots movement. You can help with this by engaging with your local municipality, community, church, university or other institution and calling for nuclear divestment. For more information on how to begin a divestment campaign, we encourage you to read the lessons and examples from the Don’t Bank On the Bomb Campaign, as well as their “campaigner guide.”

Have questions or need help? Contact us at:

A very special thanks to Harvard BA candidate Abel Corver, Pax Nuclear Program Manager Susi Snyder, and MIT Professor Jonathan King for their vital support throughout this campaign.



Mayor Denise Simmons, Dr. Max Tegmark, Lucas Perry, Susi Snyder, Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and Dr. Jonathan King after the public announcement of the Cambridge nuclear divestment plan.

Hawking Says ‘Don’t Bank on the Bomb’ and Cambridge Votes to Divest $ 1Billion From Nuclear Weapons

1,000 nuclear weapons are plenty enough to deter any nation from nuking the US, but we’re hoarding over 7,000, and a long string of near-misses have highlighted the continuing risk of an accidental nuclear war which could trigger a nuclear winter, potentially killing most people on Earth. Yet rather than trimming our excess nukes, we’re planning to spend $4 million per hour for the next 30 years making them more lethal.

Although I’m used to politicians wasting my tax dollars, I was shocked to realize that I was voluntarily using my money for this nuclear boondoggle by investing in the very companies that are lobbying for and building new nukes: some of the money in my bank account gets loaned to them and my S&P500 mutual fund invests in them. “If you want to slow the nuclear arms race, then put your money where your mouth is and don’t bank on the bomb!”, my physics colleague Stephen Hawking told me. To make it easier for others to follow his sage advice, I made an app for that together with my friends at the Future of Life Institute, and launched this “Brief History of Nukes” that’s 3.14 long in honor of Hawking’s fascination with pi.

Our campaign got off to an amazing start this weekend at an MIT conferencewhere our Mayor Denise Simmons announced that the Cambridge City Council has unanimously decided to divest their billion dollar city pension fund from nuclear weapons production. “Not in our name!”, she said, and drew a standing ovation. “It’s my hope that this will inspire other municipalities, companies and individuals to look at their investments and make similar moves”.

“In Europe, over 50 large institutions have already limited their nuclear weapon investments, but this is our first big success in America”, said Susi Snyder, who leads the global nuclear divestment campaign Boston College philosophy major Lucas Perry, who led the effort to persuade Cambridge to divest, hoped that this online analysis tool will create a domino effect: “I want to empower other students opposing the nuclear arms race to persuade their own towns and universities to follow suit.”

Many financial institutions now offer mutual funds that cater to the growing interest in socially responsible investing, including Ariel, Calvert, Domini, Neuberger, Parnassuss, Pax World and TIAA-CREF. “We appreciate and share Cambridge’s desire to exclude nuclear weapons production from its pension fund. Pension funds are meant to serve the long-term needs of retirees, a service that nuclear weapons do not offer”, said Julie Fox Gorte, Senior Vice President for Sustainable Investing at Pax World.

“Divestment is a powerful way to stigmatize the nuclear arms race through grassroots campaigning, without having to wait for politicians who aren’t listening”, said conference co-organizer Cole Harrison, Executive Director of Massachusetts Peace Action, the nation’s largest grassroots peace organization. “If you’re against spending more money making us less safe, then make sure it’s not your money.”

You’ll find our divestment app here. If you’d like to persuade your own municipality to follow Cambridge’s lead, using their policy order as a model, here it is:

WHEREAS: Nations across the globe still maintain over 15,000 nuclear weapons, some of which are hundreds of times more powerful than those that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and detonation of even a small fraction of these weapons could create a decade-long nuclear winter that could destroy most of the Earth’s population; and
WHEREAS: The United States has plans to invest roughly one trillion dollars over the coming decades to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, which many experts believe actually increases the risk of nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, and accidental nuclear war; and
WHEREAS: In a period where federal funds are desperately needed in communities like Cambridge in order to build affordable housing, improve public transit, and develop sustainable energy sources, our tax dollars are being diverted to and wasted on nuclear weapons upgrades that would make us less safe; and
WHEREAS: Investing in companies producing nuclear weapons implicitly supports this misdirection of our tax dollars; and
WHEREAS: Socially responsible mutual funds and other investment vehicles are available that accurately match the current asset mix of the City of Cambridge Retirement Fund while excluding nuclear weapons producers; and
WHEREAS: The City of Cambridge is already on record in supporting the abolition of nuclear weapons, opposing the development of new nuclear weapons, and calling on President Obama to lead the nuclear disarmament effort; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Council go on record opposing investing funds from the Cambridge Retirement System in any entities that are involved in or support the production or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Cambridge Peace Commissioner and other appropriate City staff to organize an informational forum on possibilities for Cambridge individuals and institutions to divest their pension funds from investments in nuclear weapons contractors; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Board of the Cambridge Retirement System and other appropriate City staff to ensure divestment from all companies involved in production of nuclear weapons systems, and in entities investing in such companies, and the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council about the implementation of said divestment in a timely manner.

Experiment in Annihilation

To celebrate the 88th birthday of its author today, we’re republishing the first-ever comprehensive non-classified paper on the hydrogen bomb and problems with its early testing. It was translated into French by Jean-Paul Sartre and published in his journal “Les Temps Modernes” and the opening lines were once read in the US Congress without attribution. The author wrote under the pseudonym Jules Laurents out of fear of McCarthyism and I’m proud to be able to tell you that he is in fact Harold Shapiro, my father – happy birthday, Dad!


The author circa 1954.


Jules Laurents

Contemporary Issues, volume 5, October-November 1954

MARCH 1, 1954, the same day that shots were ringing on the floor of the House of Representatives, another “shot”, unheralded but of sweeping significance, was fired in the Marshall Islands. On that day an American AEC task group detonated a hydrogen bomb of monstrous size. In its widest implications that bomb has not yet ceased to reverberate. A long chain of incidents, ranging from the curious to the tragic, has made it clear that “peacetime” nuclear explosions present a substantial threat to our well-being. Storm signals from earlier atomic tests such as fogged photographic film and radioactive rain have given way to the storm — which has already resulted in the radioactive poisoning of several hundred people. The March 1 explosion also blasted the lid of secrecy from the AEC’s thermonuclear adventures, giving the public its first real look behind the “uranium curtain”; thus it is now known that the AEC touched off three prior hydrogen explosions, the third of which (November, 1952) gave more than five times as great an energy release as predicted by its creators.

I. Chronicle of Events

The March 1 bomb was expected to explode with a force of four to six megatons (a megaton denotes the energy released by exploding one million tons of TNT) but developed instead about fourteen, according to Joseph and Stewart Alsop, New York Herald Tribune, April 7, 1954. It left scientific measuring instruments unable to record its full effects. Sound waves from the blast were detected in London, and an American astronomer said the flash could have been seen from Mars. Rep. Holifeld of the JCAE (Joint Committee on Atomic Energy) described it as “so far beyond what was expected you might say it was out of control”. Defense Secretary Wilson called it “unbelievable”, and President Eisenhower admitted it “surprised and astonished” the scientists. Rep. Van Zandt of the JCAE stated that the “explosion had left an area of total destruction about twelve miles in diameter, with light damage extending in a circle with a diameter of forty miles”. The AEC called it a “routine atomic test”. As with the November, 1952 H-bomb, the first inkling the public had that something extraordinary had occurred was through “leaks”. Intent on maintaining secrecy, the AEC ordered all task force personnel to refrain from divulging any information about the tests. Such an order was not given on Kwajalein, however, 176 miles from Bikini, it being assumed apparently that at this distance details of the explosion could not be perceived. Yet a marine corporal stationed there wrote to his mother:

“I was walking back to the barracks . . . just as it was getting daylight, when all of a sudden the sky lighted up a bright orange. . . . About ten or fifteen minutes later . . . we heard very loud rumbling that sounded like thunder. Then the whole barracks began shaking as if there had been an earthquake. This was followed by a very high wind.”

In a second letter he reported: “There were two destroyers here to-day bearing natives of one of the Marshall Islands that was within seventy-five miles of the blast. They were suffering from various burns and radioactivity”.

Directly thereafter the AEC issued the following statement:

“During the course of a routine atomic test in the Marshall Islands, twenty-eight U.S. personnel and 236 residents were transported from neighboring atolls to Kwajalein Island according to plans as a precautionary measure. The individuals were unexpectedly exposed to some radiation. There were no burns. All were reported well. After the completion of the atomic tests, they will be returned to their homes.”

The AEC never acknowledged the statement of the corporal, nor his assertion that some victims were suffering from burns. (We shall see that the AEC statement is false.) When the announcement was made some observers were puzzled over how, after the victims were “unexpectedly” exposed to radiation, they were evacuated “according to plans as a precautionary measure”. Time magazine introduced additional cause for apprehension by reporting that American casualties from the March 1 explosion were exposed to radiation “ten times greater than scientists deem safe”.

On March 13 (2) a grave new consequence of the “routine atomic test” was reported. The Japanese fishing trawler Fukuryu Maru docked in Yaezu, Japan, with its twenty-three crew members showing symptoms of acute radiation exposure. They told how on March 1 they were some eighty to ninety miles from Bikini, when at 4 a.m. they fancied they saw the sun rising prematurely “in a strange manner”. Six or seven minutes later they heard a roar, and two hours later they were showered with a white ash, which continued to fall for several hours. The ash was, of course, fall-out from the explosion, consisting mainly of irradiated coral dust. Only after they had become quite ill did they suspect that they had been rained with shi no hai (ashes of death) and head for port. They had on board 40 tons of freshly caught tuna and shark, which, according to a New York Times dispatch, exhibited radioactivity “sufficient to be fatal to any person who remained for eight hours within thirty yards of the fish”. Two of them were in worse condition than the rest, having eaten some of the fish. The crewmen were hospitalized, the sampan was ordered burned at sea and sunk, the fish buried; but not before several thousand pounds of the contaminated fish had been unloaded and shipped to market. A “hot fish” panic ensued in Japan, and police, in a frantic effort to track it all down, ordered a thousand tons of other fish destroyed, with which it had got mixed. Fish prices dropped to half overnight, and Tokyo’s numerous sushi houses (sushi — a popular fish dish) reported business at a standstill. It should not be necessary to give all details — it is sufficient to recall the Japanese experience with atomic bombs, coupled with the fact that fish is the mainstay of the Japanese diet (a million pounds a day of tuna alone are consumed in Japan) to appreciate the extent of the panic. The people’s fears were not entirely groundless. Life, March 29, in an article First Casualties of the H-Bomb reported “Six families from the town of Saganihara reported stomach pains, numbness and diarrhea after eating raw tuna and gray mullet”. An INS dispatch from Tokyo, March 23, reported “Physical examinations were ordered to-day for fifty-one Osaka residents with mild blood disorders which officials feared may have come from eating radioactive fish caught in the mid-Pacific after America’s recent hydrogen test blast”. As late as May 17 a UP dispatch from Formosa reported: “Fishery authorities in Formosa urgently requested Geiger counters from the U.S. to-day after a Chinese family in Keelung was hospitalized with what doctors thought might be radioactive poisoning [after eating a seafish].” (It is, of course, impossible to say whether the March 1 bomb or a later one would be responsible for such a case.) In view of the fact that a score of other Japanese fishing boats have since returned with radioactive cargoes, and considering the delay with which radiation-induced disorders often manifest themselves, further incidents of this type are not excluded.

Soon after the mishap, Dr. John Morton, head of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) at Hiroshima, reported concerning the twenty-three fishermen, “they will recover completely within a month”. Apparently his years of studying Hiroshima victims had not proved instructive, for by 23rd March five of the fishermen were reported in serious condition, and all of the men are still (July) hospitalized. Morton and his staff were received uncharitably by the victims and their Japanese doctors, for reasons expressed by the leading Tokyo newspaper Asahi: “The ABCC is an organ to conduct research but not to treat patients. Dr. John Morton and his staff should treat the patients this time not only to make a fine report to America but to give the patients assurances they are not guinea pigs”. It also urged the U.S. to reveal to Japanese physicians the materials used in the blast (this would facilitate identification of the isotopes in the ash, which knowledge would be valuable in treatment) but admitted: “Presumably the U.S. does not want to disclose military secrets”. Indeed not; in fact, Rep. Sterling Cole created much hard feeling when he suggested the Japanese trawler might have been spying on the tests! When the Japanese scientists had completed their analysis of the ash, they were dismayed to find that it contained not-negligible amounts of strontium 90, a long-lived isotope particularly dangerous to absorb into the body.

About 25th March it was reported that the U.S. Navy tanker Patapsco, operating with the H -bomb task group, had received “light but not dangerous contamination by radioactive fall-out”.

March 27th two more “atom-dusted” sampans came into port and were quarantined. One (the Myojin Maru) had been operating about 780 miles from the test site 1st March, and the other (the Koei Maru) 200 miles away. Japanese newspapers reported that both vessels registered Geiger counter readings above the danger point, although “only one crewman was more than slightly affected”. Japanese health officials were undecided whether to destroy the catch of the Myojin; they destroyed the entire 80,000 pound tuna catch of the Koei. And a UP dispatch of 3rd April reported that a fourth fishing boat had come back radioactive from the 1st March explosion and been quarantined.

There were numerous other ramifications, of varying degrees of gravity, from the 1st March explosion. Americans experienced snowfalls in Montana and Wyoming exhibiting radiation equal to 200 times the normal background. Prof. Henry Kraybill of the Yale University Physics Department revealed that Yale’s most sensitive Geiger counter was incapacitated on 7th March by an increased number of radioactive particles in the air. However, on the whole, few such particles were observed in the U.S. Newsweek, 29th March, wrote:

“The subject isn’t discussed openly around the AEC but scientists are worried about the whereabouts of the radioactive ‘mushroom cloud’ generated by the March 1st H -bomb explosion. . . . Within a few days after all previous tests, laboratories around the U.S. have reported detecting traces of radiation in the atmosphere. So for no traces have been spotted from the March 1 bomb, which shot its mushroom an unprecedented 20 miles into the air.”

The same publication, 5th April, published another provocative remark:

“U.S. atomic scientists, still puzzling over the unexpected fury of the March 1st H-bomb blast . . . .are now wondering whether the bomb set off a small chain reaction that ignited hydrogen in the atmosphere and surrounding sea. Most [reject the possibility of a globe -girdling chain reaction] but the theory is being reconsidered.”
Many other Americans apparently were “puzzling” over the 1st March blast. As early as 19th March Rep. Cole, head of the JCAE, reported that a Congressional investigation would be pushed to determine (in the words of an AP dispatch) “whether avoidable errors were made during the monstrous hydrogen blast in the Pacific March 1st”, and that his committee had begun questioning AEC officials in closed sessions. Rep. Van Zandt, of the JCAE, according to a UP dispatch of 18th March,

“criticised officials . . . for failure to set up adequate safeguards against injury to American, native, and Japanese personnel in the area. He said the government should have set as out of bounds a ‘hazard area’ about twice as large as that actually prescribed…’It was poor planning’ Mr. Van Zandt said. ‘In my opinion somebody is guilty of a blunder in failing to apply the necessary precautions. It is my intention as a member of the Joint Atomic Committee to find out who was responsible’.”

Dr. David L. Hill, Chairman of the Federation of American Scientists, a Los Alamos physicist, commented that the failure to predict the exact size of the 1st March explosion was to have been expected in a rapidly moving development program. Against this turbulent background, the AEC detonated an even larger H-bomb 26th March.

The 26th March bomb was intended to have been dropped by parachute from a B-36 superbomber, but for reasons of caution this plan was abandoned. This was probably for the best since the bomb, expected to develop three megatons, exploded instead with about seventeen (according to the Alsops). And Newsweek later reported (12th April) that “Air Force officials refuse to talk about it, but a giant B-36 superbomber observing the March 26th H-bomb explosion was flipped completely over by the blast”. The AEC had taken many new precautions, such as extending the “restricted zone” to an area 450 miles wide, covering several hundred thousand square miles. It had searched the area carefully, to make sure no ships were there. Nevertheless two Japanese fishing boats came into port 8th April with cargoes of radioactive tuna. On one of the boats, the Kaifuku Maru, health officials found it necessary to destroy “about one-third of the thirty-five tons of tuna . . . when it recorded more than 100 [Geiger counter] impulses a minute. About 45 minute is considered the maximum for human safety”. (UP dispatch, 8th April.) Curiously, the other ship, the Shoho Maru, had only six radioactive fish out of a thirty-ton catch, giving counts of 60 to 1,300 impulses a minute. An INS dispatch of 10th April clarifies this situation, telling that these six had “eaten atom-radiated small fish”. The Shoho had been 400 miles south of Bikini. As time went by other radioactive ships were remarked, including one that had been “dusted” at a distance of 2,200 miles; a Geiger counter held to the head of a crewman from this vessel, the Misaki Maru, clicked 200 times a minute.

U.S. News and World Report of 9th April, 1954, in an article entitled Has the H-Bomb Gone Wild? , reflected the prevailing sentiment when it commented: “The guarded secrets of [the] H-Bomb now are coming out. The facts, when pieced together, indicate that the tested model is a far cry from the H-bomb ordered by President Truman in 1950”. By the end of March a vast clamor had risen around the H-bomb, to which even the AEC could not remain entirely oblivious. Indeed, Lewis Strauss, Chairman, held a special press conference on 31st March at which he assured the public that there was nothing to worry about, that the victims with radiation burns were “well and happy”, etc., and emphasized that we were rapidly approaching the millennium of atomic energy for peacetime use. With this assurance, the AEC detonated three more bombs. News of them reached the public unofficially, e.g. through reports of radioactive rain by Japanese scientists and accounts by American airline passengers of a “midnight sunrise” in the Marshall Islands. An AP dispatch of 14th May said: “Evidence indicates [an] explosion of April 6, another about May 1 and a final shot within recent days”. It seems likely that a great 40 megaton blast originally scheduled for around 22nd April did not take place.

Incidents of similar character to those arising from the previous blasts continued to be reported. A cross-section of news items follows:

Tokyo, April 19 (AP) – “Two Japanese scientists to-day said new radioactive rain showers fell on Japan Saturday and yesterday . . . the showers started 40,000 feet up and fell from the stratosphere . . . . Meanwhile health officials at the giant Tsukiji Japanese Fish Market condemned 3,000 pounds of tuna from a mid-Pacific catch brought here to-day. The fish showed signs of harmful radioactivity.”

Tokyo, April 30 (AP) –“Another Japanese tuna boat has been found radioactive and some of its catch has been condemned . . . . The ship is the 100-ton Koyu Maru. Kyodo [News Agency] said it was operating about 500 miles southeast of Bikini March 26 when the U.S. touched off its second hydrogen blast.”

Lander, Wyo., May 14 (AP) — “Uranium hunters in this central Wyoming area are blaming atomic dust for a sudden jump in activity on the dials of their Geiger and scintillation counters. Even tests on Lander’s main street showed radioactivity five to six times the normal reading.”

Kamaishi, Japan, May 23 (UP) – “Health department officials said to-day the fifth crewman of a Japanese ship that arrived at this northern port yesterday showed signs of radiation burns. The [Jintsuguwa Maru] left Macatea Island south of Australia, April 17 . . . and supposedly skirted the zone around the Bikini-Eniwetok atomic proving grounds . . . .”
Sydney, Australia, May 24 (Reuters) — “Radioactive rain fell on Sydney Sunday, it was reported to-day . . . D. E. Davies [manager of a concern manufacturing Geiger Counters] said, ‘We were subjected to some sort of radioactive rain as a result of a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific’.”

San Diego, Calif., May 28 (UP) – “The escort carrier USS Bairoko arrived here to-day from the Pacific hydrogen bomb tests, but the Navy kept its ‘secret’ label on everything concerning its recent operations. Reports were heard, both here and in Washington, that the Bairoko received a mild dusting with radioactive particles . . . . [Reporters and photographers were not] allowed to visit the ship.”

New York Herald Tribune, May 28, under the heading Radioactive Rain Worries Tokyo printed a dispatch, “Rain so radioactive it might be dangerous to anyone drinking it fell on Tokyo to-day . . . . It was the latest and most serious of a number of such showers. Samples . . . gave a Geiger counter reading of 10,000 [clicks per minute], potentially dangerous if drunk.”

Calcutta, May 30 (Reuters) – “The Indian Nuclear Physics Institute here reported to-day that radioactive rain fell over Calcutta on April 29 . . . . A Reuters dispatch from Calcutta June 1, said: ‘Radioactivity in atmospheric dust and rain over the Bay of Bengal soon after the Pacific hydrogen bomb explosion April 6 was seven to eight times normal, it was disclosed here to-day [by Dr. S. Kuk Mitra, head of the department of physics at Calcutta University]’.”

Tokyo, June 4 (AP) – “Five crew members of a Japanese freighter that passed within 1,200 miles of the United States hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific were reported suffering from radiation sickness to-day . . . .”

Tokyo, June 10 (AP) – “A Japanese radioactivity test ship detected strong signs of contamination last night 500 miles south of the U.S. H-bomb test area at Bikini, Kyodo news agency reported to-day. Radioactivity was found in the fish, rain and seawater tested by the Shunkotsu Maru. Japanese officials yesterday ordered destroyed as radioactive 8 tons of an 82,000 pound catch from the waters near Truk Island in the Caroline Islands.”

Tokyo, June 10 (INS) – “Seven Japanese were reported under treatment for radioactivity to-day because they drank rain water from clouds which passed through the U.S. Bikini H-bomb testing area. Japanese coast guard officials said that three lighthouse attendants and four members of their families are recovering, but will be hospitalized for some Time.”

Tokyo, June 12 (AP) – “A Japanese scientific research ship reported to-day that measurable radioactivity has been found in the sea water within 100 miles of Bikini Atoll where the U.S. conducted test H-bomb explosions in March and April [and May – JL]…. The amount of radioactivity was small but noticeable as the research vessel sailed to within 67 miles of Bikini . . . . Meanwhile, radioactive jittery Japan learned to-day that some scientists have found wild birds were mildly radioactive in Japan this year. A scientist said he found traces of radioactive ash, presumably from U.S. H-bomb tests, in the internal organs of the birds.”

Because of the fact that whole islands, in the form of radioactive dust, are now drifting in the upper atmosphere, and much additional radioactive matters is now being assiduously concentrated by sea organisms; in view of the presence of long-lived isotopes in the ash (we have already mentioned strontium 90; consider also that the atoll of Rongelap in the Marshalls must remain evacuated for at least a year, according to the AEC); and in view of the long delay (often years) which precedes the chronic effects of radiation injury, it may be stated with certainty that we have not heard the last of this series of hydrogen tests. Even the incidents we have quoted probably give an inadequate picture of what has already been reported – because the heavy censorship of the AEC has been augmented by a conspiracy of silence on the part of the press. For example, the New York Times, which has seen fit to give many days of front page coverage to an Egyptian funeral ship, has consistently buried the news dispatch on radiation injury in its hinter regions, insofar as it has deemed these dispatches fit to print at all.

