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In September 1949 the Russians achieved an atomic explosion. By that time, some U.S. scientists were convinced that a much more powerful H-bomb could be made by the U.S. or by the Russians. The Russian explosion, threatening to take away the U.S. deterrent power, caused some U.S. leaders to propose that work on an H-bomb begin promptly. David Lilienthal, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was against the proposal. So was the powerful General Advisory Committee of Atomic Scientists, headed by Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer. This group had long lists of reasons, ranging from morals to technology. AECommissioner Lewis Strauss (TIME, Sept. 21) argued against the majority that the Russians would most certainly try to make H-bombs, and that if they succeeded, the U.S. A-bomb pile would be valueless as a deterrent.
Short Cuts. Strauss was supported in the technological side of his case by two nonconforming physicists, Dr. Ernest 0. Lawrence, director of the University of California's Radiation Laboratory, and Dr. Edward Teller, a young theorist who had tentatively explored the thermonuclear (H-bomb) idea at Los Alamos during World War II.
In a battle that split the AEC, Strauss and his converts finally got a go-ahead from President Truman on Jan. 31, 1950. Teller became director of the program, and in a phenomenally short time found short cuts through Oppenheimer's technical objections. By January 1951 the AEC was ready for preliminary tests and launched a task force of 12,000 men for Eniwetok and Operation Greenhouse.
The day before the trial shotin late AprilTeller climbed a tall tower to check the delicate mechanism. That night, after he had confidently briefed a delegation of Congressmen, he moodily confided his misgivings to his friend Ernest Lawrence. "It won't work," he growled. Lawrence snapped back: "Edward, I'll bet you five dollars that it does."
Just before dawn next day, the trial thermonuclear device was exploded on schedule. But not until they got in to check the instruments did the physicists know whether the proper percentage of tritium and deuterium had burned, so that they could decide whether their next step had a chance of success. Lawrence had not heard the details when Teller met him late in the afternoon and, under the tight secrecy regulations. Teller could not tell him. But quietly, Teller passed Lawrence a five-dollar bill. Just as quietly, Lawrence clasped Teller's hand in congratulations.
"Why Do You Ask?" In the fall of 1952, Teller was put in charge of a new $11.5 million H-bomb laboratory at Livermore, Calif., 32 miles from Lawrence's University of California laboratory. While the U.S. was in the midst of the 1952 presidential election campaign, a vast new task force began moving on the Marshall Islands for a full-scale test of a complete thermonuclear "device." This was dubbed Operation Ivy. Teller could not spare the time from his laboratory to watch the shot (the AEC sometimes has to wait weeks for suitable weather conditions), but he kept in touch by coded messages.