[ RadSafe ] Hydrogen Bomb Physicist’s Book Runs Afoul of Energy Department

Matthew Hall matthewahall7 at gmail.com
Wed Mar 25 11:10:23 CDT 2015


23, 2015
The first test of the hydrogen bomb was conducted at Elugelab, a Pacific
island that was destroyed by the blast in 1952. CreditLos Alamos National
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PHILADELPHIA — For all its horrific power, the atom bomb — leveler of
Hiroshima and instant killer of some 80,000 people — is but a pale cousin
compared to another product of American ingenuity: the hydrogen bomb

The weapon easily packs the punch of a thousand Hiroshimas, an unthinkable
range of destruction that lay behind the Cold War’s fear of mutual
annihilation. It was developed in great secrecy, and Washington for decades
has done everything in its power to keep the details of its design out of
the public domain.

Now, a physicist who helped devise the weapon more than half a century ago
has defied a federal order to cut from his new book material that the
government says teems with thermonuclear secrets.

The author, Kenneth W. Ford, 88, spent his career in academia and has not
worked on weapons since 1953. His memoir, “Building the H Bomb: A Personal
History,” is his 10th book. The others are physics texts, elucidations of
popular science and a reminiscence on flying small planes.

He said he included the disputed material because it had already been
disclosed elsewhere and helped him paint a fuller picture of an important
chapter of American history. But after he volunteered the manuscript for a
security review, federal officials told him to remove about 10 percent of
the text, or roughly 5,000 words.

“They wanted to eviscerate the book,” Dr. Ford said in an interview at his
home here. “My first thought was, ‘This is so ridiculous I won’t even
respond.’ ”

Instead, he talked with federal officials for half a year before reaching
an impasse in late January, a narrative he backs up with many documents
laid out neatly on his dining room table, beneath a parade of photographs
of some of his seven children and 13 grandchildren.

World Scientific, a publisher in Singapore, recently made Dr. Ford’s book
public in electronic form
<http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/9269>, with print
versions to follow. Reporters and book review editors have received page

The Department of Energy <http://energy.gov/>, the keeper of the nation’s
nuclear secrets, declined to comment on the book’s publication.

But in an email to Dr. Ford last year, Michael Kolbay, a classification
officer at the agency, warned that the book’s discussion of the “design
nuances of a successful thermonuclear weapons program” would “encourage
emerging proliferant programs,” a euphemism for aspiring nuclear powers.

In theory, Washington can severely punish leakers. Anyone who comes in
contact with classified atomic matters must sign a nondisclosure agreement
that warns of criminal penalties and the government’s right to “all
royalties, remunerations and emoluments” that result from the disclosure of
secret information.
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an H-Bomb

At its simplest, a hydrogen bomb uses an atomic primary stage to trigger a
more powerful thermonuclear stage.



Conventional explosives compress plutonium in the primary, creating a
critical mass in which atoms begin to split apart and release nuclear

Radiation from the primary flows down the length of the bomb casing ahead
of the primary blast.


The radiation vaporizes the lining of the casing and radiates back toward
the secondary, compressing it and heating it to fusion temperature.

Thermonuclear fusion releases huge amounts of energy, and the fireball
bursts out of the casing.
Source: “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb,” by Richard Rhodes

By The New York Times

But the reality is that atomic pioneers and other insiders — in talks,
books, articles and television shows — have divulged many nuclear secrets
over the decades and have rarely faced any consequences.

The result is a twilight zone of sensitive but never formally declassified
public information. The policy of the Energy Department is never to
acknowledge the existence of such open atomic secrets, a stance it calls
its “no comment” rule.
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Yet in preparing his book, Dr. Ford deeply mined this shadowy world of
public information. For instance, the federal agency wanted him to strike a
reference to the size of the first hydrogen test device — its base was
seven feet wide and 20 feet high. Dr. Ford responded that public
photographs of the device, with men, jeeps and a forklift nearby, gave a
scale of comparison that clearly revealed its overall dimensions.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy
<http://fas.org/issues/government-secrecy/> for the Federation of American
Scientists, a private group in Washington, said he had received page proofs
of Dr. Ford’s book and expected that many of its details had run afoul of
what he characterized as the agency’s classification whims.

“There are probably real issues intertwined with spurious bureaucratic
nonsense,” Mr. Aftergood said.

He added that it would not be surprising if the Department of Energy did
nothing in response to the book’s publication. “Any action,” Mr. Aftergood
said, “is only going to magnify interest.”

In 1979, the department learned that the hard way when it tried to block a
magazine’s release of H-bomb secrets; its failure gave the article a rush
of free publicity.
Kenneth W. Ford at home in Philadelphia. He recently wrote his memoir:
“Building the H Bomb: A Personal History.” CreditMark Makela for The New
York Times

A main architect of the hydrogen bomb, Richard L. Garwin, whom Dr. Ford
interviewed for the book, describes the memoir in its so-called front
matter as “accurate as well as entertaining.”