2. The AEC Explains — A Study in Appearances and Realities

The American government has issued only one public statement dealing with the effects of hydrogen explosions! This took the form of a press conference held by Strauss, 31st March, where he read a prepared statement and answered several questions from reporters. Evidently the AEC plans to let its case rest with this press conference and does not intend to amend or augment the statements of Strauss. And it is not through lack of sensitivity to public concern that further enlightenment has not been forthcoming; for instance, one citizen who wrote to President Eisenhower expressing alarm over the hydrogen tests received a two-page personal letter from Morse Salisbury, director of the AEC’s Information Service, answering objections point by point on the basis of material in the Strauss press conference. A mimeographed copy of the latter was enclosed. And an interview with some Marshallese natives by an AP staff writer published 9th June bore the explanation: “The following story was delayed by censorship in the Defense Department, the AEC and the State Department . . . minor deletions were made in the original copy”.
We have already seen several instances where the AEC was less than candid with the public. This trend reaches a summit with the Strauss report, which is no more than a fairy tale designed to allay public apprehension (Strauss calls it “misapprehension”) over the disaster at Bikini – and pave the way for further “experiments”.

The tone of the Strauss statement is itself significant; there is no humility, no regret, no apology – not even a crocodile tear is shed in the interests of propaganda for the Marshallese, Japanese or American victims. To shed such a tear would be to acknowledge that something had gone wrong. But more important, the hydrogen explosions are primarily acts of intimidation – and one does not follow up an act of intimidation with an apology. The Admiral begins with some “historical background”, telling how “there is good reason to believe that they [the Russians] had begun work on this weapon substantially before we did” but happily “enormous potential has been added to our military posture by what we have learned” from the recent tests, etc.

“Now as to this specific test series. The first shot has been variously described as ‘devastating’, ‘out of control’, and with other exaggerated and mistaken characterizations. I would not wish to minimize it. It was a very large blast, but at no time was the testing out of control. The misapprehension seems to have arisen due to two facts. First, that the yield was about double that of the calculated estimate – a margin of error not incompatible with a totally new weapon (the range of guesses on the first A-bomb covered a relatively far wider spectrum). Second, because of the results of the fall-out.”

We shall not engage in semantic quibbling as to whether it is “mistaken” to call “devastating” a bomb which “left an area of total destruction about twelve miles in diameter” (Rep. Van Zandt) and gouged a deep crater in the ocean floor; similarly, we need not quibble over whether Rep. Holifeld “exaggerated” when he said the bomb was “out of control”; but the Admiral might have given us facts. He might have admitted that the blast jarred Kwajalein, 170 miles away, and created a very high wind there, or that on Rongelap atoll, over 120 miles distant, there was “wind so strong some people fell down” (according to an AP report), or that two British Planes watching one blast were lost and a giant American B-36 was flipped completely over by the shock wave. Could he not at least have told us what Newsweek has told us 29th March, that the bomb “shot its mushroom an unprecedented twenty miles into the air” and that this cloud was still at large in the stratosphere? Or would such facts give the “mistaken” idea that the testing was “out of control”? One point must be added about the word “control”. In response to a reporter who asked, “Is it possible that a hydrogen explosion or series of them could get out of control?”, Strauss said, “I am informed by the scientists that that is impossible”. Now the expression “out of control” is used by the physicists in this connection to mean setting off a chain reaction that would envelop the entire earth. Thus to know that an explosion is not “out of control” in this technical sense is small comfort, and, in particular, does not imply that it is in any real sense in control. As for blowing up the entire earth, the majority of scientists believe this is impossible; it may be said with certainty that they will never have to admit they were wrong.

Let us examine the “two facts” responsible for public “misapprehension”. First, that “the yield was about double that of the calculated estimate”. By “yield” Strauss means apparently the number of megatons. But then, what of press reports that the 1st March explosion developed fourteen megatons, whereas the “calculated estimate” was four to six? Or that the 26th March bomb developed seventeen megatons as against an anticipated three? These ratios are more nearly three to one and six to one than “double”. And one Pentagon official who witnessed the 1st March test, according to Newsweek 5th April, “insists that all published estimates of the H-bomb’s force have been too conservative” and claimed that the tested bomb gave about a twenty-eight megaton explosion. Actually, the whole concept of measuring the “yield” in megatons is misleading. As Edward Teller wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February, 1947: “It is hardly possible to compare the effect of an atomic bomb with the effect of a certain tonnage of TNT [for] atomic bombs also destroy by flash burns and by causing radiation disease”. In reality it makes sense to speak of a “yield” only in ecological terms, in terms of damage to man and his environment. Measured in these units Strauss’s statement about a “yield double the calculated estimate” takes on the meaning, “We expected to cause only 150 cases of radiation sickness but caused instead 300; we calculated on making one atoll uninhabitable for six months but the yield was two atolls for a year”, and so on.

Let us note that the hydrogen bomb is not a “totally new weapon” in the same sense as the first A-bomb; indeed, three thermonuclear explosions had been conducted by the AEC prior to 1st March, 1954, and in every case the energy release exceeded predictions, the last (November, 1952) by a ratio of more than five to one. Were not these ample warning of the uncertainty involved? A more accurate phrase to describe the circumstances would be “a margin of error not incompatible with a totally new concept of morality”.

Now Strauss’s second “fact” causing “misapprehension” — “the result of the fall-out”. He explains correctly that when a nuclear explosion occurs near the ground, material from beneath the center of the explosion is sucked up into the air, the lighter particles and fission products being borne away by the wind, eventually to settle out. (Detailed information of this sort is available in the AEC’s 1950 manual The Effects of Atomic Weapons). Forecasting correctly the direction of the winds at altitudes within the range of interest is all-important, and hence:

“Before the shot takes place, there is a careful survey of the winds at all elevations up to many thousands of feet . . . . Contrary to general belief, winds do not blow in only one direction at a given time and place. At various heights above the earth, winds are found to be blowing frequently in opposite directions and at greatly varying speeds . . . . The meteorologists attempt to forecast the wind directions for the optimum conditions and the Task Force Commander thereupon decides on the basis of the weather report when the test shall be made. The Weather forecast is necessarily long-range because a warning area must be searched for shipping and the search . . . requires a day or more to complete. [My emphasis – JL].”

We thus see that successful prediction of the fall-out pattern depends directly on successful long-range prediction of the winds, and this as high as the top of the mushroom cloud. Strauss indicates that the winds are quite tricky, but his account must be augmented for a clearer understanding. In the Compendium of Meteorology (Boston 1951) Namias and Clapp of the U.S. Weather Bureau write:

“The state of our knowledge . . . of the general circulation [of air masses] is still quite inadequate. Our deficiencies lie particularly in the absence of a long period of record of upper-air data over large areas of the Northern Hemisphere and most of the Southern Hemisphere. Not much can be done for many years to remedy the ‘long period’ part of this deficiency.”

In the same volume A. Grimes points out that “the properties of tropical air are quite well known up to four or five km., but observations are too few above five km. for reliable conclusions to be drawn”. One of the principal causes of consternation in high-altitude wind prediction is the existence of “jet streams”. First discovered during World War II, these narrow filaments of air travel as fast as 300 miles an hour at heights of between six and eight miles. In the Scientific American, October, 1952, Namias gives an account of these “strange winds” and their “violent and unpredictable behavior”. He points out that:

“Neither [of the two existing theories of jet streams] is complete enough for detailed weather prediction . . . many large areas of the Pacific are still meteorological no-man’s-lands . . . what causes their often striking behavior from one month to the corresponding month of the following year are questions that remain unanswered.”

Thus fortified we pursue Strauss’s account:

“For the day of shot number one the meteorologists had predicted a wind condition which should have carried the fall-out to the north of the group of small atolls lying to the east of Bikini . . . . The shot was fired. The Wind failed to follow the predictions [!] but shifted south of that line and the little islands [atolls –JL] of Rongelap, Rongerik, and Uterik were in the path of the fall-out . . . . The twenty-three crew members on the ship, twenty-eight American personnel manning weather stations on the little islands, and the 236 natives on these islands were therefore within the area of the fall-out.”

It is clear that if the atmosphere a mere seven or eight miles up is “a meteorological no-man’s-land”, and the bomb “shot its mushroom an unprecedented twenty miles into the air”, it is inherently impossible to predict with any certainty the fall-out pattern. Incidentally, we see now the meaninglessness of many comments which have been made concerning the fall-out, such as Rep. Van Zandt’s attribution of the disaster to “unpredictable wind shifts at high altitudes”. Furthermore, even the more tractable lower altitude winds become problematical – owing to the force of the explosion itself. We recall the powerful winds that swept Kwajalein and Rongelap, and a New York Times report from an American observer that the bomb “set off a local wind storm that might have upset weather forecasts that had been correct earlier”. Thus Strauss’s “two facts”, the size of the explosion and the fall-out, are seen to be one: A chaotic fall-out pattern is in the very nature of such a large explosion (3). The fall-out problem is, of course, also greatly magnified in the case of a large explosion because there is so much more debris to fall out. Thus “freak accidents” followed like clockwork after each of the great hydrogen explosions, and will continue to follow any low-altitude blasts of similar magnitude which may take place in the future.

Strauss touches obliquely on the central question of the right by which an American task force can declare “off limits” to the rest of the world a huge area of the Pacific Ocean.
“The ‘warning area’ is an area surrounding the proving grounds within which it is determined that a hazard to shipping or aviation exists. We have established many such areas as have other governments. . . . Including our continental warning areas, we have established a total of 447 such warning and/or danger areas. This particular warning area was first established in 1947. [A-bomb tests were held at Bikini in the summer of 1946 — JL.] The United Nations were advised and appropriate notices were carried then and subsequently in marine and aviation navigational manuals.”

What “other governments”, Admiral, have ever closed off to all sea and air craft half-a-million square miles of international waters, and this for a period of several months? Included in the 26th March “warning area” were some of the best Japanese fishing grounds and much of the Marshall Islands. Not even the high-handed gang in the Kremlin has set any precedent for such an action. And the argument that “We have done similar things in the past” is slender justification. Even if we grant the (completely untenable) assumption that America has acquired some “unwritten” right, on the basis of historical precedent, to set up proving grounds in international waters, we are confronted here with an entirely new situation — as with most other aspects of the hydrogen bomb question a quantitative change has become qualitative. As Dr. Lee Du Bridge, President of the California Institute of Technology, wrote in 1946 in protest of the first Bikini tests: “One can do target practice with a gun (even a I6-inch gun) in his ‘backyard’. But brandishing atomic weapons is in a different class.” Especially so when the effects, in varying degree, are felt from Calcutta to Wyoming; and large areas are not only denied to others but more or less permanently mutilated.

Concerning the mutilation of the areas, Strauss says:

“Each of these two atolls [Bikini and Eniwetok] is a large necklace of coral reef surrounding a lagoon two to three hundreds of square miles in area, and at various points on the reef like beads on a string appear a multitude of little islands, some a few score acres in extent — others no more than sandspits. It is these small, uninhabited, treeless sand bars which are used for the experiments. . . . The impression that an entire atoll or even large islands have been destroyed in these tests is erroneous. It would be more accurate to say large sandspit or reef.”

The “baby bomb” of 1952 had already “annihilated an island of the Marshalls group” half a mile long. But leaving aside question of out – right annihilation of islands (a preposterous standard of damage) and considering instead their spoliation much more can be said. As early as the 1946 Bikini tests Dr. David Bradley, a radiological monitor with the first task force, remarked that:

“The main island of Bikini . . . has been pretty well ravaged in the preparations for these tests [by the erection of installations] . . . and even discounting the possibility of lingering radioactivity it is doubtful if this island could support them (the dispossessed Bikini natives] again for a generation.” (No Place to Hide, Boston, 1948.)
He points out similar depredations of Kwajalein and many smaller islands, adding: “In the lavish expense account for Operation Crossroads, the spoilage of these jeweled islets will not even be mentioned, but no one who visited them could ever forget it”. But all this is piddling compared with the damage wrought by the H-bomb. Let us consider merely the effects of thermal radiation. We recall first some information about A-bombs, quoting from the AEC’s The Effects of Atomic Weapons (EAW):

“It may be concluded that exposure to thermal radiation from a nominal atomic bomb, on a fairly clear day, would lead to more or less serious skin burns within a radius of about 10,000 feet from ground zero (p. 200) . . . . Thermal radiation burns were recorded at a distance of as far as 13,000 feet at Nagasaki (p.202) . . . . Fabrics, telephone poles, trees, and wooden posts, up to a radius of 9,500 feet from ground zero at Hiroshima and up to 11,000 feet in Nagasaki, if not destroyed by the general conflagration, were charred and blackened (p. 207) . . . . The top of a wood pole, about 6,700 feet from ground zero, was reported as being ignited by the thermal radiation (p. 214).”

It is thus seen that the heat wave alone from a twenty kiloton A-bomb would cause severe injury to animal life out to more than two miles, and severe damage to trees and foliage (including starting fires) out to more than a mile from the blast. Now from equation (6.39.4) of EAW (p. 195) we can calculate what will be the corresponding distances for H-bombs. Assuming a very clear day, we get about eighteen miles and fourteen miles respectively (4) for a twenty megaton bomb. Since the atolls are roughly circular, we see from their areas, as given by Strauss, that the furthest distance between any two points in a typical atoll is of this order. Thus it appears that a twenty megaton H-bomb detonated anywhere in, say, Bikini atoll would sear all living creatures on the islands (5), killing most, and reducing to charred ruins the majority of trees and foliage. The Marshall Islanders had best forget about ever returning to Bikini – or Eniwetok, which was dealt the coup de grace in 1952. The fact that “uninhabited, treeless sandbars” are used as the site of detonation obviously would not affect these considerations. Let us give one example of the kind of fauna that once inhabited Bikini (aside, of course, from the human habitants) – the sea birds, valued not only for their beauty but for the phosphate deposits with which they enrich the soil of the islands. Here is Dr. Bradley’s description of Cherry Island (the Americanized name for one of the twenty-six islands in the Bikini group):

“Cherry proved to be a rookery; birds rose in screaming protest all about us and the trees were burdened with their nests. Terns they were — black noddy terns and dainty little fairy terns, pure white and almost translucent against the sky.”
These are the forgotten casualties of the H-bomb, together with coconut palms and coral reefs and parrot fish and giant lobsters and so many other exotic denizens of the South Seas (6). It is a supreme irony that these should be sacrificed in the name of “science”.
We move next to Strauss’s account of the condition of the victims.

“The Task Force Commander promptly evacuated all the people from these islands [in the path of the fall-out]. They were taken to Kwajalein where we maintained a naval establishment, and there placed under continuous and competent medical supervision. I visited them there last week. Since that time, it has been determined that our weather personnel could be returned to duty but are still being kept on Kwajalein for the benefit of further observation. [They were since transferred to Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii (7) — JL.] None of the twenty-eight weather personnel have burns. [Note that the original March announcement said flatly “there were no burns” — JL.] The 236 natives also appeared to me to be well and happy. . . . To-day, a full month after the event, the medical staff of Kwajalein have advised us that they anticipate no illness, barring of course disease which might be hereafter contracted [!].”

The Marshallese petition to the UN said the natives were suffering from “lowering of blood count, burns, nausea, and the falling off of hair from the head”. A later report by AP staff writer Waugh, published in the New York World-Telegram and Sun, 9th June, after official censorship, said: “Of the eighty-two Rongelapers, about forty-five suffered radiation burns . . . one man still has a bad burn on the back of his right ear, three months after the explosion”. How in this condition the natives appeared well (and happy!) to Strauss, it is difficult to imagine. So jubilant are they, indeed, that they refer to themselves as “the poisoned people”. Undergoing frequent deportation is in itself not conducive to the highest standards of well- being.

The AFC’s March statement that “after the completion of the atomic tests, they will be returned to their homes” is also flatly contradicted by Waugh’s article — the Rongelap natives will remain on Majuro atoll for at least a year!

There are deeper undertones of deception in Strauss’s statement which derive from the fact, well known to Strauss and his advisors, that many effects of ionizing radiation are delayed – even for years. What is commonly called “radiation sickness”, or “acute radiation syndrome” is due to exposure of the order of several hundred roentgens. (See Supplement.) Its typical symptoms (loss of hair, general malaise, fever, pallor, diarrhea, emaciation, sore throat, blood spots under the skin) usually occur by the third week, and if the patient survives three or four months he will generally recover – for the time being. The AEC tries to create the impression that “radiation sickness” is the only hazard of radiation, and that recovery from it means complete recovery. We shall see how small an amount of radiation can ultimately produce disabling and lethal effects, indeed an amount far too small to produce the syndrome or any detectible early symptoms at all. In general, the chronic biological effects of radiation are even now very poorly understood; the AEC at its installations permits to an individual a maximum exposure (8) of only 0.3r (roentgens) per week (this may be compared with the fact that the Japanese and Marshallese victims must have been exposed to at least 100r in order to develop the clinical picture of “radiation sickness”)

Furthermore, radiation effects are particularly insidious and inescapable when the active material lodges in the body; and isotopes such as radioactive strontium or (unfissioned) plutonium which lodge in the bones and emit negligible gamma radiation are extremely difficult to detect, except by the effects which they eventually produce. Since the Rongelap natives drank water from their well into which the radioactive ash had fallen, and a number of Japanese ate contaminated fish, it is clear that these considerations are not excluded in their case. Even one one-millionth of a gram of plutonium in the body will often kill the host – with bone cancer or aplastic anemia – the latent period being at least several years. (9) Among the many recorded cases of chronic radium poisoning (and plutonium is as poisonous on a gram-for-gram basis as radium) it is not uncommon to find death caused by one-tenth this mass of radium in the body, and latent periods of ten and twenty years. Strontium, barium and zirconium fission products are of comparable toxicity, and in the case of a close-to-ground hydrogen burst there are usually a dozen radioactive isotopes unleashed in fair quantities, which can produce chronic death if several thousandths of a gram enter the body (e.g. phosphorus 32, sulfur 35).

One finds an ever-increasing number of delayed effects among Japanese A-bomb victims. For example, an AP dispatch of 21st June, 1954, cites the first recorded instance of a cancer developing on the site of a scar from a radiation burn – nine years after the injury. The 1953 publication Atomic Bomb Injuries by Dr. Nobuo Kusano reports thousands of cases of leukemia among the victims, many times the pre-war incidence. A number of cases of malformed miscarried, feeble-minded or stillborn offspring of mothers irradiated at Nagasaki during pregnancy were recently reported and analyzed by three Los Angeles doctors, according to an AP dispatch of 30th April. Over 200 cases of eye cataract (opacity of the lens or lens capsule) have been observed among the victims. And Dr. John Bugher reported in Nucleonics September, 1952, other delayed effects ranging from “detectable abnormalities” because of spontaneous mutation to impaired growth of young boys, malformed teeth, and increased incidence of dental caries. Dr. H. J. Curtis in Biological and Medical Physics II (New York, 1951) remarks: “Many months after the acute symptoms had passed some [Japanese] patients reported extreme weakness, and this symptom is still persisting in many of these people. If we can reason from the experiment on mice . . . we would conclude that these persons will remain weak and lethargic the rest of their lives”. And the biologist H. J. Muller has predicted that genetic deaths in the A-bombed areas will, in the course of time, claim as many victims as the bombings themselves.

One does not have to go further in demonstrating the insidiousness of radiation injury than the experiences of X-ray and cyclotron workers. H. C. March (Am. J. Med. Sci. 220, 1950) showed that the incidence of leukemia in radiologists over a twenty-year period was nine times as great as for non-radiological physicians. Over fifteen radiation-induced cataracts have been discovered in American cyclotron workers. And compare the “well and happy” assertion of Strauss with the following remarks of Dr. G. Failla of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University:

“A striking characteristic of the biological effects of ionizing radiation is the lone delay that occurs between the exposure to radiation and the manifestation of the effects . . . sometimes complications occur much later in a tissue that has recovered almost completely . . . it is very important to bear in mind that death may be the final outcome of even an apparently mild local skin injury. [In the case of the radiologists] the important point is that the daily dose was too low to produce readily noticeable skin changes within, let us say, the first two years. . . . Nevertheless obvious skin changes did occur later . . . fifteen or twenty years later one of these growths, or one of a more recent origin and less annoying may develop into a cancer. If this is of the squamous cell type it will eventually spread – metastasize – to some vital organ and the patient will die. . . . The incidence of leukemia in radiologists has been found to be significantly higher than in other physicians . . . there are numerous cases in which the individual appeared to be normally healthy and active until the leukemic process started in late life.” (Taken from Industrial and Safety Problems of Nuclear Technology, Harper and Bros., 1950; emphasis added – J.L.)

In view of all these facts no further comment is needed on Strauss’s double- talk about “barring of course disease which may be hereafter contracted”. And in all this we have not yet gone into the genetic damage — a particularly grave consideration in the case of the Marshallese because virtually the entire population of certain atolls has been exposed.

And what of the twenty-three fishermen? Strauss tells how they happened to be exposed:
“Despite such notices there are many incidents where accidents or near accidents have resulted from inadvertent trespass in such warning area. The very size of them [!] makes it impossible to fence or police them. . . . A Japanese fishing trawler, the Fortunate Dragon, appears to have been missed by the search but . . . it must have been well within the danger area.”

Note that here he says “danger area” rather than “warning area” – for it has been well established that the trawler was outside of the “warning area”. In this sense the statement is correct – by definition. Obviously anything which is endangered must be reckoned “within the danger area” – and since the Misaki Maru 2,200 miles away received dangerous fall-out, some idea of the size of the “danger area” can be obtained.
Of the condition of the fishermen, Strauss says:

“The situation with respect to the twenty-three Japanese fishermen is less certain [!] due to the fact that our people have not yet been permitted to make a proper clinical examination. [However] the reports which have recently come through to us indicate that the blood count of these men is comparable to that of our weather station personnel. Skin lesions observed are thought to be due to the chemical activity of the converted material in the coral rather than to radioactivity, since these lesions are said to be already healing. The men are under continual observation by Japanese physicians, and we are represented in Japan by Dr. Morton of the ABCC [who said ‘they will recover completely in a month’ – J.L.] and Mr. Eisenbud of the AEC [who aroused great resentment in Japan when he ordered routine Geiger counter tests of fish bound for Japanese tables, but very complete and careful examination of American-bound tuna. – J.L.].

