THE ATOM: The Road Beyond Elugelab

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(See Cover) In 1946, Dr. Hans Thirring, a Viennese scholar without access to secret information, read certain published reports that could be found in any physics library. Going about the scientist's business of mating known facts to breed new facts, Dr. Thirring made and published calculations leading to the conclusion that out of lithium hydride could be constructed a bomb many times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. At the end of his austere equations, Dr. Thirring's scientific article flamed up into a prayer: "God protect the country over which a six-ton bomb of lithium hydride will ever explode."

Last week the U.S. learned some details of lithium hydride (or equivalent) explosions that had been set off—by the Russians and by the Americans. It learned that the force and horror of atomic weapons had entered a new dimension. It saw by television that the first full-dress H-blast (Operation Ivy) had turned the mid-Pacific sandspit named Elugelab into a submarine crater. While the shock and the prayer that Dr. Thirring had felt were both present in the communication of the news, the U.S. was given—and received—the information as calmly as it might hear of any other scientific discovery.

President Eisenhower at his weekly press conference called upon a calm-voiced guest to give the news, and Lewis L. Strauss, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, made his report sound as matter-of-fact as the minutes of a previous meeting. Yet there was no headline big enough to measure the implications of what Strauss had to say.

In a nine-minute prepared statement, Strauss noted that "there is good reason to believe" that the Russians had gone to work on a thermonuclear bomb "substantially before we did . . . We now fully know we possess no monopoly of capability in this awesome field." The current series of U.S. H-bomb tests had thus far been successful "and enormous potential has been added to our military posture." As to the reports that the March 1 blast (TIME. March 22) had got out of hand, no such thing was true—"the yield was about double that of the calculated estimate—a margin of error not incompatible with a totally new weapon."

Educated Guesses. A few moments after Strauss had finished his statement, he got into a question & answer exchange with reporters—an exchange memorable for its substance and for its tone of understatement.

A Reporter: Many people in Congress, I think many elsewhere, have been reaching out and grasping for some information as to what happens when the H-bomb goes off ...

Strauss: Well, the nature of an H-bomb is that, in effect, it can be made to be as large as you wish, as large as the military requirement demands, that is to say, an H-bomb can be made as—large enough to take out a city.

Chorus: What?

Strauss: To take out a city, to destroy a city.

A Reporter: How big a city?

Strauss: Any city.

Reporter: Any city? New York?

Strauss: The metropolitan area, yes [i.e., the heart of Manhattan, as he later elaborated].

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