In an interview, Dr. Garwin said he recalled nothing in the book’s telling
of hydrogen bomb history that, in terms of public information, “hasn’t been
reasonably authoritatively stated.” Still, he said, his benign view of the
book “doesn’t mean I encourage people to talk about such things.”

Hydrogen bombs are the world’s deadliest weapons. The first test of one,
November 1952, turned the Pacific isle of Elugelab, a mile in diameter,
into a boiling mushroom cloud.

Today, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are the only
declared members of the thermonuclear club, each possessing hundreds or
thousands of hydrogen bombs. Military experts suspect that Israel has
dozens of them. India, Pakistan and North Korea are seen as interested in
acquiring the potent weapon.

Though difficult to make, hydrogen bombs are attractive to nations and
militaries because their fuel is relatively cheap. Inside a thick metal
casing, the weapon relies on a small atom bomb that works like a match to
ignite the hydrogen fuel.

Dr. Ford entered this world by virtue of elite schooling. He graduated from
Phillips Exeter Academy in 1944 and Harvard in 1948. While working on his
Ph.D. at Princeton, he was drawn into the nation’s hydrogen bomb push by
his mentor, John A. Wheeler,
<http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/science/14wheeler.html> a star of modern

Dr. Ford worked in the shadow of Edward Teller
 and Stanislaw Ulam
bomb designers at the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico. Early in 1951, they hit
on a breakthrough idea: using radiation from the exploding atom bomb to
generate vast forces that would compress and heat the hydrogen fuel to the
point of thermonuclear ignition.
Dr. Ford at Princeton in 1952. His work on the development of the hydrogen
bomb involved calculating the likelihood that the compressed fuel would
burn thoroughly and estimating the bomb’s explosive power.
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>From 1950 to 1952, Dr. Ford worked on the project, first at Los Alamos and
then back at Princeton. Among other things, he calculated the likelihood
that the compressed fuel would burn thoroughly and estimated the bomb’s
explosive power.

He received his doctorate in 1953, and remained in academia, teaching at
such schools as Brandeis; the University of California, Irvine; and the
University of Massachusetts Boston.

In the interview at his home, he said he was researching his H-bomb memoir
when a historian at the Department of Energy suggested that he submit the
manuscript for classification review. He did so, and in August, the agency

“Our team is quite taken with your manuscript,” an official wrote.
“However, some concerns have been identified.”

In late September, Dr. Ford met with agency officials. Afterward, in an
email, he told them that he remained convinced the book “contains nothing
whatsoever whose dissemination could, by any stretch of the imagination,
damage the United States or help a country that is trying to build a
hydrogen bomb.”

On Nov. 3, Andrew P. Weston-Dawkes, director of the agency’s office of
classification, wrote Dr. Ford to say that the review had “identified
portions that must be removed prior to publication.”

The ordered cuts, 60 in all, ranged from a single sentence to multiple
paragraphs, and included endnotes and illustrations.
The first hydrogen bomb in its construction shed on Elugelab, which was
later vaporized by the bomb’s blast in 1952. CreditLos Alamos National

“Were I to follow all — or even most — of your suggestions,” Dr. Ford wrote
in reply, “it would destroy the book.”

In December, he told the department he would make a few minor revisions.
For instance, in two cases he would change language describing the
explosive yields of bomb tests from “in fact” to “reportedly.” After much
back and forth, the conversation ended in January with no resolution, and
the book’s publisher pressed on.

The government’s main concern seems to center on deep science that Dr. Ford
articulates with clarity. Over and over, the book discusses thermal
<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/591404/thermal-equilibrium>, the
discovery that the temperature of the hydrogen fuel and the radiation could
match each other during the explosion. Originally, the perceived lack of
such an effect had seemed to doom the proposed weapon.

The breakthrough has apparently been discussed openly for years. For
instance, the National Academy of Sciences <http://www.nasonline.org/> in
2009 published abiographical memoir
Dr. Teller, written by Freeman J. Dyson, a noted physicist with the Institute
for Advanced Study <https://www.ias.edu/> in Princeton, N.J. It details the
thermal equilibrium advance in relation to the hydrogen bomb.

At his home, Dr. Ford said he considered himself a victim of overzealous
classification and wondered what would have happened if he had never
submitted his manuscript for review.

“I was dumbfounded,” he said of the agency’s reaction to it.

Dr. Ford said he never intended to make a point about openness and nuclear
secrecy — or do anything other than to give his own account of a remarkable
time in American history.

“I don’t want to strike a blow for humankind,” he said. “I just want to get
my book published.”
Correction: March 23, 2015
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the director
of the Department of Energy’s office of classification, who wrote to Dr.
Ford in November. He is Andrew P. Weston-Dawkes, not Weston-Davis.

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