The fishermen received very severe dosages of radiation, both beta and gamma, because the ash fell on them only several hours after the explosion, at which time many short-lived and therefore intense radioactive emitters would still be present in quantity. Even the analysis of the ash several weeks later by Japanese scientists, which revealed deadly isotopes, would not tell the whole story. For instance, we may mention 14.8-hour sodium 24. As EAW point out, the coral at Bikini is “saturated with sodium” from the sea water. Ordinary sodium is known to capture neutrons readily and become sodium 24 (EAW, p. 255) which decays to magnesium by emitting strong beta and gamma radiation. Because several hundred pounds of neutrons are liberated in a hydrogen explosion, large amounts of sodium 24 are formed, and from this source alone the coral ash falling on the fishermen must have been quite “hot”. Many similar elements could be mentioned encompassing both fission products and neutron-induced radioactivity: the fission products alone from a small A-bomb have an activity of six billion curies an hour after the explosion, and 133 million curies (10) a day after (EAW, p.251).

In the absence of reliable information, which would require at least an interview with the fishermen and complete medical records, one cannot state with certainty what is the present condition of these men (11), but certain illusions can be dispelled. Some circulation has been given to a rumor that the men merely got a “strong sunburn”. Actually they were at least eighty miles from the explosion and hence not within range to be affected by ultra-violet or other thermal radiation. The damage to the skin has all the earmarks of severe beta-ray burns. To see this, let us recall published accounts of the men’s symptoms. An INS dispatch of 27th March quotes an official Japanese report as saying: “Seven or eight days after the accident the crew began to feel painful irritations from what looked like burns on the neck, faces [and] ears . . . .” Again, an AP report of 25th March quotes Yamamoto, a victim: “After four days nearly everyone turned black and felt itchy. Our hands and faces swelled up, blistering like a burn. . . .The exposed parts worsened and itchiness was unbearable”. These may he compared with a classical case of beta burns, as described by Hempelmann and Hoffman in Annual Review of Nuclear Science III, Stanford, 1953, involving four persons who accidentally picked up “hot” fragments at the 1948 Eniwetok tests:

“An Important practical fact emerging from them these accidents is the itching and burning of the skin noted during the exposure. One of the persons changed his rubber gloves several times because he believed they contained some irritating chemical. The symptoms . . . were referable almost entirely to the hands. They consisted of swelling of the fingers, beginning several hours after exposure, and blistering starting after one week and reaching a peak four weeks after the exposure”.

The Effects of Atomic Weapons (EAW), p. 357 says:

“The reactions following contact with beta-emitters . . . may vary from temporary redness to complete destruction of the skin, depending on the doses absorbed. Even mild doses may result in delayed degenerative changes of the skin. When the hands have been exposed to large amounts of beta radiation, they become swollen within a few days and this is followed by reddening [in very severe cases, blackening – J.L.] of the skin. . . . Subsequently, large blisters form, become confluent, and finally turn into a slough. . . .”

The similarity is unmistakable; the four at Eniwetok received only hand burns, and after an extended series of skin grafts they “recovered” — except that “the most seriously injured finger is stiff and atrophied” and “some [other fingers] are slightly atrophied or slightly stiff”. Some of the more unpleasant possibilities which could beset the fishermen are implicit in what we have already said regarding the Marshallese victims. Yet because the seriousness of their condition has been glossed over in some quarters without factual justification being given — and also because there is a lesson here for all of us — let us go more deeply into the matter.

Here are some further excerpts from the paper of Dr. H. J. Curtis of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (op cit.):

“. . . if a drop of solution containing a very small amount of a radioactive isotope were to splatter on a hand . . . one spot on the skin would receive a very appreciable dose of beta rays. This might lead to a small radiation burn which in turn might eventually lead to a skin cancer at that spot. . . .”

Hematologic changes proved to be a very poor index of the degree of radiation damage. Even in the animals receiving very high single doses of a penetrating radiation from which they recovered, the blood picture would very soon return to normal and remain so until the death of the animal. [Compere Strauss’s remark concerning blood count. — J.L.]

“Animals surviving the acute phases of the beta-ray damage often died of secondary infection from the skin ulcers. Of the remainder that died prematurely, almost all of them died of skin tumor. In some series of rats the skin tumor incidence was practically zero in the controls and 100 per cent in the experimentals. Practically every type of skin tumor ever described was found, and there were as many as 100 separate loci on some rats . . . if one assumes that man is as sensitive to tumor induction by radiation as the most sensitive rodents, then the induction of neoplasms in persons working with radiation is a very real possibility. . . .

“At about thirty days [in the subacute reaction to beta-rays] small layers of the superficial layers of the skin start to slough [forming ulcers]. . . . Usually these ulcers heal fairly rapidly [‘skin lesions are said to be already healing’ – Strauss]. This healed skin appears somewhat dry and thickened but otherwise quite normal. . . . However months later sloughing commonly occurs again leaving large deep ulcers. These late ulcers are very slow to heal . . . . There are many more deaths proportionately in the subacute period among the animals receiving beta-rays than among those receiving penetrating radiation . . . . Several months after irradiations an opacity of the eyes developed in all rats and mice receiving large doses of beta rays [this may correspond to several years in the life span of man – J.L.]. It is interesting that this occurred quite rapidly, one week the eyes being quite clear and functional and the next milk-white and opaque”. [Note that ash got into the eyes of the fishermen (UP dispatch of 14th April) – J.L.]

Of course, the influence should not be drawn that the development of these morbidities by the Japanese fishermen is inevitable – but the danger is real. The results of animal experiments must be taken seriously because, as Harold Plough points out in Nucleonics, August, 1952, humans are more sensitive to radiation than most other animals. For instance, the median lethal dose (the dose of penetrating radiation that will cause acute death to 50 per cent of young adults exposed) is 650r for mice and only 400r for humans. An INS science writer reported that adolescent mice exposed to radiation from the 1946 Bikini bombs,

“developed tremendous tumours of the pituitary gland in their old age . . . cancers so severe the tiny gland at the base of the brain grew until it filled one-third or one-fourth of the cranial cavity, making a virtual pancake of the brain”
and that Dr. Jacob Furth of the Children’s Cancer Research Center in Boston, “a top cancer specialist” connected with these experiments, pointed out “this effect in mice may not hold true for men” but “that other effects observed in the mouse studies [leukemia, loss of hair color, susceptibility to infections and cataracts] already have found a grim parallel in some of the biological change occurring in surviving men and women at Hiroshima and Nagasaki . . . . Similar effects, the scientist indicated, conceivably could appear in the future in the Japanese fishermen recently showered with [radioactive] ashes”.

So far we have indicated possible damage from the surface (beta) radiation. A whole spectrum of new horrors appears when the total-body (gamma) radiation is considered. It is known that the fishermen exhibited the familiar syndrome associated with an overdose of penetrating radiation. As Rutherford Poats, UP staff writer wrote from Tokyo 14th April: “The fishermen were vomiting and they had diarrhea” when they reached port; also their blood count dropped sharply. To develop these symptoms in less than two weeks strongly indicates a dose of at least 200-300r (compare EAW, p. 347). For comparison, consider that 400r is normally fatal to 50 per cent of humans. A nearly fatal dose certainly has permanent effects, even though the victim survives. To quote again from Curtis:

“The chronic changes produced by large single doses of a penetrating radiation are very poorly understood. As already described, the animals either become emaciated and die in a state of atrophy before their controls, or else develop some form of neoplasm [tumor – J.L]. Premature greying of the hair in dark haired animals is universal. A few develop opaque eyes just as the animals exposed to beta rays. The preliminary results on the exercise tolerance tests indicate considerable muscular weakness or lethargy, but the mechanism of this deficiency is completely unknown. In the case of the animals dying in atrophy it seems fairly certain that they finally succumbed to some one of the diseases tibility to disease…. [In this generalized atrophy] no definite pathological changes can be detected but the tissues present the same picture as that of tissues from very old animals”.

This and much other experimental evidence (also the cited experiences of the A-bomb survivors) indicate that at best, even barring neoplasia, anemia, sterility, atrophied genitalia or other specific disease, the fishermen will suffer emaciation and premature ageing. And what of the fishermen (and scores of other Japanese) who ate contaminated fish? One does not know whether the radiostrontium deposited in their bones is lethal, but it doesn’t take much — a few millionths of a gram and lots of time will do it.
From all this we can see why the condition of the fishermen is “less certain”. Cavalier pronunciamentos by AEC spokesmen that they have “recovered” will not do — in this case nothing short of certified clinical and histopathological data can be taken seriously. Similarly, a recent statement by Dr. Masao Tsuzuki that the victims “were making satisfactory progress” — announced while said doctor was on a tour of American atomic installations as a guest of Admiral Strauss (New York Times, 28th May) — is suspect. In an Alice-in-Wonderland vocabulary where “well and happy” means “suffering from radiation sickness and burns” (12) and “complete recovery within a month” means “many months of hospitalization”, what is “satisfactory progress”? In truth the only information content of this vague expression is that the fishermen are still alive! Every possible step has been taken to keep them alive, (13) including blood transfusions on a lavish scale because of extensive damage to the blood-forming tissues. It is proper that these steps be taken — but at least let the truth be known to the American people, who must soon decide whether they will permit a new “Operation Syndrome” in other people’s backyards!

Now back to Strauss. The closest he ever comes to expressing regret is:

“In the matter of indemnifying the Japanese, our Government has informed the Japanese Government that it is prepared to agree to reimbursement for such financial assistance as the Japanese Government and our Embassy in Tokyo, jointly, may find necessary as an interim measure to give to the persons involved for current medical care and family relief, including wages.”

Even these miserable promises have not been kept. At the date of this writing (1st July) payment has not been made to the fishermen or their families, who now experience great hardship. And the indemnification of the Marshall Islanders? Twenty-seven wooden shacks on Majuro atoll (14) — and bigger bombs promised for 1955.

And what of the contaminated fish? Strauss says:

“With respect to the stories concerning widespread contamination of tuna and other fish, the facts do not confirm them. The only contaminated fish discovered were those in the open hold of the Japanese trawler. Commissioner Crawford of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised us: ‘Our inspectors found no instance of radioactivity in any shipments of fish from Pacific waters. [These fish had of course been ‘screened’ before shipment – J.L.] Inspections were undertaken as a purely precautionary measure . . . . There is no occasion here for public apprehension about this type of contamination.’”

Published news items before Strauss’s press conference had already stated that the Myojin Maru and the Koei Maru came into port 27th March exhibiting dangerous radioactivity; and an AP dispatch of 30th March said that Japanese health officials had destroyed the entire 80,000 pound tuna catch of the Koei (and were undecided about the Myojin). How could Strauss seriously stand up before a world eager for “the facts” and say that only aboard the Fukuryu Maru was there contaminated fish? But in the light of hindsight the true magnitude of Strauss’s understatement is first apparent: it should not be necessary here to recapitulate the many news reports we have presented concerning contamination of fish.

Regarding contamination of the sea, Strauss says:

“With respect to the apprehension that fall-out radioactivity would move toward Japan in the Japanese Current, I can state that any radioactivity falling into the test area would become harmless within a few miles after being picked up by these currents which move slowly (less than one mile per hour) and would be completely undetectable within 500 miles or less.”

Let us recall the cited AP dispatch of 5th June that “A Japanese radioactivity test ship detected strong signs of contamination last night 500 miles south of the U.S. H-bomb test area at Bikini”, and that fish caught many hundreds of miles from Bikini have been found unsafe to eat. An AP dispatch of 5th July quoted Dr. Hiroshi Yahe, chief of the Japanese radioactivity test group, as saying: “We have found that H-bomb tests seriously affected sea waters, fish and other marine life”. Recently the Japanese group completed its study, but its report has not yet been made public. It will be important to note whether this report is subjected to any American censorship. Meanwhile a summary has been released (not available to the author) which is discussed by Lindesay Parrott in the New York Times of 7th July under the heading: Bikini Area Safe, Japanese Report. The report, we are told, “explodes scare stories spread [in Japan] by anti-American elements, some university professors [e.g., Hidiki Yukawa, one of the world’s leading physicists – J.L.] and the sensational Tokyo press”. For example, “The report is particularly explicit in stating that navigation in the entire test area is safe, though caution should be used in taking seawater aboard for such purposes as washing down decks, cookery, or use of a crew” (emphasis added). On the day that the Pacific Ocean is so poisoned with gamma ray emitters that it is unsafe even to navigate there, the time for discussion will of course be long past — we will all be scrambling for lead vaults. Again,

“A minor danger area was found only [!] in the current setting northward toward Japan, west of Bikini. There more than normal radioactivity was found in plankton and small fish. Tuna, which apparently fed on these lesser forms of sea life, showed signs of radiation around the gills and in the internal organs but little [it takes very little! — J.L.] in the parts of the body usually used for food.”

Naturally no sane person would contend that the Pacific Ocean has been transformed into one great radioactive holocaust — but this is not the standard by which the hydrogen explosions must be judged. As we have shown, considerable damage has been done, and no amount of hand-waving by official apologists can alter this fact. And there are long-range factors at play yet to be evaluated. According to EAW p. 251 the fission products from a 20-kiloton A-bomb give 110,000 curies of gamma activity alone, one year after detonation. In the recent hydrogen explosions, beside the fission products and plutonium, great quantities of long-lived isotopes of carbon, sulfur, iron and other elements were formed by neutron action. All these radioactive elements enter the metabolic processes of sea organisms, just like their non-radioactive counterparts. In particular, many elements, despite initial dispersal, become reconcentrated. (See EAW pp.283-4.) Examples of this process can be found in the treatise The Oceans (New York, 1942) by Sverdrup et al: It is pointed out, for instance, that radium is found in one hundred fold greater concentration on the sea bottom than in sea water because it is collected by certain marine life. Other organisms concentrate strontium in their calcareous skeletons, and so forth. In addition to concentration, the radioactivity can be transported hundreds of miles by migratory fish. We have already cited such a case in connection with the Shoho Maru. The tuna is highly migratory — cases are recorded where a fish missed at Tunis or Spain is caught in Norway (the hook in his mouth permitting identification). Eels of all parts of Europe and Africa cross the ocean and come to the Atlantic shores in autumn. Science News Letter of 13th March, 1954, reported that an albacore, caught and marked in Japan, escaped and swam 4,900 miles across the Pacific where it was recaptured off the California coast 324 days later. Thus it is not unlikely that radioactive fish will turn up in American waters in a year or so. (Radioactive fish have in the past been caught in the rivers near the AEC’s Hanford, Washington, atomic plant.) Another long-range process particularly difficult to evaluate is the diminution of the fish population of the Pacific, and the changes in the existing balance of species. One cannot rely on counting corpses to know how many fish have been poisoned — for at the first sign of disability, the radioactive fish loses out in the battle for survival, and is swallowed by a predator.

Strauss next discusses world-wide contamination by fall-out:

“With respect to a story which received some currency last week to the effect that there is danger of a fall-out of radioactive material in the United States, it should he noted that after every test we have had and the Russian tests as well there is a small increase in natural ‘background’ radiation in some localities within the continental United States, but, currently, it is less than that observed after some of the previous continental and overseas tests, and far below the levels which could be harmful in any way to human beings, animals, or crops. It will decrease rapidly after the tests until the radiation level has returned approximately to the normal background.”

Is “200 times normal background” in Montana and Wyoming, as reported by U.S. News and World Report 9th April, a “small increase”? Background radiation five to ten times normal was recorded in many locations throughout the world. “Rain so radioactive it might be dangerous if drunk” fell on Japan – over 2,000 miles from the explosion. Furthermore, the AEC has been known to underestimate even with fall-out from Nevada A-bomb tests. Their 13th Semi-annual Report to Congress in 1953 claimed that “the highest radiation level detected anywhere outside the Nevada proving ground was at a mine located nearby. Here, measurements showed a radiation level which would deliver an estimated dose of 1.75 roentgens during a lifetime”. Yet in April, 1953, university scientists in Troy, N.Y., 2,300 miles from the proving grounds, detected “exceptionally high” radioactivity from a rain storm. (Science, 7th May, 1954.) At one “hot spot” on campus, radiation an inch above ground was 120 milliroentgens per hour after two days, enough to furnish the prescribed I.75r “lifetime dose” in less than a day. And a man and woman from Utah have brought suit against the government for $200,000 for falling out of hair, peeling of skin and fingernails, and recurrent nausea allegedly caused by radioactivity from last spring’s Nevada tests (New York Times, 5th May, 1954). If these claims are substantiated — and a similar accident involving cattle from the first A-bomb test makes them plausible — dosages of at least 100r are indicated. In view of these facts, and because radioactive dust may remain in the atmosphere even for years before settling out, Strauss’s remarks appear more like a time-honored recipe than an attempt to evaluate the situation at hand.
Strauss ends his statement with a tribute to “the men engaged in this patriotic service” and the heartening prospect that,

“one important result of these hydrogen bomb developments has been the enhancement of our military capability to the point where we should soon be more free to increase our emphasis on the peaceful uses of atomic power at home and abroad. It will be a tremendous satisfaction to those who have participated in this program that it has hastened that day”.

Strauss seems unaware that long before atomic energy enriches the life of man (atomic power is promised to us by 1975 at the earliest) — and intensifies the already critical problems of radioactive waste disposal (15) — the health of all of us may be ruined by “experiments”. Yet the real irony is that the experiments do not even “hasten that day”. They are not simply a temporary unpleasantness which will soon be over with, but will go on indefinitely (as the AEC has assured us) thereby diverting vast resources from “peaceful uses of atomic power”. And does the information gained about thermonuclear phenomena contribute to “peaceful uses”? Eminent physicists (see Supplement, §3) have pointed out repeatedly that the thermonuclear reaction has only one possible use. In the words of Otto Hahn, discoverer of nuclear fission:

“The particularly unpleasant thing about the hydrogen bomb is that it will never be possible, as in the case of the fission of uranium, to utilize the nuclear of the hydrogen reactions for peaceful purposes. We can reach the temperature of 20 million degrees or more only for millionths of a second and not for any length of time. A ‘controlled reaction’ is not possible. The same nuclear reactions which have been going on in the sun for millions of years and which yield the energy forming the basis of our life on this earth, become in the hands of man simply a means of destruction and nothing more.” (New Atoms, Elsevier, 1950.)

This concludes our examination of the “official” explanation of the events following the 1st March explosion. The AEC carefully safeguards the personnel at its installations with an array of radiation counters, dosimeters, blood checks, lead vaults, even ten-ton windows. The U.S. Navy ships at the recent “tests” had special sprinkler systems in readiness to wash overboard any fall-out before it could settle on deck (and these were needed!). Not a microcurie shall escape detection at Oak Ridge. Yet, displaying one of the most remarkable double standards in history, the AEC unleashes many megacuries of dangerous activity on the world and tells us there is not the slightest cause for concern. Victims with appalling syndromes become models of fitness, and beta-ray reddening of the skin becomes the high color of robust health before the magic wand of Admiral Strauss. In view of the record of misrepresentation, can we trust these men to tell us the truth?

It is not alone Strauss, or the AEC, who are responsible. The “testing” of nuclear weapons has long left the realm of a routine military operation; rather it must be considered national policy, with purposes quite divorced from the gathering of information. What the forces are that compel American ruling circles to e age in this H-barbarism will be discussed in the second article; relevant for us here is the observation that the hydrogen explosions are in the deepest essence of America’s current role. They cannot be abandoned without abandoning a good deal more. That is why not only the AEC, but our statesmen, the kept scientists and the respectable press stretch the truth beyond all limit to keep the apprehension of the American people below the level where it will upset the applecart. That is why the Reporter calls the hydrogen bomb “a big bang in the empty reaches of the Pacific” and Sen. Hickenlooper announces, in contradiction to physical theory, that the fusion reaction can be controlled for power. And that is why a new concept of morality is foisted upon us — a morality which permits any horror to be perpetrated, so long as it is accompanied by appropriate incantations about “deterring aggression”.

3. Radiation and the Race

Thus far we have dealt mainly with the short-range effects of the hydrogen explosions, notably the injuries to several hundred Asians by large doses of ionizing radiation from fall-out. We have pointed out that high-level irradiation produces deadly injury. But what about the much lower levels of radiation, which are nevertheless well above normal background radioactivity, spread throughout the whole world by the bombs? When background radioactivity “five to ten times normal” was detected in New York, should that have been reason for concern? According to the New York Times of 19th June,

“The Kings County Medical Society’s public health committee has recommended legislation to restrict atomic and hydrogen bomb experiments. Explosions thousands of miles away endanger New Yorkers, the committee reported yesterday. . . .”

Many similar warnings have been sounded. By way of orientation several such statements from authoritative sources may be given. A UP dispatch of 2nd April reports:
“The Federation of American Scientists said the 1st March explosion means ‘that current tests may be approaching orders of magnitude where close control not only becomes difficult, but effects in fact may become incalculable’ . . . it added that the consequences of living things of the radioactivity involved ‘can hardly even be estimated from presently available data’.”

A UP dispatch of 7th May said:

“A leading California scientist said to-day that the low, but increasing level of
radioactivity may pose a threat to the health of millions of persons. ‘During the last ten years, man has deliberately increased the amount of high-energy radiation in the world by an enormous amount’ said Dr. Albert W. Bellamy [University of California professor of biophysics]. ‘Concurrent with this has been a corresponding increase in the number of persons potentially exposed to these radiations. We have not lived long enough with radiation to know yet just how much long-continued, low level radiation —both internal and external — we can live with without injury. Radiation exposure is extremely insidious. None of the human senses can detect it. The effects of radiation exposure may not show up for weeks, months, or years’ [said Bellamy, who is also chief of the State Division of Radiological Services].”

This dispatch also informs us that “Dr. Gordon Fitzgerald, university X-ray expert, said recently careless use of X-rays had lowered the life expectancy of dentists to fifty-six years, about ten less than normal”. Since the gamma rays from radioactive substances affect the human body in precisely the same way as X-rays, it is not only dentists who need take notice.

The Manchester Guardian of 4th May reported that “fifteen teachers and research workers in London University” sent a letter to Sir Winston Churchill saying:
“We … feel compelled to write to you in view of the incalculability of the effects of the present series of experiments with hydrogen weapons . . . the distribution of radioactive products from such explosions cannot be accurately predicted, and the serious danger to health which would occur if any quantity to radioactive material should fall in a populated area must not be underestimated.”

Alexander Haddow, Director of the Chester Beatty [Cancer] Research Institute in London wrote to the Times, 30th March:

“It has long been the anticipation of many scientists, increasingly perturbed by the biological implications of the development of atomic weapons, that sooner or later the world would be confronted by the need for a radical decision, involving nothing short of the international prohibition of nuclear explosions, if the gravest results were to be prevented. Your leading article of 26th March [suggests] that the crucial moment is now upon us. Recent events in the Pacific, with their demonstration of the powers of the hydrogen bomb for limitless annihilation, at once bring to an end the notion that the area of danger can have any but relative meaning. If we are entering the realm of the incalculable the likelihood of ultimate disaster grows steadily greater . . . . [The bomb’s physical destruction], although vast, is so far limited, and the subtler menace — potentially limitless and cumulative — arises from the liberation of radioactive products, and from their immediate, delayed, and remote effects. Of the first we have had an account from the skipper of the Fukuryu . . . . The second also are now well recognized, from the work of the ABCC, in an increased incidence of leukemia [among A-bomb survivors]. The third are genetical and racial, and it is a measure of the unexpected speed of recent developments that these now bulk rather less in preoccupation in relation to the problems of world survival itself.”

We already know the AEC’s attitude toward these problems. As U.S. News and World Report, 9th April, expresses it:

“The theory had been widely held among scientists that radioactivity could be gradually raised to dangerous levels by repeated H-bomb explosions. The AEC now is attempting to knock it down, insists that this danger is infinitesimal and nothing to worry about,”
What about the great quantities of carbon 14 generated from atmospheric nitrogen by an H-bomb explosion? This element emits beta particles with a half-life of 5,100 years, and enters the carbon cycle, thereby to mingle with all living things. What is to be the ultimate fate of the megacuries of fission products now in the sea and atmosphere, and also in the waste disposal vaults of the atomic installations? The only agency which can eliminate the blight of strontium 90 and cesium 137 – which nature apparently never intended to be on this earth – is time: centuries for these elements alone. Chlorine 36, potassium 40, and plutonium 239 remain with us, to all practical purposes, for eternity. These are facts of life, and it is difficult to see how the AEC plans to “knock them down”. On the other hand, there is a wealth of experimental data underlying the scientists’ warnings against increasing the background radiation.

Before the atomic age, human beings received a small quantity of ionizing radiation, mainly from cosmic rays originating in outer space, and carbon 14 and potassium 40 in the body. The Effects of Atomic Weapons estimates this quantity at about 0.003r per week, or less than 10r in a 60 year life span. This is the radiation level with which the human race has, over geologic time, reached equilibrium. The currently accepted “tolerance dose” is one hundred times this or 0.3r per week. Not many years ago 0.1r per day was considered safe. What is a “safe” dose, from the long-range point of view? Boche, as a consequence of low-level radiation experiments on animals, conjectured a few years ago that an appreciable decrease in the life span of humans may be expected from exposure to 0.1r per day. E. Lorenz, an eminent radiologist, and co-workers have discovered a number of striking results. In one experiment, 0.1r/day induced a rare mammary gland tumor in at least 20 per cent of irradiated female mice, with 0 per cent in the controls. (16) Another strain exposed uniformly to 0.1r/day until natural death showed 60 per cent incidence of ovarian tumor with 12 per cent incidence in the controls. (References in Furth and Upton’s article in Annual Reviews of Nuclear Science, Vol. 3, 1953.) As Furth and Upton point out, “the high sensitivity of the ovary to ionizing irradiation has been amply confirmed by recent studies”. In fact Lorenz, on the basis of experimental results, has indicated that an increase in the incidence of ovarium tumor in the human female may be expected beginning with an accumulated total-body dose of 100r (which would be got in less than seven years at the 0.3r/week rate). He has suggested that in women, at least, the maximum exposure( be limited to 0.02r/day. And R. M. Siovert of the Caroline Institute in Stockholm has suggested 0.01r/day for men and women alike. The 0.3r/day tolerance level is subject to criticism on other grounds. Thus Brues and Sacher, at the Symposium on Radiobiology at Oberlin College in June, 1950, remarked that:

“Calculations . . . using empirical constants deduced from mouse and dog survival data, indicate that a continuously accumulated tolerance dose might decrease the human life span by ten per cent.”

(This, and other material, which we shall quote from the Oberlin Symposium, has been published in Symposium on Radiobiology, John Wiley, 1952). Other data, difficult to evaluate, has accumulated regarding obscure blood changes from chronic exposure. For instance, Ingram and Barnes (AEC Document UR-137, 1950) reported lymphocytes with bilobed nuclei in cyclotron workers and in experimental animals exposed to doses of neutrons considerably below the tolerance values.

What follows from all this? One cannot with certainty make inferences about the effects on human beings from animal experiments. But having lived for only a few years with increased background radiation, we are forced to base ourselves on this data. Obviously, the entire atomic program comes into question on this basis.

We come now to the most subtle, but what is in the last analysis the most important, of the biological effects of ionizing radiation: the effect on genetics. Contrary to some popular belief, this effect does not manifest itself in a proliferation of freaks and monsters. (17) In fact, even when pronounced genetic damage has been effected upon a race, this damage is quite difficult to isolate, although very real suffering is inflicted upon many individuals, and long-range statistics will eventually show clearly the decline of the race. The very subtlety of the process and its extension in time make it a perfect candidate to be ignored by those who, for instance, adopt complete disintegration of an island as a minimum standard of damage. On the other hand, the cumulative and irreversible nature of the process make it imperative that the danger be realized in time. Fortunately, men of the highest scientific competence have given clear warning of this danger.

Mutations occur spontaneously in the genes of the human germ cells, at a rate which is quite constant, and in equilibrium with the existing birth rate. H. J. Muller, a leading biologist and Nobel Prize winner, has calculated (Amer. J. Human Gen. 2, 111 (1950)) that the human race is in such a precise balance with respect to genes which produce defectives, that an increase of even 25 per cent in over-all mutation rate would produce a progressive and inevitable decline of the human population over a long period.
Qualitatively, it is not hard to see why an increase in spontaneous mutation rate will lead to decline. Well over 99 per cent of mutations are harmful. Some mutant genes are so harmful that they are not even compatible with life and will kill the offspring to which they are transmitted. Most mutant genes are only mildly harmful, but

“Each mutation received by an offsring results, on the average, in the genetic death of one descendant . . . no matter how slightly detrimental the effect of the mutant gene may be. This paradoxical result is a consequence of the fact that the less detrimental genes will tend to accumulate so as to hamper ever more individuals, until they make their ‘kill’ and so become eliminated. For this reason the total harm done by a small mutation is in the end as great as that done by a large, fully lethal, mutation. (H. J. Muller, Oberlin Symposium).”

Thus, almost every mutant gene is a “genetic time bomb” which will eventually eliminate itself from the population by causing a “genetic death” (ie., an individual who does not reproduce himself) — possibly many generations in the future.
Most mutant genes are recessive but, as Muller points out (Oberlin Symposium), even a recessive from only one parent produces some very slight deleterious effect, and so behaves in that case like a dominant of much lesser effect.

The connection of all this with radioactivity is that ionizing radiation induces spontaneous gene mutations. This fundamental discovery was made by Muller about twenty years ago. The mutations so induced are precisely of the same kind as those which occur naturally, only the rate is enhanced. A remarkable and most unpleasant fact is that, in the words of Professors L. C. Dunn and T. Dobzhansky, eminent Columbia University zoologists:

“There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ dose of radiation; the number of mutations induced is simply proportional to the amount of radiation reaching the sex cells, and if a person is exposed daily to small amounts of the rays, these small amounts may add up to very dangerous sums.” (Heredity, Race, and Society, New American Library, 1952.)
Dunn and Dobzhansky go on to say:

“We must, then, do all in our power to diminish the number of defective mutant genes being added to the gene pool of human populations. Unfortunately, the progress of modern science and technology has so far accomplished the exact opposite — the rate of origin of harmful mutations is likely to become very much increased. . . . The release of atomic energy, either for constructive or for destructive ends, will expose to mutation-inducing radiations even greater numbers of people. . . . Misuse of atomic energy may result in eventual harm to mankind which is fearful to contemplate . . . defective genes introduced into the human gene pool will be doing their gruesome work in a slow but remorseless way.”
Although the full impact of extensive gene damage is not felt until long into the future, even first generation offspring are endangered. H. K. Plough of the AEC’s Biology Branch wrote in Nucleonics, August, 1952:

“[This] suggests that the offspring of a man or woman whose germ cells receive a single dose or an accumulated dose of 80r radiation (or possibly as little as 30r) may be expected to show a 100 per cent increase in mutations over the number which will appear anyway. The hazard of even a slight increase in the number of deficient or malformed offspring, which is what an elevation in mutation numbers would entail, constitutes a problem worthy of serious consideration for every individual subjected to radiation exposure of the germ cells.

“We cannot contemplate with equanimity an increment in deficient individuals or in the ‘genetic death’ of the unborn . . . radiation hazards cannot be neglected for human beings even though they are not immediately apparent to the individual receiving exposure.”

If Muller, one of the world’s leading experts on radio-mutations, considers a 25 per cent increase in the mutation rate dangerous, and 30 to 80r is a dose that would double the rate, one cannot contemplate with equanimity the smallest unnecessary exposure. A recent editorial in Nucleonics remarked that it is a widely held belief that 8r delivered to the whole population might cause serious genetic damage. S. Wright (J. Cellular Comp. Physiol. 35, Supplement 1, 1950) estimated that as little as three roentgens might double the mutation rate! (18)

To deal comprehensively with the fullest genetic implications of increased radioactivity would carry us beyond the scope of the present article. Muller, in the cited Oberlin Symposium and BAS articles, two long articles in The American Scientist, January, 1950 and July, 1950, and in other publications, has dealt very elaborately with the possibility of decline of the race from this cause. Reading these articles is strongly urged upon all, and must be part of the intellectual equipment of every socially conscious individual in his consideration of atomic questions. Aside from safeguarding our own children and grandchildren, social consciousness requires that we prevent harmful effects which “slight in any one generation, would, as it were, pile up layer on layer”, towards a new equilibrium in which the whole biological level of the human race had been lowered; because they are hidden from us by veils of space, time, and circumstance”. Given its present course, the human race cannot do otherwise than undergo this gradual and irreversible decline — unless, of course, the shorter-range catastrophes inherent in the hydrogen age efface all of us long before that time.

4. Conclusion

We have now seen that a disaster of considerable proportions took place with the recent hydrogen “experiments”: serious injury was inflicted upon hundreds of individuals, obvious harm was done to the environment, and dangerous processes whose end effects cannot yet be predicted have been set in motion. It is to be expected that similar deleterious effects will follow future hydrogen explosions, regardless of what “precautions” are taken, because no “precaution” can keep a neutron from entering a nitrogen nucleus, nor direct a radioactive particle in the stratosphere not to settle in someone’s lung. The “danger area” is the earth.

What follows from this? What answer can the American people give to their United Nations delegate, when he says that America must explode hydrogen bombs as long as Russia does? The answer is simplicity itself: America must stop its explosions regardless of what Russia does. The bestialities perpetrated within Soviet borders are many. If one of these happens to be the explosion of hydrogen bombs, to the detriment of all humanity, so much the worse for us all. But to answer this crime against humanity with larger and more frequent explosions only intensifies the jeopardy of the human race. July 16th, 1954.
(To be continued)


1. Whence the Bomb?

The decade from 1895 to 1905 saw such fundamental discoveries as natural radioactivity, X-rays and Einstein’s special theory of relativity — which among other things propounded the revolutionary thesis that mass and energy are equivalent, being only different manifestations of one and the same fundamental physical entity. Surely the early investigators could not dream of the development that was to unfold in the next half-century from these beginnings. In particular, the equivalence of mass and energy seemed for many years a mathematical fiction; and although Einstein’s celebrated equation E=mc2 (where c = velocity of light = three thousand billion cm/sec.) implied that vast quantities of energy are latent in even a small mass (e.g., twenty-five billion killowatt hours in a kilogram), means for liberating this energy were unknown. But knowledge of the atomic nucleus advanced rapidly in the twentieth century, and a particularly brilliant period of new achievements in the ‘thirties culminated in 1938 in the discovery of uranium fission by Hahn and others. In this process a uranium nucleus, when bombarded by a heavy uncharged particle called a neutron, captures the neutron and splits into two lighter nuclei, accompanied by the release of several neutrons and the conversion of a small part of the original mass into energy in accordance with the above. This suggested the possibility of producing a chain reaction in a piece of uranium, although to be sure many difficulties had first to be overcome. In any case, the implications for construction of a nuclear bomb were widely recognized, and with the coming of world war further developments were cloaked in military secrecy. The first chain reaction was produced in Chicago in December, 1942. Then in 1945, only seven years after the discovery of fission, and forty years after the abstruse considerations of Dr. Einstein, atomic physics intruded itself shatteringly upon the consciousness of the world when the city of Hiroshima was laid waste by a nuclear explosion.

2. The A-Bomb

This weapon tends to be neglected in current discussion (unreasonably so, for now that the general level of public horror has been raised sufficiently to accommodate the H-bomb, the use of at least A-bombs in future warfare has been virtually assured). A critical mass of fissionable material is the least mass sufficient to sustain a chain reaction, and will explode spontaneously. The A-bomb, in its most primitive form, consists of two subcritical masses of fissionable material (either U-235 or plutonium), whose aggregate mass exceeds the critical. Critical mass has been estimated by Professor Oliphant at from twenty-two to sixty-six pounds. For detonation, these component parts are brought together rapidly and a stray neutron, certain to be present, initiates a chain reaction. More than two components can of course be used, but the necessity of bringing them together simultaneously with great rapidity limits their number sharply in a practical bomb. Hence the amount of fissionable material used in an A-bomb is inherently limited to several times critical mass, and the explosive power obtainable is correspondingly limited. The Hiroshima bomb had an explosive force equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT. (The largest bombs of World War II used ten tons of TNT.) Modern A-bombs can be made more powerful, due mainly to more efficient utilization of the fission reaction. Ralph Lapp credits President Eisenhower with having stated that A-bombs twenty-five times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb are now available. Lapp has also estimated that America now has a stockpile of “thousands of A-bombs” (Reporter, 11th May, 1954).

3. The H-Bomb

The H-bomb operates on a principle quite different from nuclear fission, namely that of thermonuclear fusion. At temperatures of millions of degrees fast moving nuclei of light elements may collide and “fuse” into a single nucleus of a heavier element, a fraction of the aggregate mass being transformed into energy in the process. A typical reaction of this kind is the fusion of a tritium with a deuterium nucleus to form a helium 4 nucleus plus a neutron plus 17.6 million electron volts (MeV) of energy. To raise the light nuclei to the necessary temperature an ordinary A-bomb is used as a detonator. Whereas the A-bomb is limited in power by the above-mentioned criticality considerations, no such limitations apply to the H-bomb. The nature of the fusion reaction (and the ready availability of hydrogen and lithium) make it possible and even relatively inexpensive (as these things go) to construct a bomb of almost arbitrarily great destructive power.
There is another significant difference between the two reactions: the fission reaction can be controlled in speed, thus making it theoretically possible to use the energy release as a source of power. The fusion reaction cannot, and thus its only possible application is building a bomb. Although it is believed that the stars derive their radiant energy from a continuous fusion reaction. This has been claimed by Bethe, Hahn and other leading physicists to be physically impossible on as small as scale as the earth. As R. F. Bacher, Physicist and former member of the AEC, wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) May, 1950: “There is no possibility that the energy release from this type of reaction can be controlled on the earth … On the earth these self-sustaining thermonuclear reactions will either give an explosion or nothing at all.”
It seems difficult to reconcile this with rumors afoot recently of “peace-time applications.” Sources from Sen. Hickenlooper to Harold Urey have “hinted” at applications. No details have been forthcoming. It appears that the only possible use of “astrophysical engineering” (Dr. Edward Teller’s Phrase), aside from erasing humanity, is the construction of an artificial star in space at some future time — just what the world is waiting for.

4. Radiological Warfare and the C-Bomb

Soon after the first atomic explosions, it was recognized that the cloud formed could injure life over a large area. Edward Teller wrote in the BAS, February, 1947:
“The radioactivity produced by Bikini bombs was detected within one week within the U.S. . . . The danger arising from the radioactivity [has] become evident by observations which have been made at widely separated places. . . . We have here a method of destruction which we cannot help noticing.”

Due notice was taken, but the question arose: how can one augment the radioactivity of the fission products? The answer was found in the neutrons liberated by an atomic explosion. We have stated that neutrons can induce radioactivity in most elements. For instance, a pound of neutrons could, under ideal conditions, generate twenty-four pounds of radioactive sodium 24 or sixty pounds of radioactive cobalt 60 from the ordinary forms of these elements. Thus, one can “rig” an atomic bomb by adding to it quantities of an element which will be activated by the escaping neutrons. The conditions which an element must fulfil to be a candidate for this role are: (1) It must capture neutrons easily. (2) The resulting isotope should have a half-life sufficiently short so that the radiation emitted is quite intense. (3) The half-life should be sufficiently long so that the radioactivity will not he given up before reaching a target. (4) For best results, penetrating (gamma) radiation should be emitted. (5) The element should be fairly abundant.

The elements which best fulfil these conditions are cobalt and zinc. Radiocobalt is especially deadly, giving off intense gamma rays with a half-life of 5.3 years. If cobalt is added to even a medium-sized A-bomb, which generates, say, five pounds of neutrons, one has already a rather troublesome radiological weapon. Added to a twenty megaton H-bomb, one has in a single bomb the means to denude a continent of man and beast. Professor Harrison Brown, nuclear chemist at the California Institute of Technology, said in 1950 that if a cobalt bomb incorporating a ton of deuterium were detonated on a north-south line in the Pacific about a thousand miles west of California,

“the radioactive dust would reach California in about a day, and New York in four or five days, killing most life as it traverses the continent. Similarly the western powers could explode hydrogen-cobalt bombs on a north-south line about the longitude of Prague that would destroy all life within a strip 1,500 miles wide, extending from Leningrad to Odessa and 3,000 miles deep from Prague to the Ural mountains.”

Actually, this does not tell the whole story for, in the words of Edward Teller (BAS, February, 1947): “One limitation to such kind of an attack is the effect of these gases on the attacker himself. The radioactive products will eventually drift over his country too”. Thus, the hydrogen-cobalt bomb (or “C-bomb”) is only usable as a universal suicide weapon. The manual of instructions that comes with the cobalt bomb says: “Set it off anywhere”. For this reason the AEC has not yet “tested” a C-bomb. Similarly, America does not rely on the cobalt bomb alone to deter aggression. Dr. Teller has suggested using a shorter-lived element to “rig” an atomic bomb. Zinc is a good candidate; radiozinc has a half-life just under a year. Surely a zinc bomb will be built by the AEC, if for no other reason than to have bombs from A to Z.

Quantitatively, what is the perspective for total annihilation? In 1950, with the advent of the H-bomb, came the dissolution of all moral as well as physical barriers to consideration of the final question: How can we destroy the race? The answer, as we have indicated, was found in the hydrogen-cobalt bomb, and some scientists worked out the arithmetic of annihilation. Professor Leo Szilard of the University of Chicago, a chief architect of the A-bomb, said:

“I have made a calculation in the connection . . . . I have asked myself: How many neutrons or how much heavy hydrogen do we have to detonate to kill everybody on earth by this particular method? I come up with about fifty tons of neutrons as being plenty to kill everybody, which means about five hundred tons of heavy hydrogen [about 400 fair-sized bombs — J.L.] . . . . [The necessary deuterium] could be accumulated over a period of ten years without an appreciable strain on the economy of a country like the U.S.” (BAS, April, 1950).

Dr. James Arnold, in the October, 1950, BAS concurs in the general validity of Szilard’s thesis, and estimates that, given the deuterium, 10,000 tons of cobalt might be sufficient to kill everybody. We may note that the U.S. currently consumes about half this amount annually, that it is currently stockpiling cobalt and, according to the recent Haley Report on national resources, the U.S. is expanding its cobalt stockpile and plans to “consume” 20,000 tons of cobalt annually by 1975. Of course, this fact is not of itself sinister. The chief uses of cobalt are in jet engines, rockets, guided missiles, armor plate, gun barrels, and radar components — and America might devote her cobalt stockpile to these ends, rather than to means of mass destruction. Yet once again, American policy is consistent with the worst of all possible future developments. Similar remarks apply to the other potential mass-killer, zinc: according to the New York Times of 8th April, the government recently announced it plans expansion of its zinc stockpiling program. Currently, American firms use about 60,000 tons a month of this metal, “plenty to kill everybody”.

The reader may now think the entire discussion has become academic; for no one would wish to build a cobalt bomb. Yet the New York Times of 28th March, under the heading Cobalt Bomb Being Developed for Radiation-Nerve (19) and Germ Warfare Studies, writes:
“Military science has or is devising a selective arsenal of weapons that could kill multitudes in a split second, minutes or years . . . . Behind the scenes, in obscure laboratories and proving grounds, scientists are working . . . improving techniques and devices for radiological, gas and germ warfare . . . Over-shadowed by the official announcements and speculation about the hydrogen bomb and the atomic bomb is the so-called ‘C-bomb’ . . . strategists foresee the possibility that in an all-out war situations might occur where there would be a need for other means (than the H-bomb) of incapacitating enemy troops or war workers or of rendering a big area [the earth — J.L.] uninhabitable for a period . . . . The natural ‘fall-out’ of radiated material from an atomic cloud, with its short life, would be inadequate. The problem is to keep alive, at a high level, the radioactive contamination. And in the mineral element cobalt military scientists are finding their answer.”

Another cheerful form of radiological warfare is simply to spread radioactive products from a pile over an area. Thus, Hanson Baldwin, military analyst for the New York Times, has recently pointed out how fortuitous it is that we are accumulating these deadly wastes, since they can be dropped on people.

5. The First Use of the Bomb

The first A-bomb was successfully tested l6th July, 1945, at Alamogordo, New Mexico; the only two other models then in existence were thereupon whisked across the Pacific Ocean and dropped on Hiroshima (6th August) and Nagasaki (9th August). The way to Hiroshima had been paved with five months of air raids, starting with the great 9th-10th March jellied gasoline attack on Tokyo (alone killing 83,000) during which period 220,000 civilians had been killed and 3,000 houses destroyed (20); a quarter of the urban population, of 8,500,000 people, had been forced to migrate. Thus there was a certain continuity in the attack of 6th August upon the civilian population of a prostrated country. The James Franck report, submitted to the Secretary of War in June, 1945, by a committee of seven scientists and a simultaneous petition to President Truman signed by sixty-Four scientists (all of whom had worked on the bomb) urged, on humanitarian grounds, that it not be used directly. The Franck report (republished in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1st May, 1946, with an editorial comment that the report “undoubtedly expressed the opinion of a considerable group of scientists on the project”) suggested as an alternative that:

“a demonstration of the new weapon might be made, before the eyes of all the United Nations on the desert or a barren island . . . . After such a demonstration the weapon might perhaps be used against Japan if the sanction of the United Nations (and public opinion at home) was obtained after a preliminary ultimatum to Japan to surrender. . . . We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early attack against Japan inadvisable.”

Aside from these pleas it was known that the Japanese economy was on the verge of collapse because of the blockade and the air raids, and that Japan had already attempted to negotiate a surrender via the Pope. (21) Against this background, all clap-trap about “saving a million American lives” notwithstanding, the frenzied haste with which the newly completed weapon was employed, especially the repeat performance at Nagasaki, leaves an impression that the American military were only afraid lest the Japanese surrender too soon and thereby preclude employment of the bomb. If this impression seems fantastic, it does not seem so to a great many Japanese, who feel their people were used as guinea pigs—and this should be borne in mind in understanding their reaction to the recent H-bomb tests. At Hiroshima a U-235 bomb was dropped; it annihilated completely 4.4 square miles of the city, killing eighty thousand people, and injuring nearly an equal number. At the Nagasaki experiment a plutonium bomb was tried; a 15 per cent. Greater radius of destruction was achieved, although “only” thirty-five thousands were killed, with an equal number injured. (These are official figures; yet John Bugher of the AEC’s Division of Biology and Medicine wrote in Nucleonics, September, 1952, that the fatalities from the two bombs “probably exceeded 200,000” and, as we have pointed out, delayed casualties have continued up to the present day.) These “live” testing grounds have provided the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission with a wealth of material which its staff of 900 has continued to study diligently over the years, and much of what is known today concerning the effects of atomic weapons is based on “The Japanese Experience”.
Let us emphasize that, in this first decision concerning the use of nuclear weapons, the most extreme of all possible alternatives was taken; this, as we shall see, has been true of practically every subsequent decision in the atomic program: always the opposition has been successfully overridden by the most extreme elements.

6. Bikini, 1946

Although the recommendations of the James Franck report were disregarded, the suggested idea of exploding the weapon on a “barren island” did, however, appeal to the military — and less than a year after Nagasaki they embarked on a long series of adventures by “testing” several bombs at Bikini in the Marshall Islands (which had first been rendered “barren” by the simple expedient of uprooting some 160 natives and shipping them to another atoll). These very first Bikini tests, conducted in the summer of 1946 by the U.S. Navy (ostensibly to determine the effects of atomic bombs on ships) produced some reaction which is interesting when viewed from hindsight. There was widespread protest in the United States against inaugurating the new era of peace on such a note; Senators Hoffman, Lucas and Walsh among others urged on the Senate floor that Truman abandon the tests. Particularly prophetic (and radiating as well a freshness that one no longer sees in the utterances of our scientists) are the words of Dr. Lee Du Bridge, (22) a leading physicist and president of the California Institute of Technology, some of whose remarks in the May 15, 1946, BAS we quote:

[The results] would not make a ripple on the surface of basic nuclear science. The study of nuclear fission will not be advanced one iota by all these figures. The value to pure science will be nil . . . it is said that there are a thousand or so technical people participating. Many no doubt look forward to the trip and to seeing the explosion . . . [but] how the universities need these men now for their overcrowded classrooms and undermanned research staffs! . . . No doubt hundreds of secret reports will be written on the variation with distance from the impact point of the damage done to masts, to gun turrets, to tanks and trucks and radar and rabbits and field kitchens. There will be profound studies of why ship A was sunk and ship B was not. . . . The enormous and intensely radio-active cloud that arises from an atomic explosion is a terrifying thing. It is completely subject to the whims of meteorology. Who could say that a sudden rainstorm could not precipitate dangerous quantities of this material onto one or more of the ships packed with observers? Or might not a cloud of this lethal dust be carried hundreds of miles and deposited on unsuspecting inhabitants? The surface burst will raise a great cloud of water spray and where it be carried? . . . the dangers . . . may be remote — but I know experts who are participating in the tests who are worried about one or more of them . . . And how will the results of the tests be represented to the American people? Regardless of what the results are they will stimulate exaggerated claims and counter-claims. ‘The Navy is invulnerable!’ ‘The Navy is obsolete!’ ‘Armies are useless!’ ‘We must have universal military training!’ . . . Are international relations to be improved by these tests? Not even the greatest enthusiasts for them have claimed this [that was 1946; to-day, with the complete triumph of the ‘peace through terror’ ideology the ‘enthusiasts’ from Eisenhower on down have claimed this — JL] . . . I will say only that at this critical hour they are in poor taste.” (All emphasis added.)
It is interesting to see how accurately the main elements of the present H-bomb issue are foreshadowed in these remarks. But of course the tests took place, complete with 42,000 men and half the world’s supply of photographic film, and the Army-Navy Joint Chiefs of Staff could report such observations as: “The second bomb threw large masses of highly radioactive water onto the decks and onto the hulls of the vessels. These contaminated ships became radioactive stoves and would have burned all living things aboard them with invisible and painless radiation”.

This second bomb was indeed quite a phenomenon; it was detonated beneath the surface of the lagoon, and threw up millions of tons of water to a height of about a mile. Because the fission products and neutrons were all entrapped by the water, the contamination was severe and the huge fleet of “target ships”, from the venerable Saratoga to the sleek Prinz Eugen had to be deliberately sunk after the test for this reason; and a third test “shot” was cancelled. The AEC wrote in its 1950 publication The Effects of Atomic Weapons that within a week most of the fission products had settled to the bottom of the lagoon, covering an area of over 60 square miles. Dr. David Bradley, in No Place to Hide, had described extensively the nature of the contamination produced. Let us give only a few quotations:

“these ships are fouled up with radioactivity to a degree far greater than anticipated… there is a real hazard from elements present which cannot be detected by the ordinary field methods [mainly plutonium — J.L.] . . . . Of the fish caught on the lagoon side of the reef, all showed considerable radioactivity . . . . What is true of the reef fish will now become increasingly true of the larger migratory fish — the tuna , the jacks, the sharks, and so on — as the latter, the predatory fish, eat more and more of the smaller fish who are sick with the disease of radioactivity [and hence easier to catch]. We know that this process is going on. Almost all seagoing fish recently caught around the atoll of Bikini have been radioactive . . . .”

7. The Later A-Bomb Tests

Similar tests followed through the post-war years both at Eniwetok atoll in the Marshalls and at Yucca Flat, Nevada. These achieved on the whole no great notoriety, and the public learned to accept such activities as a part of daily life — although attention was occasionally focused on such incidents as the breaking of windows in Las Vegas, the falling of radioactive rain and snow in Eastern cities, and the fogging of photographic film. Of course, the Eniwetok tests, like the Bikini, involved the deportation of the native inhabitants and the spoliation of the atoll.

Up to 1st March, 1954, there had been reported in the world some fifty-five atomic explosions together, including four or five in Russia and a few British bombs. The great majority were detonated by the AEC in seven series of tests: Spring 1948(Eniwetok), Winter 1951 (Yucca Flat, Nevada, sixty-five miles from Las Vegas), Spring 1951 (Eniwetok), Fall 1951 (Nevada), Spring 1952 (Nevada), Fall 1952 (Eniwetok) and Spring 1953 (Nevada). The Spring 1951 and Fall 1952 tests included thermonuclear weapons, and at the Spring 1953 tests the first shell bearing an atomic warhead was fired, from a mobile 280 mm. cannon. In addition to detonating weapons some of the tests also served to acquaint troops with the realities and manuœuvres of atomic warfare, and to test bomb effects on buildings, ships, mice, dogs, monkeys, etc. Possible damage to the environment by radioactive contamination had been discussed from time to time, but the danger was not considered great. Yet several incidents of some interest had occurred. Fall-out from the original A-bomb blast at Alamogordo had injured cattle ten to fifteen miles away. This first blast also resulted in the fogging of photographic film in Indiana. Sienko and Cocconi of Cornell University’s Laboratory of Nuclear Studies, in referring to a beta-emissive speck detected in England in 1952, said: “This kind of speck is probably due to radioactive dust produced by nuclear explosions and carried away by the winds. Undoubtedly many more cases similar to this will be found . . . because radioactive dust is already spread everywhere in the world”. The Canadian Journal of Physics 30 (1952) reported that radioactive fission products from a Nevada explosion in January, 1952, fell on Ottawa two days later and again two weeks later. A French scientific journal (Comptes Rendus hebd. Acad. Sci. 235 (1952)) reported that from December, 1951, to June, 1952, radioactive dust from Nevada explosions had fallen on Paris. In America mild degrees of fall-out and radioactive precipitation were commonplace to the occasional consternation of scientists engaged in low background radiation experiments. At least three cases were reported of precipitation emitting radioactivity approaching dangerous levels; these cases were recorded by independent investigators at Helena, Montana (reported in Nucleonics), Chicago, Ill. (Chemical and Engineering News, 16th June, 1952), and Troy, N.Y. (already mentioned). A typical reaction to these disclosures is that of a Chicago chemist who, in a letter to Chemical and Engineering News, expressed concern over the Chicago rainout. His letter (published 25th August, 1952) goes on to say:

“It appears that the U.S. is being covered intermittently with radioactive dust of dangerously high activity as far as 1,000 miles from the place where the dust is generated. It is also evident that those in positions of responsibility are glossing over these facts with glib assurances that all is well. . . . Let us not be so afraid of a backward enemy that we are willing to poison man, dog, woman and child to get a military advantage.”

The AEC replied to him in the same issue with glib assurances that all was well.
Although our interest covers all nuclear explosions, we have been discussing so far those conducted by the U.S. This is natural, since the great majority of the bombs have been detonated by the U.S. About Russian explosions almost nothing is available, and we are dependent upon microscopic disclosures by American military intelligence for information on this subject (presumably because detailed information might prove valuable to the Russians). We have been told that Russia detonated an H-bomb in August, 1953. The British have held A-bomb tests in the Montebello Islands (off the Australian coast) and at Woomera similar to American tests at Eniwetok. One aspect of the test in the Montebello Islands in the summer of 1952 may be noted here: Although British officials claimed the islands were barren and uninhabited, Australia’s leading ornithologist pointed out that there were over twenty species of birds and several mammals living on the islands, including a pipit and a kangaroo found nowhere else. What has been the fate of these animals is not clear. Churchill, in replying to a query on this subject from an MP assured him that every effort had been made to “inconvenience them as little as possible”. We presume it is picayune to be concerned with the annihilation of wild creatures in an age when humans are slaughtered on an unprecedented scale; yet there was a time when men who called themselves scientists did not wantonly destroy rare and interesting specimens of nature.

8. Birth of the H-bomb (23)

In September, 1949, President Truman announced that the Russians had exploded an atomic bomb. Allegedly on these grounds, he announced in January, 1950, that he had instructed the AEC to develop the “super bomb”. (We may note that years later, after Russia had been credited with exploding an H-bomb, Truman said he was not convinced Russia had even an A-bomb.) To be sure, a great deal of soul-searching preceded the decision of January, 1950. The inner circle of atomic energy officialdom had been divided on the H-bomb program, with the preponderance of opinion against it. The AEC opposed it three to two, and the nine-man General Advisory Committee to the AEC (including eight eminent scientists) opposed it unanimously on a combination of moral, tactical, scientific and financial grounds. The opposition included such distinguished figures as Oppenheimer, Lilienthal and Henry Smyth (author of the famous Smyth Report). But the H-bomb had its champions, notably Lewis Strauss who, in the words of a laudatory editorial in Iron Age “set up a howl for the H-bomb that reverberated around the AEC and to the White House”. Strauss received strong support from Secretary of State Acheson, Defense Secretary Johnson and Sen. McMahon. Truman, true to the tradition of his A-bomb decision of 1945 and Bikini decision of 1946 (and to the principle of “the triumph of the extreme elements” which we have enunciated), gave the order to proceed, and the scientists dully embarked on a new “crash program”. Ideological justifications were of course invented as needed to allay public malaise and soothe bad consciences. But for all that, the program was generally viewed with trepidation. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published in 1950 some sixteen articles on the H-bomb by leading physicists; and although none of them directly renounced Truman’s decision many anxieties were expressed and the destructive possibilities frankly and terrifyingly set forth. Einstein wrote:

“The ghostlike character of this development lies in its apparently compulsory trend. Every step appears as the unavoidable consequence of the preceding one. In the end there beckons more and more clearly general annihilation.” Twelve physicists signed a statement requesting of the American government “a solemn declaration that we shall not use the bomb first”. In addition to “solemn declarations” other scientists called for “top level disarmament conferences”, “outlawing the bomb”, “international controls”, etc. — proposals which had long ago exhausted themselves, but which nevertheless revealed, in the timid idiom of these men, widespread apprehension. Oppenheimer said: “There is grave danger for us that these decisions have been taken on the basis of facts held secret… the relevant facts could be of little help to an enemy; yet they are indispensable for an understanding of questions of policy”. Leo Szilard, referring to the difficulty of predicting the path of radioactive fall-out, said “on this aspect of the question, I would say that we leaped before we thought when we decided to make H-bombs”. Here is the lament of Otto Hahn, the German who had discovered fission in 1938 and (like Gentner and von Laue) maintained a strict silence about atomic bombs during the war years under Hitler:

“Remembering the effect of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, or considering the investigations at Bikini in 1946, one would think that mankind had already carried it magnificently far enough with the utilization of atomic energy for destructive purposes and that there would be no desire to add still more powerful ones to these means. Nevertheless this seems to be the case…. Pres. Truman has ordered the development and construction of the ‘hydrogen bomb’ to be officially begun in order to create a new weapon for keeping the world peace.” (New Atoms, 1950.)

A number of scientists who acquiesced to the wisdom of Truman-Strauss gave up their chastity only “with some reluctance”. Thus Harold Urey was “very unhappy to conclude that the H-bomb should be developed and built . . . but, with Patrick Henry, I value my liberties more than my life”. On the other hand a refreshing singleness of purpose was shown by Dr. Edward Teller who, with his colleague Ernest O. Lawrence (inventor of the cyclotron), was eager to have an H-bomb. In an article Back to the Laboratories, Teller exhorted his fellow physicists to end their “honeymoon with mesons” and join him on the H-bomb project: “We must realize that plans are not yet bombs, and we must realize that democracy will not be saved by ideals alone…. The holiday is over. Hydrogen bombs will not produce themselves”. In any case, the project was advanced and the laws of physics were co-operative. The Spring 1951 tests at Eniwetok (Operation Greenhouse) saw the successful detonation of two “crude and cumbersome thermonuclear devices”. Both “shots” exceeded expectations. A more streamlined H-bomb was exploded at Eniwetok in November, 1952 (Operation Poison Ivy). During November, 1952, a good many sensational reports of the explosion “leaked” out to the public via letters written home by eyewitnesses and it was generally believed that an H-bomb had been tested. Official confirmation was only given, however, after a furore had been touched off by the effects of the 1st March, 1954, H-bomb. As has recently been revealed, the 1952 “baby” bomb produced a fireball 3.5 miles in diameter, annihilated an island of the Marshalls group, and ripped out of the ocean floor a crater a mile in diameter and 175 feet deep. The radius of total destruction was three miles, with “severe to moderate” damage out to seven miles.

9. Atomic Bomb and the Weather — Speculation?

There has been much speculation about nuclear explosions affecting the weather; this probably originated as early as Hiroshima, which shortly after the A-bombing was inundated by a typhoon killing early visitors to the devastated city. The wave of tornadoes and freak weather that swept America’s East coast concurrently with last Spring’s Nevada A-tests was bound to stir speculation, for the breaking of weather records in this case translated itself into hundreds of dead, thousands of homeless, and many millions of dollars of damage. Impressive was the coincidence behind the disclosure of an AP dispatch of 10th June, 1953, that:

“Rep. Ray J. Madden, Democrat of Indiana, had asked that the House Armed Services Committee start a full inquiry into possible atomic effects on the weather.”

The investigation was not held because:

“Key [House] members said to-day they had been assured that atomic tests had not caused the series of tornadoes sweeping the country. . . . ’Atomic scientists told us [said Rep. Leroy Johnson of California] they consulted regularly with top weather observers and said the atomic tests are too small and restricted to have any effect on the weather’.”
One of the more striking chains of incidents followed the largest bomb in the series which was exploded 5th June at an altitude of six to eight miles. 8th June Arcadia, Nebraska, had a tornado killing ten people; 9th June Cleveland, Ohio, had its first tornado in twenty-nine years (killed eight, injured 300) and seven other tornadoes swept Michigan and Ohio on that day (killing 113). 10th June Exeter, N.H., was heavily damaged by storm, and Worcester, Mass., had a disastrous tornado, the worst in seventy-five years, killing eighty-five, injuring 700, and leaving 2,500 homeless; the Worcester tornado was accompanied by an unprecedented barrage of giant hailstones.

Abnormally high radioactivity was present in some of the more freakish precipitation. For instance, the highly radioactive rainfall at Troy, N.Y. mentioned before, accompanied “an unusually violent electrical storm … one of the worst flash storms to hit the area in recent years” and followed by thirty-six hours the detonation of a Nevada A-bomb. The year 1954 has again produced strange weather, sometimes with disastrous consequences, as in the weird flooding of the Danube river which has dispossessed over 70,000 people. The New York Times of 14th July wrote concerning this even that:

“The press continues to suggest that last spring’s hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific may have been responsible for the floods. The argument is that stratospheric clouds of atomic dust resulting from the explosions possibly reduced the amount of sun’s rays reaching the earth enough to cause the heavy rains.”

Are these speculations in any sense valid? Is there a link between the flooding of the Rio Grande, Lima’s coldest winter in twenty-five years, and freak tidal waves in Lake Michigan? Is there validity in a Japanese scientist’s recent prediction that the world will have colder weather (because of the obstruction of the sun’s rays by the Marshall Islands)? This author does not claim to know. However, because our very lives, and it is no exaggeration to say the future of the human race, are intimately intertwined with the world’s climate, these questions deserve the most serious consideration. Any communication on the subject would be welcomed by the author.

Some form of connection between atomic blasts and rainfall seems plausible. For instance, it is well known that ionized air molecules, such as are produced in the wake of a radioactive cloud, serve as nuclei for the condensation of moisture. In measurements reported by the French Meteorological Office, radioactivity curves of rainwater and atmospheric dust over a four month period (November, ’51 — February, ’52) reached peaks ten days after nuclear explosions, exhibiting in cases activity ten or twenty times normal.

Hubert Garrique, Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences (1951), purported to show by studying the distribution of condensation nuclei, which he claimed emerged from atomic explosions, that abundant precipitation in France at that time was attributable to these. An amateur meteorologist, J. O. Hutton, has attempted to show by similar considerations a link between the A-bombs and tornadoes of 1953 in the U.S. Published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, April, 1954, the article does not appear frivolous. His weather data is well-documented, and the article may seriously be recommended to the attention of the readers. (24)

Because of these “condensation nuclei” considerations, connections between A-bombs and the weather cannot be discounted merely by the observation that the energy release of an atomic explosion is far smaller than the kinetic energy of a large air mass. Even aside from this, the blast itself (especially in the case of an H-bomb) is large enough to set off local windstorms, and one cannot content oneself with a routine assertion that so vast a dislocation in nature has not remote effects in space and time. Profound long-range effects are believed to have resulted from discharge of particles into the air by past volcanoes (Cf. Climatic Change, a most interesting book edited by Harlow Shapley, Harvard Univ. Press, 1953, pp. 90-103).

10. General Aspects of Radiation Injury

Alpha, beta, gamma, neutron and X-radiations are the most familiar of the ionizing radiations, so called because they produce ionization of atoms and molecules which they encounter. It is this property which is exploited in the Geiger counters for the detection of radioactivity. It is this same property which is responsible for the damaging effects of radiation on living tissue: the ionization sets in motion chemical reactions (as yet poorly understood) within the cell. These may result, depending on the type of the cell and the dose, in inhibition of the growth and mitosis of the cell, damage to the chromosomes and genes of the cell (which in the case of a germ cell will also he passed on to all succeeding generations), impairment of the various functions of the cell, or the death of the cell. Because the nature of radiation injury is on the fundamental level of cell metabolism itself, and because different cells and different doses exhibit widely varying effects, it is to be expected that the macroscopic changes produced in the organism by irradiation will cover an enormous spectrum, and this is the case. Many volumes have been written describing observed a biological effects of radiation, ranging from osteogenic sarcoma to graying of the hair. Every kind of tissue, every bodily function, will be impaired by sufficient radiation, administered to the appropriate part of the body. There is, however, great variation in sensitivity; most sensitive are the lymphoid tissues which produce and store white blood cells; also very sensitive are the white blood cells, epithelial tissue, mucous membrane, small bowel, ovary and embryonic cells.

(1) This is the first of two articles dealing with the recent hydrogen explosions, and studies the damage they have wrought upon man and his environment. Historical and scientific background material is presented in the Supplement the end. The second article will go more deeply into the social implications.

(2) All dates without years refer to 1954.

(3) Robert S. Allen wrote in his Inside Washington column:
“The wind was not the cause of this accident. It was due to miscalculations on the size of the explosion and the consequent radioactive fall-out. That covered twice the estimated area.”

(4) This is in agreement with an INS account of 27th March that the 1st March fireball had a radius of complete incendiary destruction of fourteen miles. Looked at differently it suggests that the 1st March blast developed at least twenty megatons, tending to confirm the remark of the cited Pentagon observer that “all published estimates have been too conservative”. A more refined guess could be made on this basis, but one runs the risk of blundering upon “classified information”

(5) In a recently reported experiment with rabbits who merely watched an A-bomb explosion from fifty miles away, steam momentarily generated in the retinal fluid caused “a little localized explosion” in the eye tissues. When the eye is adapted to night vision, this danger is greatest. The damage is similar to the “eclipse burns” that some humans have experienced. (AP., 23rd June, 1954.)

(6) Such facts do not impress Mason Sears, U.S. delegate to the U.N., who told that body 13th July:
“What has resulted from our tests is that one natural sandspit, uninhabitable for man or beast and without vegetation [this has since become true — JL.], and one man-made sandspit were destroyed — and that is all.” [Amen!]

(7) Robert S. Allen, reported in his Inside Washington column that:
“The exposed sailors and airmen . . . are receiving special medical care, and are under expert observation which will last for months, and possibly years.”
As Allen points out, this is not cause for concern. On the contrary,
“the extensive fall-out is proving a ‘blessing in disguise’. It is affording U.S. authorities the opportunity to conduct medical and other studies of momentous significance. They were made possible through the accidental exposure of twenty-eight men of the Navy and Air Force to . . . [radiation] five times more than any other living Americans have experienced. This opened the way for the studies the scientists had never before been able to undertake on human beings.”

(8) The distinction between “dose” and “exposure” and a few other technical niceties are overlooked in the interests of simplicity.

(9) This quantity of plutonium will deliver to certain “hot spots” in the bones alpha bombardment estimated as biologically equivalent to 5 or 10r per day. A sarcoma induced in such a spot, however tiny, is generally fatal.

(10) For comparison, all the radium ever produced has an activity of several curies.

(11) The London Times, 8th April wrote:
“According to Japanese medical men [who are treating the twenty-three fisher-men] the condition of all twenty-three is still deteriorating. Dr. Nakazumi said that the white corpuscle counts of the patients were still decreasing. Even if their white corpuscle counts improved, said Dr. Nakazumi, they might never be able to do strenuous work again.”

(12) This vocabulary has many practitioners, e.g. Sen. Pastore and Rep. Holifeld of JCAE reported (AP, 19th March) that the Americans and natives were “normal, happy and in the best of spirits”.

(13) Numerous drugs are known to retard death following acute irradiation.

(14) The New York Times, 14th July, wrote:
“The U.S. said to-day [in the U.N.] it was limiting economic aid for inhabitants of the Marshall Islands for fear that they might consider themselves its wards. . . . [Frank Midkiff, American High Commissioner of the islands, said:] ‘The present administration has recognized the rugged character traits [!] that it will be necessary for the Bikinians to acquire in order to adjust themselves to life on Kili [infertile new home of displaced Bikinians — J.L.]. While it is desired to enable them to come through the tests without serious [!] injury, it is not desired to coddle them to be wards or dependants’.”

(15) A one thousand megawatt nuclear power plant would produce in a year one hundred million curies of fission products Cockroft estimates in Nucleonics, January, 1952.

(16) In interpreting this result one must not think that, because a mouse is smaller than man, “the 0.1r is distributed over a smaller region” and that hence the mouse “gets a more concentrated dose”. “A mouse is given an 0.1r (whole body) dose” means that ionizing radiation is administered to the mouse sufficient to release 8.3 ergs of energy to each cubic centimeter of tissue in the body. An 0.1r (whole body) dose to men releases 8.3 ergs to each cubic centimeter in the men’s body. (Similarly, one could speak of a dose of 0.1r to a man’s spleen, etc.) Thus, the tissues of a man receiving a specified dose of (whole body) penetrating radiation are being attacked at the same rate as those of the correspondingly dosed mouse. The total ionization is of course much greater for the larger animal.

(17) Freaks” due to mutations are rare, only “a useful handle in the study of genetics, as Muller says. Most genetic changes
“affect inner physiological properties or features of the body chemistry, and so cannot be detected without special study. Probably most of these changes simply consist in weakening the degree of activity of some chemical process that is occurring normally in the body, thus making it more prone to one or another ill when the body is subjected to difficult conditions of living that a quite normal individual would usually be able to withstand.” (H. J. Muller, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September, 1947.)
The occurrence of Mongolianism and other teratologies among progeny of Japanese A-bomb victims is due chiefly not to mutation, but to irradiation of embryos in the womb. We might remark that embryonic tissue, like all rapidly proliferating tissue, is extremely sensitive to radiation. Thus, exposure of rats and mice in utero on the ninth day of gestation to as little as 25r has resulted in significant incidence of skeletal abnormalities, microphthalmia, and abnormal growths of epitheloid cells in and around the brain of the offspring. 50r retarded development and produced microphthalmia in a third of the fetuses with brain and spinal cord abnormalities common. (Cf. Rugh’s article in Annual Reviews of Nuclear Science, vol. 3, 1953.)

(18) Government agencies and their spokesmen have frequently falsified these genetic dangers. Perhaps the most flagrant example is the Army’s Handbook of Atomic Weapons for Medical Officers, which states: “Little is known of the actual effects to be expected in man [In some quarters —J.L.] but it is estimated that about 600r would be required to produce significant mutation rate changes.” This does produces death within a month in 100 per cent of humans.

(19) While on this train of thought we quote a different aspect of this article:
“American military scientists now are ready to speak somewhat more freely of never gas, a much more swiftly lethal weapon. The reason is that this gas is not an exclusive American invention, but came originally from the laboratories of Nazi Germany. The Army’s Chemical Corps said to-day that there were several forms of so-called nerve gas. They are without color and without smell. ‘The inhaled vapor from as few as three drops would prove fatal to a human being in about four minutes’, the Corps added. ‘More toxic than the previously known chemical warfare agents, the nerve gases are designed to destroy life with sudden ness; their presence is not ordinarily detectable by the senses, and we must rely upon detection devices to identify them.’. . . Another weapon is bacteriological warfare. Like gas, such a weapon is difficult to detect quickly. One of the greatest eventual advantages of ‘BW’ long under experiment but still not entirely perfected, is that it can he applied under the long range plans of strategic operations. Its effect ‘hangs fire’, may not be felt for the days or weeks required for the incubation of a disease”. A New York Times dispatch of that time entitled Denver Calmed on War Gas Fear told how some Denver residents were nervous about the disclosure that “the Rocky Mountain Arsenal was manufacturing a nerve gas that could wipe out the populations of enemy cities”. It gives a further description of how muscles would be paralyzed. “There would be a sensation of great weight upon the chest, pain, then choking and death as the brain’s messages commanding the heart to beat were blocked from the heart muscles.” After the further remark that “The arsenal produces this weapon twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week”, they quote the reassuring ministrations of Lieut. Col. S. J. Effnor, acting commandant of the arsenal, who says: “The facts about nerve gas do not justify the horror weapon name so often used to describe it”. Col. Effnor states that maximum measures to safeguard Denver area residents have been taken and “there is no possibility of any danger to the civilian population in Denver”. In addition, “the means for effective defense and treatment have been developed” and an antidote, atropine, is available in quantity. After describing the safety measures in some detail, the article points to the excellent safety record: “No one at the arsenal has suffered more than temporary minor effects from the gas”. Some inkling of these temporary minor effects is given by a UP dispatch of 6th May headed 70 at Arsenal Affected by Deadly Nerve Gas. The officials queried “admitted that security regulations had prevented them from telling the whole story of the effects of the gas” [Why, since this was already known to the Germans? — J.L.] but the following was released: “Seventy or more employees . . . here received mild closes of a deadly nerve gas . . . . All recovered without permanent injury within five days . . . . Exposed workers told of wild dreams and nightmares, anxiety and jitters and reckless decisions. ‘While they were driving they found themselves taking chances they would not ordinarily take’, Col. Werne said.”

(20) “Mastermind” of these raids was Gen. Curtis LeMay, now head of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the elite corps entrusted with “delivery” of the hydrogen bomb. A laudatory article by Ernest Havemann in Life, 14th June, 1954, tells about LeMay and SAC:
“The fire raids, as much as the dropping of the atom bomb, involved grave moral problems. They were planned to destroy industry, but everybody knew that each time LeMay sent his B-29s out a lot of innocent and helpless men, women and babies were also going to be burned up. This fact did not deter LeMay. He is a thoroughgoing professional soldier. To him warfare reduced itself to a simple alternative: kill or be killed. He would not hesitate a moment — indeed he would not consider any moral problem to be involved at all — in unleashing the terrible power that now lies in his hands with the B-36, the B147, the B-52 and the hydrogen bomb.”

(21) A good deal of important material on the condition of Japan can be found in Blackett’s The Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy. We disagree with Blackett’s conclusion on the first use of the bomb, however.

(22) Dr. Du Bridge is now a consultant to the military.

(23) These lines were written before the Oppenheimer affair. More detailed information is now available.

(24) Astounding Science Fiction, incidentally, has on occasion printed articles with mature scientific content. A course on radar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the last world used as its text — an article in this magazine

Have Nuclear Weapons Kept the Peace? published a piece this week about the Pentagon leaders who recently went to Congress to defend spending $1 trillion to overhaul the nuclear triad. Among the quotes mentioned, one by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley stood out:

“I just want to be clear, I don’t have a part of the triad, but I can tell you that in my view … that nuclear triad has kept the peace since nuclear weapons were introduced and has sustained the test of time,” Milley said. “That is not unimportant and the system is deteriorating, Congressman, and it needs to be revamped. It needs to be overhauled.”

Yet, since 1945, when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan, America has been involved in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and the second Gulf War. Meanwhile, we’ve had a military presence in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Iran, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Yemen, Kosovo, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Nigeria, and others.

So, it’s not entirely clear what Milley means when he says the “nuclear triad has kept the peace.”

Perhaps he means more specifically that we haven’t had a direct war against Russia since 1945, but that’s not a particularly meaningful argument, given that we hadn’t gone to war with Russia before 1945 either. One could argue that conflict with Russia escalated as a result of nuclear weapons. According to The Atomic Bomb Website,

“On August 29th, the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb, at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan. This event ends America’s monopoly of atomic weaponry and launches the Cold War.”

In fact, a large number of the wars and conflicts mentioned above pitted the U.S against the Soviet Union, making it hard to argue that nuclear weapons really kept the peace between the two countries, even if they didn’t declare all-out war.

Perhaps what Milley meant was that the U.S. hasn’t been directly attacked since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. However, we hadn’t really been attacked prior to that either. It’s not clear that nuclear weapons have offered any more deterrence than the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans provide. After all, Canada and Mexico also haven’t been attacked. Plus, while no country has launched strikes that targeted U.S. soil, we have been attacked by terrorists.

Maybe Milley just meant that there haven’t been nuclear strikes against us because we could retaliate with equally strong force. That may be true. However, if it is, then perhaps the money would be better spent toward research and public education.

Just a small fraction of that $1 trillion could be used to help us better understand the impact of nuclear winter. Current weather models already predict that even a small nuclear war could cause worldwide temperatures to plummet, killing as many as 1 billion people globally. That includes people within the fighting countries.

Perhaps if countries involved understood how devastating a nuclear war would be for their own citizens, they’d prefer reducing rather than upgrading their nuclear arsenals.

The Increasing Risk of Nuclear War

On Saturday, February 27, thousands of activists marched through London in opposition to the country’s nuclear weapons policy. Meanwhile, in the United States, Russia, and now China, nuclear tensions may be escalating.

“It takes about 30 minutes for a missile to fly between the United States and Russia,” a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) reminded readers. The U.S. and Russia keep their missiles on hair-trigger alerts which allow them to be launched within minutes, and both countries have been investing in upgrading their nuclear arsenals.

Another recent UCS report, China’s Military Calls for Putting Its Nuclear Forces on Alert, analyzes the risk that China’s military leaders may also soon call for putting their own nuclear weapons on high-alert. Gregory Kulacki, author of the China report, argues that this could be incredibly dangerous. He explains:

“The experience with U.S. and Soviet/Russian warning systems, especially early in their deployment and operation when hardware and procedures were not yet reliable, illustrates the dangers of maintaining the option to launch on warning. Such risks are especially acute in a crisis.”

In fact, there have been over two dozen known nuclear close calls involving the U.S. and Russia, and likely many more that haven’t been declassified. One of the scariest examples occurred in 1980, during a time of tension between Russia and the U.S. A Soviet satellite showed five land-based missiles heading straight for the Soviet Union, and Stanislav Petrov, the officer on duty, had only a few minutes to decide whether or not it was a false alarm. Fortunately, he disregarded all evidence to the contrary and concluded it was false. Investigations later found that the sun’s reflection off the clouds had tricked the satellite into detecting a missile launch. Hair-trigger alert policies only increase the chances that accidents like this could occur, inadvertently triggering a nuclear war.

These policies were originally put in place as an act of deterrence. However, as information about more of these close calls has been released, many are concerned about the Cold-War policies that are still in effect.

As David Wright with the UCS says, “Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the United Sates and Russia continue to keep nearly 2,000 nuclear weapons constantly on high alert, ready to be launched in minutes.”

Given the concerns associated with the hair-trigger alert policies of the U.S. and Russia, it’s no surprise that adding a third country to the mix would only exacerbate the situation.

More surprising might be why China’s military leaders are reconsidering their policy. According to Kulacki,

“The nuclear weapons policies of the United States are the most prominent external factors influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces.”

The risks that could potentially arise if China changes its policy are hard to measure, but with the close calls already seen between the U.S. and Soviet Russia, a third country with similar policies would only further increase the risk of a devastating, accidental nuclear exchange.

When they originally began their nuclear program, Chinese leaders committed to a no-first-use policy, and they’ve stuck to that, keeping their nuclear warheads separate from their missiles. Only if they’re attacked first, will the Chinese assemble their nuclear weapons and strike back. However, the Chinese are becoming increasingly concerned with what they perceive the U.S. nuclear stance against them to be. Kulacki explains:

“The authors of the 2013 Academy of Military Sciences’ textbook The Science of Military Strategy clearly believe U.S. actions are calling into question the credibility of China’s ability to retaliate after a U.S. nuclear attack, and that an effective way to respond would be to raise the alert level of China’s nuclear forces so they can be launched on warning of an incoming nuclear attack.”

With the recent developments of U.S. high-precision conventional and nuclear weapons, along with the Chinese belief that the U.S. is unwilling to recognize joint vulnerability, China’s leaders may decide to change their own policies to match those of the U.S. In the China report, Kulacki recommends five steps for the United States to take to improve their relationship with China:

“Acknowledge mutual vulnerability with China.”
“Reject rapid-launch options.”
“Adopt a ‘sole purpose’ nuclear doctrine.”
“Limit ballistic missile defenses.”
“Discuss impacts of new conventional capabilities.”

“U.S. officials have to realize that China is contemplating these changes because it believes the United States is unwilling to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy— what President Obama promised to do in his famous speech in Prague in 2009,” Kulacki added. “What the U.S. says and does regarding nuclear weapons has a profound effect on Chinese thinking. And right now, we’re pushing China in the wrong direction.”

Secretary William Perry Talks at Google: My Journey at the Nuclear Brink

Former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry was 14 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. As he humorously explained during his Talk at Google this week, in his 14-year-old brain, he was mostly upset because he was worried the war would be over before he could become an Army Air Corps pilot and fight in the war.

Sure enough, the war ended one month before his 18th birthday. He joined the Army Engineers anyway, and was sent to the Army occupation of Japan. That experience quickly altered his perception of war.

“What I saw in Tokyo and Okinawa changed my view altogether about the glamour and the glory of war,” he told the audience at Google.

Tokyo was in ruins — more devastated than Hiroshima — after two years and thousands of firebombs. He then went to Okinawa, which was the site of the last great battle of WWII. The battle had dragged on for nearly three months, during which, 100,000 Japanese had attempted to defend the city in that battle. By the end 90,000 of the Japanese fighters had perished. Perry described his shock upon arriving there to see the city completely demolished — not one building was left standing, and the people who had survived were living in the rubble.

“And then I reflected on Hiroshima,” he said. “This was what could be done with thousand pound bombs. In the case of Tokyo, thousands of them over a two-year period, and with thousands of bombers delivering them. The same result in Hiroshima, in an instant, with one airplane and one bomb. Just one bomb. Even at the tender age of 18, I understood: this changed everything.”

This experience helped shape his understanding of and approach to modern warfare.

Fast forward to the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the start of the crisis, he was working in California for a defense electronics company, but also doing pro-bono consulting work for the government. He was immediately called to Washington D.C. with other analysts to study the data coming in to try to understand the status of the Cuban missiles.

“Every day I went into that analysis center I believed would be my last day on earth. That’s how close we came to a nuclear catastrophe at that time,” he explained to the audience. He later added, “I still believe we avoided that nuclear catastrophe as much by good luck as good management.”

He then spoke of an episode, many years later, when he was overseeing research at the Pentagon. He got a 3 AM call from a general who said his computer was showing a couple hundred nuclear missiles launched from Russia and on their way to the U.S. The general had already determined that it was a false alarm, but he didn’t understand what was wrong with his computer. After two days studying the problem, they figured out that the sergeant responsible for putting in the operating tape had accidentally put in a training tape: the general’s computer was showing realistic simulations.

“It was human error. No matter how complex your systems are, they’re always subject to human error,” Perry said of the event.

He personally experienced two incidents – one of human error and one of system error – which could easily have escalated to the launch of our own nuclear missiles. His explanation for why the people involved were able to recognize these were false alarms was that “nothing bad was going on in the world at that time.” Ever since, he’s wondered what would have happened if these false alarms had occurred during a crisis while the U.S. was on high alert. Would the country have launched a retaliation that could have inadvertently started a nuclear war?

To this day, nuclear systems are still subject to these types of errors. If an ICBM launch officer gets the warning that an attack is imminent s/he will notify the President, who will then have approximately 10 minutes to decide whether or not to launch the missiles before they’re destroyed. That’s 10 minutes for the President to assess the context of all problems in the world combined with the technical information and then decide whether or not to launch nuclear weapons.

In fact, one of Perry’s biggest concerns is that the ICBMs are susceptible to these kinds of false of alarms. He acknowledges that the probability of an accidental nuclear war is very low.

“But,” he says, “why should we accept any probability?”

Adding to that concern is the Obama Administration’s decision to rebuild the nuclear arsenal, which will cost American taxpayers approximately $1 trillion over the next couple of decades. Yet there is very little discussion about this plan in the public arena. As Perry explains, “So far the public is not only not participating in that debate, they’re not even aware of what’s going on.”

Perry is also worried about nuclear terrorism. During the talk, he describes a hypothetical situation in which a terrorist could set off a strategically placed nuclear weapon in a city like Washington D.C. and use that to bring the United States and even the global economy to its knees. He explains that the one reason a scenario like this hasn’t played out yet is because fissile material is so hard to come by.

Throughout the discussion and the Q&A segment, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Iran, and China all came up. While commenting on North Korea, he said:

“The real danger of a missile is not the missile, it’s the fact that it could carry a nuclear warhead.”

That said, of all possible nuclear scenarios, he believes an intentional, regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan could be the most likely.

Perry served as Secretary of Defense from 1994 to 1997, and in more recent years, he’s become a strong advocate for reducing the risks of nuclear weapons. In addition to his many accomplishments and achievements, Perry was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997.

We highly recommend the Talks at Google interview with Perry. We also recommend his new book, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink. You can learn more about his efforts to decrease the risks of nuclear destruction at the William J. Perry Project.

While Perry mentioned two nuclear close calls, there have been many other over the years. We’ve put together a timeline of close calls that we know about – there have likely been many others.




Dr. David Wright on North Korea’s Satellite

Earlier this month, Dr. David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Global Security Program, wrote two posts about North Korea’s satellite launch. While North Korea isn’t currently thought to pose an existential risk with their weapons, any time nuclear weapons are involved, the situation has the potential to quickly escalate to something that could be catastrophic to the future of humanity. We’re grateful to Wright and the UCS for allowing us to share his posts here.

North Korea is Launching a Rocket Soon: What Do We Know About It?

North Korea has announced that it will launch a rocket sometime in the next two weeks to put a satellite in orbit for the second time. What do we know about it, and how worried should we be?


Fig.1. The Unha-3 ready to launch in April 2012. (Source: Sungwon Baik / VOA)

What We Know

North Korea has been developing rockets—both satellite launchers and ballistic missiles—for more than 25 years. Developing rockets requires flight testing them in the atmosphere, and the United States has satellite-based sensors and ground-based radars that allow it to detect flight testing essentially worldwide. So despite North Korea being highly secretive, it can’t hide such tests, and we know what rockets it has flight tested.

North Korea’s military has short-range missiles that can reach most of South Korea, and a longer range missile—called Nodong in the West—that can reach parts of Japan. But it has yet to flight test any military missiles that can reach targets at a distance of greater than about 1,500 kilometers.

(It has two other ballistic missile designs—called the Musudan and KN-08 in the West—that it has exhibited in military parades on several occasions over the past few years, but has never flight tested. So we don’t know what their state of development is, but they can’t be considered operational without flight testing.)

North Korea’s Satellite launcher

North Korea has attempted 5 satellite launches, starting in 1998, with only one success—in December 2012. While that launch put a small satellite into space, the satellite was apparently tumbling and North Korea was never able to communicate with it.

The rocket that launched the satellite in 2012 is called the Unha-3 (Galaxy-3) (Fig. 1). North Korea has announced locations of the splashdown zones for its upcoming launch, where the rocket stages will fall into the sea; since these are very similar to the locations of the zones for its 2012 launch, that suggests the launcher will also be very similar (Fig. 2).

Fig. Fig. 2. The planned trajectory of the upcoming launch. (Source: D Wright in Google Earth)

Fig. 2. The planned trajectory of the upcoming launch. (Source: D Wright in Google Earth)

We know a lot about the Unha-3 from analyzing previous launches, especially after South Korea fished parts of the rocket out of the sea after the 2012 launch. It is about 30 m tall, has a launch mass of about 90 tons, and consists of 3 stages that use liquid fuel. A key point is that the two large lower stages rely on 1960s-era

Scud-type engines and fuel, rather than the more advanced engines and fuel that countries such as  Russia and China use. This is an important limitation on the capability of the rocket and suggests North Korea does not have access to, or has not mastered, more advanced technology.

(Some believe North Korea may have purchased a number of these more advanced engines from the Soviet Union. But it has never flight tested that technology, even in shorter range missiles.)

Because large rockets are highly complex technical systems, they are prone to failure. Just because North Korea was able to get everything to work in 2012, allowing it to orbit a satellite, that says very little about the reliability of the launcher, so it is unclear what the probability of a second successful launch is.

The Satellite

The satellite North Korea launched in 2012— the  Kawngmyongsong-3, or “Bright Star 3”—is likely similar in size and capability (with a mass of about 100 kg) to the current satellite (also called Kawngmyongsong ). The satellite is not designed to do much, since the goal of early satellite launches is learning to communicate with the satellite. It may send back photos from a small camera on board, but these would be too low resolution (probably hundreds of meters) to be useful for spying.

In 2012, North Korea launched its satellite into a “sun-synchronous orbit” (with an inclination of 97.4 degrees), which is an orbit commonly used for satellites that monitor the earth, such as for environmental monitoring. Its orbital altitude was about 550 km, which is twice as high as the Space Station, but lower than most satellites, which sit in higher orbits since atmospheric drag at low altitudes will slow a satellite and cause it to fall from orbit sooner. For North Korea, the altitude was limited by the capability of its launcher. We expect a similar orbit this time, although if the launcher has been modified to carry somewhat more fuel it might be able to carry the satellite to a higher altitude.

The Launch Site and Flight Path

The launch will take place from the Sohae site near the western coast of North Korea (Fig. 2). It would be most efficient to launch due east so that the rocket gains speed from the rotation of the earth. North Korea launched its early flights in that direction but now launches south to avoid overflying Japan—threading the needle between South Korea, China, and the Philippines.

North Korea has modified the Sohae launch site since the 2012 launch. It has increased the height of the gantry that holds the rocket before launch, so that it can accommodate taller rockets, but I expect that extra height will not be needed for this rocket. It has also constructed a building on the launch pad that houses the rocket while it is being prepared for launch (which is a standard feature of modern launch sites around the world). This means we will not be able to watch the detailed launch preparations, which gave indications of the timing of the launch in 2012.

Satellite launch or ballistic missile?

So, is this really an attempt to launch a satellite, or could it be a ballistic missile launch in disguise? Can you tell the difference?

Fig. 3. Trajectories for a long-range ballistic missile (red) and Unha-3 satellite launch (blue).

Fig. 3. Trajectories for a long-range ballistic missile (red) and Unha-3 satellite launch (blue).

The U.S. will likely have lots of sensors—on satellites, in the air, and on the ground and sea—watching the launch, and it will be able to quickly tell whether or not it is really a satellite launch because the trajectory of a satellite launch and ballistic missile are very different.

Figure 3 shows the early part of the trajectory of a typical liquid-fueled ballistic missile (ICBM) with a range of 12,000 km (red) and the Unha-3 launch trajectory from 2012 (blue). They differ in shape and in the length of time the rocket engines burn. In this example, the ICBM engines burn for 300 seconds and the Unha-3 engines burn for nearly twice that long. The ICBM gets up to high speed much faster and then goes much higher.

Interestingly, the Unha-3’s longer burn time means that its upper stages have been designed for use in a satellite launcher, rather than a ballistic missile. So this rocket looks more like a satellite launcher than a ballistic missile.

Long-Range Missile Capability?

Of course, North Korea can still learn a lot from satellite launches about the technology it can use to build a ballistic missile, since the two types of rockets use the same basic technology. That is the source of the concern about these launches.

The range of a missile is based on the technology used and other factors. Whether theUnha-3 could carry a nuclear warhead depends in part on how heavy a North Korea nuclear weapon is, which is a topic of ongoing debate. If the Unha were modified to carry a 1,000 kg warhead rather than a light satellite, the missile could have enough range to reach Alaska and possibly Hawaii, but might not be able to reach the continental U.S. (Fig. 4). If instead North Korea could reduce the warhead mass to around 500 kg, the missile would likely be able to reach large parts of the continental U.S.

North Korea has not flight tested a ballistic missile version of the Unha or a reentry heat shield that would be needed to protect the warhead as it reentered the atmosphere. Because of its large size, such a missile is unlikely to be mobile, and assembling and fueling it at the launch site would be difficult to hide. Its accuracy would likely be many kilometers.

Fig. 4: Distances from North Korea. (Source: D Wright in Google Earth)

Fig. 4: Distances from North Korea. (Source: D Wright in Google Earth)

The bottom line is that North Korea is developing the technology it could use to build a ballistic missile with intercontinental range. Today it is not clear that it has a system capable of doing so or a nuclear weapon that is small enough to be delivered on it. It has shown, however, the capability to continue to make progress on both fronts.

The U.S. approach to dealing with North Korea in recent years through continued sanctions has not been effective in stopping this progress. It’s time for the U.S. to try a different approach, including direct U.S.-Korean talks.

North Korea Successfully Puts Its Second Satellite in Orbit

North Korea launched earlier than expected, and successfully placed its second satellite into orbit.

The launch took place at 7:29 pm EST Saturday, Feb. 6, U.S. time, which was 8:59 am local time on Sunday in North Korea. It originally said its launch window would not start until Feb. 8. Apparently the rocket was ready and the weather was good for a launch.

The U.S. office that tracks objects in space, the Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC), announced a couple hours later that it was tracking two objects in orbit—the satellite and the third stage of the launcher. The satellite was in a nearly circular orbit (466 x 501 km). The final stage maneuvered to put it in a nearly polar, sun-synchronous orbit, with an inclination of 97.5 degrees.

Because the satellite orbit and other details of the launch were similar to those of North Korea’s last launch, in December 2012, this implies that the launch vehicle was also very similar.

This post from December 2012 allows you to see the launch trajectory in 3D using Google Earth.

South Korea is reporting that after the first stage burned out and was dropped from the rocket, it exploded before reaching the sea. This may have been intended to prevent it from being recovered and studied, as was the first stage of its December 2012 launch.

The satellite, called the Kwangmyongsong-4, is likely very similar to the satellite launched three years ago. It will likely not be known for several days whether, unlike the 2012 satellite, it can stop tumbling in orbit and communicate with the ground. It is apparently intended to stay in orbit for about 4 years.

If it can communicate with the Kwangmyongsong-4, North Korea will learn about operating a satellite in space. Even if not, it gained experience with launching and learned more about the reliability of its rocket systems.

For more information about the launch, see my earlier post.

Note added: Feb. 7, 1:00 am

The two orbiting objects, the satellite and the third-stage rocket body, show up in the NORAD catalog of space objects as numbers 41332 for the satellite and 41333 for the rocket body. (Thanks to Jonathan McDowell for supplying these.)

X-risk News of the Week: AAAI, Beneficial AI Research, a $5M Contest, and Nuclear Risks

X-risk = Existential Risk. The risk that we could accidentally (hopefully accidentally) wipe out all of humanity.
X-hope = Existential Hope. The hope that we will all flourish and live happily ever after.

The highlights of this week’s news are all about research. And as is so often the case, research brings hope. Research can help us cure disease, solve global crises, find cost-effective solutions to any number of problems, and so on. The research news this week gives hope that we can continue to keep AI beneficial.

First up this week was the AAAI conference. As was mentioned in an earlier post, FLI participated in the AAAI workshop, AI, Ethics, and Safety. Eleven of our grant winners presented their research to date, for an afternoon of talks and discussion that focused on building ethics into AI systems, ensuring safety constraints are in place, understanding how and when things could go wrong, ensuring value alignment between humans and AI, and much more. There was also a lively panel discussion about new ideas for future AI research that could help ensure AI remains safe and beneficial.

The next day, AAAI President, Tom Dietterich (also an FLI grant recipient), delivered his presidential address with a focus on enabling more research into robust AI. He began with a Marvin Minsky quote, in which Minsky explained that when a computer encounters an error, it fails, whereas when the human brain encounters an error, it tries another approach. And with that example, Dietterich launched into his speech about the importance of robust AI and ensuring that an AI can address the various known and unknown problems it may encounter. While discussing areas in which AI development is controversial, he also made a point to mention his opposition to autonomous weapons, saying, “I share the concerns of many people that I think the development of autonomous offensive weapons, without a human in the loop, is a step that we should not take.”

AAAI also hosted a panel this week on the economic impact of AI, which included FLI Scientific Advisory Board members, Nick Bostrom and Erik Brynjofsson, as well as an unexpected appearance by FLI President, Max Tegmark. As is typical of such discussions, there was a lot of concern about the future of jobs and how average workers will continue to make a living. However, the TechRepublic noted that both Bostrom and Tegmark are hopeful that if we plan appropriately, then the increased automation could greatly improve our standard of living. As the TechRepublic reported:

“’Perhaps,’ Bostrom said, ‘we should strive for things outside the economic systems.’ Tegmark agreed. ‘Maybe we need to let go of the obsession that we all need jobs.’”

Also this week, IBM and the X Prize Foundation announced a $5 million collaboration, in which IBM is encouraging developers and researchers to use Watson as the base for creating “jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring” new technologies that will be presented during TED2020. There will be interim prizes for projects leading up to that event, while the final award will be presented after the TED2020 talks. As they explain on the X Prize page:

“IBM believes this competition can accelerate the creation of landmark breakthroughs that deliver new, positive impacts to peoples’ lives, and the transformation of industries and professions.

We believe that cognitive technologies like Watson represent an entirely new era of computing, and that we are forging a new partnership between humans and technology that will enable us to address many of humanity’s most significant challenges — from climate change, to education, to healthcare.”

Of course, not all news can be good news, and so the week’s highlights end with a reminder about the increasing threat of nuclear weapons. Last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a worrisome report about the growing concern that a nuclear war is becoming more likely. Among other things, the report considers the deteriorating relationship between Russia and the U.S., as well as the possibility that China may soon implement a hair-trigger-alert policy for their own nuclear missiles.

David Wright, co-director of the UCS Global Security Program, recently wrote a blog post about the report. Referring to first the U.S.-Russia concern and then the Chinese nuclear policy, he wrote:

“A state of heightened tension changes the context of a false alarm, should one occur, and tends to increase the chance that the warning will be seen as real. […] Should China’s political leaders agree with this change, it would be a dangerous shift that would increase the chance of an accidental or mistaken launch at the United States.”

Update: Another FLI grant winner, Dr. Wendell Wallach, made news this week for his talk at the Association for the Advancement of Science, in which he put forth a compromise for addressing the issue of autonomous weapons. According to Defense One, Wallach laid out three ideas:

“1) An executive order from the president proclaiming that lethal autonomous weapons constitute a violation of existing international humanitarian law.”

“2) Create an oversight and governance coordinating committee for AI.”

“3) Direct 10 percent of the funding in artificial intelligence to studying, shaping, managing and helping people adapt to the “societal impacts of intelligent machines.”

X-risk News of the Week: Nuclear Winter and a Government Risk Report

X-risk = Existential Risk. The risk that we could accidentally (hopefully accidentally) wipe out all of humanity.
X-hope = Existential Hope. The hope that we will all flourish and live happily ever after.

The big news this week landed squarely in the x-risk end of the spectrum.

First up was a New York Times op-ed titled, Let’s End the Peril of a Nuclear Winter, and written by climate scientists, Drs. Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon. In it, they describe the horrors of nuclear winter — the frigid temperatures, the starvation, and the mass deaths — that could terrorize the entire world if even a small nuclear war broke out in one tiny corner of the globe.

Fear of nuclear winter was one of the driving forces that finally led leaders of Russia and the US to agree to reduce their nuclear arsenals, and concerns about nuclear war subsided once the Cold War ended. However, recently, leaders of both countries have sought to strengthen their arsenals, and the threat of a nuclear winter is growing again. While much of the world struggles to combat climate change, the biggest risk could actually be that of plummeting temperatures if a nuclear war were to break out.

In an email to FLI, Robock said:

“Nuclear weapons are the greatest threat that humans pose to humanity.  The current nuclear arsenal can still produce nuclear winter, with temperatures in the summer plummeting below freezing and the entire world facing famine.  Even a ‘small’ nuclear war, using less than 1% of the current arsenal, can produce starvation of a billion people.  We have to solve this problem so that we have the luxury of addressing global warming.


Also this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by James Clapper, released the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community for 2016. The document is 33 pages of potential problems the government is most concerned about in the coming year, a few of which can fall into the category of existential risks:

  1. The Internet of Things (IoT). Though this doesn’t technically pose an existential risk, it does have the potential to impact quality of life and some of the freedoms we typically take for granted. The report states: “In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”
  2. Artificial Intelligence. Clapper’s concerns are broad in this field. He argues: “Implications of broader AI deployment include increased vulnerability to cyberattack, difficulty in ascertaining attribution, facilitation of advances in foreign weapon and intelligence systems, the risk of accidents and related liability issues, and unemployment. […] The increased reliance on AI for autonomous decision making is creating new vulnerabilities to cyberattacks and influence operations. […] AI systems are susceptible to a range of disruptive and deceptive tactics that might be difficult to anticipate or quickly understand. Efforts to mislead or compromise automated systems might create or enable further opportunities to disrupt or damage critical infrastructure or national security networks.”
  3. Nuclear. Under the category of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Clapper dedicated the most space to concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapons. However he also highlighted concerns about China’s work to modernize its nuclear weapons, and he argues that Russia violated the INF Treaty when they developed a ground-launch cruise missile.
  4. Genome Editing. Interestingly, gene editing was also listed in the WMD category. As Clapper explains, “Research in genome editing conducted by countries with different regulatory or ethical standards than those of Western countries probably increases the risk of the creation of potentially harmful biological agents or products.” Though he doesn’t explicitly refer to the CRISPR-Cas9 system, he does worry that the low cost and ease-of-use for new technologies will enable “deliberate or unintentional misuse” that could “lead to far reaching economic and national security implications.”

The report, though long, is an easy read, and it’s always worthwhile to understand what issues are motivating the government’s actions.


With our new series by Matt Scherer about the legal complications of some of the anticipated AI and autonomous weapons developments, the big news should have been about all of the headlines this week that claimed the federal government now considers AI drivers to be real drivers. Scherer, however, argues this is bad journalism. He provides his interpretation of the NHTSA letter in his recent blog post, “No, the NHTSA did not declare that AIs are legal drivers.”


While the headlines of the last few days may have veered toward x-risk, this week also marks the start of the 30th annual Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Conference. For almost a week, AI researchers will convene in Phoenix to discuss their developments and breakthroughs, and on Saturday, FLI grantees will present some of their research at the AI Ethics and Society Workshop. This is expected to be an event full of hope and excitement about the future!


Nuclear Warmongering Is Back in Fashion

“We should not be surprised that the Air Force and Navy think about actually employing nuclear weapons rather than keeping them on the shelf and assuming that will be sufficient for deterrence.”

This statement was made by Adam Lowther, a research professor at the Air Force Research Institute, in an article for The National Interest, in which he attempts to convince readers that, as the title says, “America Still Needs Its Nukes.” The comment is strikingly similar to one made by Donald Trump’s spokesperson, who said, “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad, if you’re afraid to use it?”

Lowther wrote this article as a rebuttal to people like former Defense Secretary William Perry, who have been calling for a reduction of our nuclear arsenal. However, his arguments in support of his pro-nuclear weapons stance — and of his frighteningly pro-nuclear war stance — do not take into account some of the greatest concerns about having such a large nuclear arsenal.

Among the biggest issues is simply that, yes, a nuclear war would be bad. First, it’s nearly impossible launch a nuclear strike without killing innocent civilians. Likely millions of innocent civilians. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in WWII killed approximately 100,000 people. Modern hydrogen bombs are 10 to 1000 times more powerful, and a single strategically targeted bomb can kill millions.

Then, we still have to worry about the aftermath. Recent climate models have shown that a full-scale nuclear war might put enough smoke into the upper atmosphere that it could spread around the globe and cause temperatures to plummet by as much 40 degrees Farenheit for up to a decade. People around the world who survived the war – or who weren’t even a part of it – would likely succumb to starvation, hypothermia, disease, or desperate, armed gangs roving for food. But even for a small nuclear war — the kind that could potentially erupt between India and Pakistan — climate models predict that death tolls could reach 1 billion worldwide. Lowther insists that the military spends a significant amount of time studying war games, but how much of that time is spent considering the hundreds of millions of Americans who might die as a result of nuclear winter? Or, as Dr. Alan Robock calls it, self-assured destruction.

A nuclear war could be horrifying, and preventing one should be a constant goal.

This brings up another point that Max Tegmark mentions in the comments section of the article:

“To me, a key question is this, which he [Lowther] never addresses: What is the greatest military threat to the US? A deliberate nuclear attack by Russia/China, or a US-Russia nuclear war starting by accident, as has nearly happened many times in the past? If the latter, then downsizing our nuclear arsenal will make us all safer.”

Does upgrading our nuclear arsenal really make us safer, as Lowther argues? Many people, Perry and Tegmark included, argue that spending $1 trillion to upgrade our nuclear weapons arsenal would actually make us less safe, by inadvertently increasing our chances of nuclear war.

And apparently the scientists behind the Doomsday Clock agree. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, who run the Doomsday Clock, announced today that the clock would remain set at three minutes to midnight. In their statement about this decision, they reminded viewers that the clock is a metaphor for the existential risks that pose a threat to the planet. As the Bulletin said,

“Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change.

“When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.”

According to CNN, the Bulletin believes the best way to get the clock to move back would be to spend less on nuclear arms, re-energize the effort for disarmament, and engage more with North Korea.

In what one commenter criticizes as a “bait-and-switch”, Lowther refers to people who make these arguments as “abolitionists,” whom he treats as crusading for a total ban against all nuclear weapons. The truth is more nuanced and interesting. While some groups do indeed call for a ban on nuclear weapons, a large majority of experts are simply advocating for making the world a safer place by: 1) reducing the number of nuclear weapons to a number that will provide sufficient deterrence, and 2) eliminating hair-trigger alert — both in an effort to decrease the chances of an accidental nuclear war. Lowther insists that he and the military don’t maintain a Cold-War mindset because they’ve been so focused on Islamic militants. However, it’s his belief that we should not rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons that is precisely the Cold-War mindset concerning most people.

As Dr. David Wright from the Union of Concerned Scientists told FLI in an earlier interview:

“Today, nuclear weapons are a liability. They don’t address the key problems that we’re facing, like terrorism … and by having large numbers of them around … you could have a very rapid cataclysm that people are … reeling from forever.”

The Nuclear Weapons Threat and the Political Campaigns

After the December 15 Republican debate, Donald Trump caught some flack for not seeming to know what the nuclear triad is. But how familiar are most people with what the nuclear triad involves? Did you know that we still have nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert — a relic of Cold War era policy — even though that probably increases the risk of nuclear war? And let’s not even get started on self-assured destruction (that’s right, self-assured, not mutually-assured).

Or rather, let’s do get started on it. One of the biggest reasons nuclear weapons are the threat they are today is because no one is talking about them. They only merited a few minutes discussion at that December debate, and few of the political candidates on either side of the aisle have taken much of a stance on them. Admittedly, North Korea and Iran have been in the news for their nuclear arsenals — or lack thereof — but how many Americans know much about their own country’s arsenal? Before we can truly move to a safer society, we need to discuss and understand where we are now.

Dr. David Wright, Co-Director of the Global Security Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, sat down with me to discuss these issues and many more associated with the global nuclear threat. You can listen to the full podcast by clicking on the link at the top of this article, or by visiting us at SoundCloud.

However, whether you listen or not (you should listen…), there are some important points to take away:

As Wright mentions early in the interview:

“Some people in the military today say that the risk of an accidental nuclear war starting because of a mistaken launch is greater than any other type of start to a nuclear war.”

But nuclear weapons have plenty of safeguards to prevent an accidental launch of a nuclear weapon, right? Not necessarily. The purpose of a hair-trigger alert is to quickly — in a matter of minutes — launch nuclear weapons if we detect an incoming strike from another country. In such an event, the safeguards would be overridden. If we get a false reading, which has happened many times throughout our nuclear history, those safety features may not help. Wright mentions one particular instance from the early 1980s, but the Union of Concerned Scientists has also recorded dozens of these events.

But hair-trigger alert is necessary to prevent another country from launching a nuclear strike against us, right? Not really. The whole point of our nuclear triad is that we’re fully prepared to strike back. Even if our nuclear planes and silos were taken out in an attack, our nuclear submarines — which are difficult to detect in the ocean — would still be able to retaliate, which should ensure deterrence.

Wright argues that “nuclear weapons should only be used to deter the use of nuclear weapons by another country, and if necessary, to respond to the use of nuclear weapons against you.” This is known as sole purpose, which is contrary to the Obama administration’s stance, which left open some options for using nuclear weapons as a response to other threats, such as chemical weapons or biological weapons. When a country uses nuclear weapons for anything besides deterrence, then specialized weapons become necessary for each potential threat. The result is a huge nuclear arsenal that really shouldn’t be necessary and would hopefully never be used, yet costs tax payers tremendous amounts of money. A nuclear arsenal designed only to deter another nuclear attack would look much different and be significantly smaller.

In fact, as Wright points out, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that we could cut our own nuclear arsenal from about 1500 to 1000 weapons, and we would still be just as safe. Instead, we’re about to spend $1 trillion over the course of the next couple of decades to enhance our current nuclear weapons systems.

As we get closer to the U.S. primary elections, it would be good for all of the candidates to go back to square one and have a real discussion about the goals of a nuclear arsenal and what the country’s real concerns are. Said Wright, “If we’re worried about terrorism, nuclear weapons are not going to help with terrorism, so let’s take that off the table.” He argued that the candidates really need to discuss “what is it we actually need or want nuclear weapons to do and what does that lead to.” Most likely, that discussion would lead to a very different and significantly smaller nuclear weapons arsenal than the one we have now.

Another important nuclear risk to consider is that of self-assured destruction, also known as the nuclear winter theory. Initially, the idea behind deterrence was that one country would avoid attacking another out of fear of retaliation. However, as nuclear winter became more well understood, scientists and world leaders realized that even if only one country launches an attack, without the risk of retaliation, its own citizens would still be at risk. That’s because so much ash and soot and smoke and particles would block out the sun, sending global temperatures plummeting for many years. This would cause severe food shortages and mass starvation. Even a small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could lead to 1 billion deaths worldwide as a result of nuclear winter.

And speaking of extreme climate change, just how do the risks of our current state of climate change compare to the risks of nuclear war? Wright explains that it’s not the best comparison because nuclear war is lower risk but higher consequence (i.e. less likely to happen, but if it does, a lot more people will die). However, he also said:

“Nuclear weapons are harder to deal with because they’re somewhat invisible. A lot of people don’t realize that since the end of the Cold War that there are still about 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, that those weapons are typically much larger — much, much larger — than the weapons used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And so it’s hard to get people to pay attention to this. It’s hard to get political will to even start to grapple with this problem.”

So why are nuclear weapons such a difficult problem to deal with, and why does the issue seem to be escalating again? Perhaps one part of the answer is that too often, people view nuclear weapons as the “ultimate safety net.” Yet, as Wright says:

“Today, nuclear weapons are a liability. They don’t address the key problems that we’re facing, like terrorism and things like that, and by having large numbers of them around … that you could have a very rapid cataclysm that people are, you know, reeling from forever.”

These are only a few of the highlights of the podcast, please listen to the full version here. And let’s start talking about this!

The Wisdom Race Is Heating Up

There’s a race going on that will determine the fate of humanity. Just as it’s easy to miss the forest for all the trees, however, it’s easy to miss this race for all the scientific news stories about breakthroughs and concerns. What do all these headlines from 2015 have in common?

“AI masters 49 Atari games without instructions”
“Self-driving car saves life in Seattle”
“Pentagon Seeks $12Bn for AI Weapons”
“Chinese Team Reports Gene-Editing Human Embryos”
“Russia building Dr. Strangelove’s Cobalt bomb”

They are all manifestations of the aforementioned race heating up: the race between the growing power of technology and the growing wisdom with which we manage it. The power is growing because our human minds have an amazing ability to understand the world and to convert this understanding into game-changing technology. Technological progress is accelerating for the simple reason that breakthroughs enable other breakthroughs: as technology gets twice as powerful, if can often be used to used to design and build technology that is twice as powerful in turn, triggering repeated capability doubling in the spirit of Moore’s law.

What about the wisdom ensuring that our technology is beneficial? We have technology to thank for all the ways in which today is better than the Stone Age, but this not only thanks to the technology itself but also thanks to the wisdom with which we use it. Our traditional strategy for developing such wisdom has been learning from mistakes: We invented fire, then realized the wisdom of having fire alarms and fire extinguishers. We invented the automobile, then realized the wisdom of having driving schools, seat belts and airbags.

In other words, it was OK for wisdom to sometimes lag behind in the race, because it would catch up when needed. With more powerful technologies such as nuclear weapons, synthetic biology and future strong artificial intelligence, however, learning from mistakes is not a desirable strategy: we want to develop our wisdom in advance so that we can get things right the first time, because that might be the only time we’ll have. In other words, we need to change our approach to tech risk from reactive to proactive. Wisdom needs to progress faster.

This year’s Edge Question “What is the most interesting recent news and what makes it important?” is cleverly ambiguous, and can be interpreted either as call to pick a news item or as asking about the very definition of “interesting and important news.” If we define “interesting” in terms of clicks and Nielsen ratings, then top candidates must involve sudden change of some sort, whether it be a discovery or a disaster. If we instead define “interesting” in terms of importance for the future of humanity, then our top list should include even developments too slow to meet journalist’s definition of “news,” such as “Globe keeps warming.” In that case, I’ll put the fact that the wisdom race is heating up at the very top of my list. Why?

From my perspective as a cosmologist, something remarkable has just happened: after 13.8 billion years, our universe has finally awoken, with small parts of it becoming self-aware, marveling at the beauty around them, and beginning to decipher how their universe works. We, these self-aware life forms, are using our new-found knowledge to build technology and modify our universe on ever grander scales.

This is one of those stories where we get to pick our own ending, and there are two obvious ones for humanity to choose between: either win the wisdom race and enable life to flourish for billions of years, or lose the race and go extinct. To me, the most important scientific news is that after 13.8 billion years, we finally get to decide—probably within centuries or even decades.

Since the decision about whether to win the race sounds like such a no-brainer, why are we still struggling with it? Why is our wisdom for managing technology so limited that we didn’t do more about climate change earlier, and have come close to accidental nuclear war over a dozen times? As Skype-founder Jaan Tallinn likes to point out, it is because our incentives drove us to a bad Nash equilibrium. Many of humanity’s most stubborn problems, from destructive infighting to deforestation, overfishing and global warming, have this same root cause: when everybody follows the incentives they are given, it results in a worse situation than cooperation would have enabled.

Understanding this problem is the first step toward solving it. The wisdom we need to avoid lousy Nash equilibria must be developed at least in part by the social sciences, to help create a society where individual incentives are aligned with the welfare of humanity as a whole, encouraging collaboration for the greater good. Evolution endowed us with compassion and other traits to foster collaboration, and when more complex technology made these evolved traits inadequate, our forebears developed peer pressure, laws and economic systems to steer their societies toward good Nash equilibria. As technology gets ever more powerful, we need ever stronger incentives for those who develop, control and use it to make its beneficial use their top priority.

Although the social sciences can help, plenty of technical work is needed as well in order to win the race. Biologists are now studying how to best deploy (or not) tools such as CRISPR genome editing. 2015 will be remembered as the year when the beneficial AI movement went mainstream, engendering productive symposia and discussions at all the largest AI-conferences. Supported by many millions of dollars in philanthropic funding, large numbers of AI-researchers around the world have now started researching the fascinating technical challenges involved in keeping future AI-systems beneficial. In other words, the laggard in the all-important wisdom race gained significant momentum in 2015! Let’s do all we can to make future top news stories be about wisdom winning the race, because then we all win.

This article was originally posted on in response to the question: “What do you consider the most interesting recent [scientific] news? What makes it important?”

North Korea’s Nuclear Test

North Korea claims that, on January 6, they successfully tested their first hydrogen bomb. Seismic analysis indicates that they did, in fact, test what was likely a nuclear bomb, but experts – and now the White House — dispute whether it was a real hydrogen bomb.

David Wright, Co-director of the Global Security Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “They [N. Korea] are claiming that it was a hydrogen test, and as far as I can tell, nobody believes it was a real, two-stage hydrogen bomb, which is the staple of the US and Russian and Chinese arsenals.”

This is the fourth nuclear test North Korea has conducted since 2006. The first three are suspected to have been atomic bombs, more similar to those used on Japan during World War II. The power from an atomic bomb comes from the uranium or plutonium molecules splitting apart in a process known as fission, and the result for a first-generation bomb is a yield that’s on the order of about 10-20 kilotons. This is consistent with the estimated yields of the first three nuclear tests North Korea conducted.


When a hydrogen bomb explodes, the atoms within fuse together, and the resulting yield can be significantly more powerful than that of a fission bomb — a fission bomb is actually used to ignite a hydrogen bomb. If the explosion on January 6 were a true hydrogen bomb, the resulting yield would have been about 1,000 times larger than the North’s earlier three tests.

“It appears from the numbers I’ve seen that the yield is very similar to what their recent yields were, maybe 5-10 kilotons, which, if that number holds up, is probably too small to be a true hydrogen bomb,” Wright explained.

But Wright also pointed out that the North might simply be using the term, hydrogen bomb, somewhat differently than we do in the west. If tritium, which is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is placed in the core of a standard uranium or plutonium atomic bomb, then when the bomb goes off, it will compress and ignite the tritium. In this case, the tritium fusion will emit a pulse of neutrons that will each trigger a fission reaction in the surrounding material, ensuring a more efficient use of the fissile explosives.

“It’s not what people typically mean by a hydrogen bomb,” Wright said, “but it does use some amount of fusion as a way of making the fission more effective. So that may have been what they did.”

North Korea has also been developing their long-range missile system, and a smaller weapon like this could be more easily placed in a long-range missile than a full-sized, traditional hydrogen bomb.

However, as experts work to determine just what type of bomb the North tested, Wright argues there’s a more important fact to consider: It’s still a nuclear bomb. Whether it’s a fission bomb or a fusion bomb, he says, “It doesn’t really matter that much, to the extent that you’re still talking about nuclear weapons. If you develop a way to deliver them to a city, you’re talking catastrophe.”

To learn more about North Korea’s nuclear test, we recommend the following articles:
North Korea nuclear: State claims first hydrogen bomb test,” by the BBC.

Timeline: How North Korea went nuclear,” by CNN.

Why is North Korea’s ‘hydrogen bomb’ test such a big deal?,” by the Washington Post.

2015: An Amazing Year in Review

Just four days before the end of the year, the Washington Post published an article, arguing that 2015 was the year the beneficial AI movement went mainstream. FLI couldn’t be more excited and grateful to have helped make this happen and to have emerged as integral part of this movement. And that’s only a part of what we’ve accomplished in the last 12 months. It’s been a big year for us…


In the beginning


Participants and attendees of the inaugural Puerto Rico conference.

2015 began with a bang, as we kicked off the New Year with our Puerto Rico conference, “The Future of AI: Opportunities and Challenges,” which was held January 2-5. We brought together about 80 top AI researchers, industry leaders and experts in economics, law and ethics to discuss the future of AI. The goal, which was successfully achieved, was to identify promising research directions that can help maximize the future benefits of AI while avoiding pitfalls. Before the conference, relatively few AI researchers were thinking about AI safety, but by the end of the conference, essentially everyone had signed the open letter, which argued for timely research to make AI more robust and beneficial. That open letter was ultimately signed by thousands of top minds in science, academia and industry, including Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Steve Wozniak, and a veritable Who’s Who of AI researchers. This letter endorsed a detailed Research Priorities Document that emerged as the key product of the conference.

At the end of the conference, Musk announced a donation of $10 million to FLI for the creation of an AI safety research grants program to carry out this prioritized research for beneficial AI. We received nearly 300 research grant applications from researchers around the world, and on July 1, we announced the 37 AI safety research teams who would be awarded a total of $7 million for this first round of research. The research is funded by Musk, as well as the Open Philanthropy Project.


Forging ahead

On April 4, we held a large brainstorming meeting on biotech risk mitigation that included George Church and several other experts from the Harvard Wyss Institute and the Cambridge Working Group. We concluded that there are interesting opportunities for FLI to contribute in this area, and we endorsed the CWG statement on the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens.

On June 29, we organized a SciFoo workshop at Google, which Meia Chita-Tegmark wrote about for the Huffington Post. We held a media outreach dinner event that evening in San Francisco with Stuart Russell, Murray Shanahan, Ilya Sutskever and Jaan Tallinn as speakers.


All five FLI-founders flanked by other beneficial-AI enthusiasts. From left to right, top to bottom: Stuart Russell. Jaan Tallinn, Janos Kramar, Anthony Aguirre, Max Tegmark, Nick Bostrom, Murray Shanahan, Jesse Galef, Michael Vassar, Nate Soares, Viktoriya Krakovna, Meia Chita-Tegmark and Katja Grace

Less than a month later, we published another open letter, this time advocating for a global ban on offensive autonomous weapons development. Stuart Russell and Toby Walsh presented the autonomous weapons open letter at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, while Richard Mallah garnered more support and signatories engaging AGI researchers at the Conference on Artificial General Intelligence in Berlin. The letter has been signed by over 3,000 AI and robotics researchers, including leaders such as Demis Hassabis (DeepMind), Yann LeCun (Facebook), Eric Horvitz (Microsoft), Peter Norvig (Google), Oren Etzioni (Allen Institute), six past presidents of the AAAI, and over 17,000 other scientists and concerned individuals, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak.

This was followed by an open letter about the economic impacts of AI, which was spearheaded by Erik Brynjolfsson, a member of our Scientific Advisory Board. Inspired by our Puerto Rico AI conference and the resulting open letter, a team of economists and business leaders launched their own open letter about AI’s future impact on the economy. It includes specific policy suggestions to ensure positive economic impact.

By October 2015, we wanted to try to bring more public attention to not only artificial intelligence, but also other issues that could pose an existential risk, including biotechnology, nuclear weapons, and climate change. We launched a new incarnation of our website, which now focuses on relevant news and the latest research in all of these fields. The goal is to draw more public attention to both the risks and the opportunities that technology provides.

Besides these major projects and events, we also organized, helped with, and participated in numerous other events and discussions.


Other major events

Richard Mallah, Max Tegmark, Francesca Rossi and Stuart Russell went to the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference in January, where they encouraged researchers to consider safety issues. Stuart spoke to about 500 people about the long-term future of AI. Max spoke at the first annual International Workshop on AI, Ethics, and Society, organized by Toby Walsh, as well as at a funding workshop, where he presented the FLI grants program.

Max spoke again, at the start of March, this time for the Helen Caldicott Nuclear Weapons Conference, about reducing the risk of accidental nuclear war and how this relates to automation and AI. At the end of the month, he gave a talk at Harvard Effective Altruism entitled, “The Future of Life with AI and other Powerful Technologies.” This year, Max also gave talks about the Future of Life Institute at a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics colloquium, MIT Effective Altruism, and the MIT “Dissolve Conference” (with Prof. Jonathan King), at a movie screening of “Dr. Strangelove,” and at a meeting in Cambridge about reducing the risk of nuclear war.

In June, Richard presented at Boston University’s Science and the Humanities Confront the Anthropocene conference about the risks associated with emerging technologies. That same month, Stuart Russell and MIRI Executive Director, Nate Soares, participated in a panel discussion about the risks and policy implications of AI (video here).


Concerns about autonomous weapons led to an open letter calling for a ban.

Richard then led the FLI booth at the International Conference on Machine Learning in July, where he engaged with hundreds of researchers about AI safety and beneficence. He also spoke at the SmartData conference in August about the relationship between ontology alignment and value alignment, and he participated in the DARPA Wait, What? conference in September.

Victoria Krakovna and Anthony Aguirre both spoke at the Effective Altruism Global conference at Google headquarters in July, where Elon Musk, Stuart Russell, Nate Soares and Nick Bostrom also participated in a panel discussion. A month later, Jaan Tallin spoke at the EA Global Oxford conference. Victoria and Anthony also organized a brainstorming dinner on biotech, which was attended by many of the Bay area’s synthetic biology experts, and Victoria put together two Machine Learning Safety meetings in the Bay Area. The latter were dinner meetings, which aimed to bring researchers and FLI grant awardees together to help strengthen connections and discuss promising research directions. One of the dinners included a Q&A with Stuart Russell.

September saw FLI and CSER co-organize an event at the Policy Exchange in London where Huw Price, Stuart Russell, Nick Bostrom, Michael Osborne and Murray Shanahan discussed AI safety to the scientifically minded in Westminster, including many British members of parliament.

Only a month later, Max Tegmark and Nick Bostrom were invited to speak at a United Nations event about AI safety, and our Scientific Advisory Board member, Stephen Hawking released his answers to the Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) about artificial intelligence.

Toward the end of the year, we began to focus more effort on nuclear weapons issues. We’ve partnered with the Don’t Bank on the Bomb campaign, and we’re pleased to support financial research to determines which companies and institutions invest in and profit from the production of new nuclear weapons systems. The goal is to draw attention to and stigmatize such production, which arguably increases the risk of accidental nuclear war without notably improving today’s nuclear deterrence. In November, Lucas Perry presented some of our research at the Massachusetts Peace Action conference.

Anthony launched a new site, The Metaculus project, which is something of an offshoot of FLI, is a new platform for soliciting and aggregating predictions about technological breakthroughs, scientific discoveries, world happenings, and other events.  The aim of this project is to build an all-purpose, crowd-powered forecasting engine that can help organizations (like FLI) or individuals better understand the trajectory of future events and technological progress. This will allow for more quantitatively informed predictions and decisions about how to optimize the future for the better.



Richard Mallah speaking at the third panel discussion of the NIPS symposium.

In December, Max participated in a panel discussion at the Nobel Week Dialogue about The Future of Intelligence and moderated two related panels. Richard, Victoria, and Ariel Conn helped organize the Neural Information Processing Systems symposium, “Algorithms Among Us: The Societal Impacts of Machine Learning,” where Richard participated in the panel discussion on long-term research priorities. To date, we’ve posted two articles with takeaways from the symposium and NIPS as a whole. Just a couple days later, Victoria rounded out the active year with her attendance at the Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence conference in Toronto, and Richard presented to the IEEE Standards Association.


In the Press

We’re excited about all we’ve achieved this year, and we feel honored to have received so much press about our work. For example:

The beneficial AI open letter has been featured by media outlets around the world, including WIRED, Financial Times, Popular Science, CIO, BBC, CNBC, The Independent,  The Verge, Z, DNet, CNET, The Telegraph, World News Views, The Economic Times, Industry Week, and Live Science.

You can find more media coverage of Elon Musk’s donation at Fast Company, Tech Crunch , WIRED, Mashable, Slash Gear, and BostInno.

Max, along with our Science Advisory Board member, Stuart Russell, and Erik Horvitz from Microsoft, were interviewed on NPR’s Science Friday about AI safety.

Max was later interviewed on NPR’s On Point Radio, along with FLI grant recipients Manuela Veloso and Thomas Dietterich, for a lively discussion about the AI safety research program.

Stuart Russell was interviewed about the autonomous weapons open letter on NPR’s All Things Considered (audio) and Al Jazeera America News (video), and Max was also interviewed about the autonomous weapons open letter on FOX Business News and CNN International.

Throughout the year, Victoria was interviewed by Popular Science, Engineering and Technology Magazine, Boston Magazine and Blog Talk Radio.

Meia Chita-Tegmark wrote five articles for the Huffington Post about artificial intelligence, including a Halloween story of nuclear weapons and highlights of the Nobel Week Dialogue, and Ariel wrote two about artificial intelligence.

In addition we had a few extra special articles on our new website:

Nobel-prize winning physicist, Frank Wilczek, shared a sci-fi short story he wrote about a future of AI wars. FLI volunteer, Eric Gastfriend, wrote a popular piece, in which he consider the impact of exponential increase in the number of scientists. Richard wrote a widely read article laying out the most important AI breakthroughs of the year. We launched the FLI Audio Files with a podcast about the Paris Climate Agreement. And Max wrote an article comparing Russia’s warning of a cobalt bomb to Dr. Strangelove

On the last day of the year, the New Yorker published an article listing the top 10 tech quotes of 2015, and a quote from our autonomous weapons open letter came in at number one.


A New Beginning

2015 has now come to an end, but we believe this is really just the beginning. 2016 has the potential to be an even bigger year, bringing new and exciting challenges and opportunities. The FLI slogan says, “Technology is giving life the potential to flourish like never before…or to self-destruct.” We look forward to another year of doing all we can to help humanity flourish!

Happy New Year!


Santa, Mistakes, and Nuclear War

Written by: , physicist & co-director, Global Security | December 14, 2015, 9:34 am EST

On December 1, the U.S. military started its annual tracking of Santa’s flight from the North Pole.


NORAD—the North Atlantic Aerospace Defense Command—is not known for its sense of humor. Its mission is deadly serious: to alert authorities about an aircraft or missile attack on North America. In the event of a nuclear missile attack, NORAD’s job is to detect it, analyze it, and provide the information the president needs to decide whether to launch U.S. nuclear weapons in response.

So what is it doing tracking Santa?

This off-mission public service stems from a series of mistakes and coincidences so unlikely they read like fiction.

The original Sears ad. Note that it says “Kiddies Be Sure and Dial the Correct Number” (Source: NORAD)

It started innocently enough: A 1955 Sears Christmas ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper featured Santa telling kids to call him “any time day or night” and gave a number for his “private phone.”

But due to a typo in the phone number, calls were routed to a top secret red phone at nearby Ent Air Force Base, home of the warning center that became NORAD.

Maybe two people in the world had this phone number—until then. The supervisor on duty that night, Col. Harry Shoup, was not amused when the red phone began to ring off the hook. A no-nonsense military officer, he took his job seriously. And so his men were shocked when, after learning what had happened, Shoup began answering the phone with “ho-ho-ho” and inquiring about the caller’s behavior over the previous 12 months—and then tasked his men to answer the phone the same way.

That Christmas Eve, Shoup shocked his staff yet again. He realized that NORAD’s specialty was, in fact, tracking objects flying toward the United States. So he picked up the phone and called a local radio station to tell them that the world’s finest warning sensors had just picked up a sleigh flying in from the North Pole. A tradition was born.

This uplifting occasion was not the only time things have gone awry at NORAD, but other incidents have been more heart-stopping than heartwarming.

False Warning of Nuclear Attack

For example, in 1979, NORAD’s computer screens lit up showing an all-out Soviet nuclear attack bearing down on the United States. The missiles would take less than 25 minutes to reach their targets.

The military immediately began preparing to launch a retaliatory attack. Nuclear bomber crews were dispatched to their planes. And the crews manning U.S. missiles were ready: The missiles were on 24/7 hair-trigger alert so they could be launched within minutes.

NORAD officers knew they would have only minutes to sort out what was happening, giving the president about 10 minutes to make a launch decision.

Fortunately, it was a time of reduced U.S.-Soviet tensions, so the officers were skeptical about the warning. They also failed to get confirmation from U.S. radar sites that there was a missile attack. They soon discovered that a technician had mistakenly inserted a training tape simulating a large Soviet attack into a NORAD computer. U.S. nuclear forces stood down, averting a nuclear war.

But things could have gone much differently. Within months, tensions between the two superpowers spiked when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and relations continued to sour through the first Reagan term. Had communication systems been down or U.S. radars detected unrelated missile launches, the situation could have been much more serious.

President Obama: End Hair-Trigger Alert

Since 1979 there have been additional hair-raising incidents and false warnings due to a variety of technical and human errors in both the United States and Russia. Regardless, both countries still keep hundreds of missiles on hair-trigger alert to give their presidents the option of launching them quickly on warning of an attack, increasing the risk that a false alarm could lead to an accidental war. And that risk is significant. Indeed, some retired high-level military officers say an accident or a mistake would be the most likely cause of a nuclear war today.

President Obama understands this risk. Early in his presidency he called for taking U.S. missiles off hair-trigger alert. He has the authority to do so, but has apparently deferred to Cold War holdouts in the Pentagon.

Growing tensions between the United States and Russia now make taking missiles off hair-trigger alert even more urgent. It is during times of crisis when miscalculations and misunderstandings are most likely to occur.

As Col. Shoup and other NORAD officers learned repeatedly, unexpected things happen. They shouldn’t lead to nuclear war.

The best Christmas present President Obama could give to the country this year would be to take U.S. missiles off hair-trigger alert.

Co-written by David Wright and Lisbeth Gronlund. Featured Photo by Bart Fields.

The original version of this article can be found here.

FLI at Nuclear Disarmament Conference

In the shadow left by the attacks on Lebanon, Paris, and Iraq, hundreds met this past Saturday for a Massachusetts Peace Action conference to discuss building sustainable security. Various panels, which included speakers such as Noam Chomsky, Chung-Wha Hong, and Jamie Eldrige, explored the current socio-economic and political landscape in search of meaning and feasible goals we could all work towards. The conference also broke into two segments of international and domestic workshops, considering issues like the climate crisis and movements such as Build Housing Not Bombs and Black Lives Matter.

The Future of Life Institute was represented at an international workshop that focused on new initiatives toward nuclear disarmament. Other organizations, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Global Zero, and Pax Christi, discussed their own efforts and findings in the area of nuclear weapons. A central theme of the workshop was the need for America and Russia to take their nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there have been at least 13 nuclear close calls due to human, radar, and sensor fallibility. As time goes on and nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, the likelihood of an accidental all-out nuclear war continues to rise.

The Future of Life Institute also presented its own research and efforts regarding divestment from the production of new nuclear weapons. FLI is currently working on Pax Christi’s Don’t Bank on the Bomb project, which seeks to stigmatize investment in nuclear weapons from a policy-neutral point of view. While nuclear weapons have largely fallen out of the public’s consciousness, the 2015 report from the Don’t Bank on the Bomb project found that 382 large financial institutions are investing $493 billion USD in companies that produce nuclear weapons. In light of the persisting threat of nuclear weapons, we have completed research on several institutions in the Boston area and are beginning to move from research to advocacy. Our current efforts are focused on universities, banks, and local governments, such as Harvard University, JP Morgan Chase, and Fidelity Investments. If you live in the Boston area and are interested in taking part in our nuclear divestment project, please apply here.


New report: “Leó Szilárd and the Danger of Nuclear Weapons”

From MIRI:

Today we release a new report by Katja Grace, “Leó Szilárd and the Danger of Nuclear Weapons: A Case Study in Risk Mitigation” (PDF, 72pp).

Leó Szilárd has been cited as an example of someone who predicted a highly disruptive technology years in advance — nuclear weapons — and successfully acted to reduce the risk. We conducted this investigation to check whether that basic story is true, and to determine whether we can take away any lessons from this episode that bear on highly advanced AI or other potentially disruptive technologies.

To prepare this report, Grace consulted several primary and secondary sources, and also conducted two interviews that are cited in the report and published here:

The basic conclusions of this report, which have not been separately vetted, are:

  1. Szilárd made several successful and important medium-term predictions — for example, that a nuclear chain reaction was possible, that it could produce a bomb thousands of times more powerful than existing bombs, and that such bombs could play a critical role in the ongoing conflict with Germany.
  2. Szilárd secretly patented the nuclear chain reaction in 1934, 11 years before the creation of the first nuclear weapon. It’s not clear whether Szilárd’s patent was intended to keep nuclear technology secret or bring it to the attention of the military. In any case, it did neither.
  3. Szilárd’s other secrecy efforts were more successful. Szilárd caused many sensitive results in nuclear science to be withheld from publication, and his efforts seems to have encouraged additional secrecy efforts. This effort largely ended when a French physicist, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, declined to suppress a paper on neutron emission rates in fission. Joliot-Curie’s publication caused multiple world powers to initiate nuclear weapons programs.
  4. All told, Szilárd’s efforts probably slowed the German nuclear project in expectation. This may not have made much difference, however, because the German program ended up being far behind the US program for a number of unrelated reasons.
  5. Szilárd and Einstein successfully alerted Roosevelt to the feasibility of nuclear weapons in 1939. This prompted the creation of the Advisory Committee on Uranium (ACU), but the ACU does not appear to have caused the later acceleration of US nuclear weapons development.