1960 INTERVIEWS WITH DR. LINUS PAULING
COHEN: Is there any theoretical limit to the size of the H-Bomb?
PAULING: No, and it doesn't cost very much. I estimate that for $8,000 you could make a 20 megaton bomb after you have a basic plutonium nucleus. Another $8,000 would make it into a 40 megaton bomb, and another $8,000 would make it into an 80 megaton bomb, and you can keep on going. For a million dollars you could make a bomb that could, well, I won't say what it could do.
COHEN: Could a country to which we gave, let's say, some small fission bombs be capable of changing them into giant super bombs?
PAULING: Yes, it could. One thing that bothers me is that a nation that got its hands on some small atomic bombs could convert them into super hydrogen bombs very simply. This is the danger of giving even small atomic bombs to the Germans, let's say, or to the Japanese, or to any other nation. I'm absolutely opposed to the proposal which Senator Dodd makes: that we immediately turn over atomic bombs to our NATO allies.
COHEN: If Hitler had had one plutonium bomb, even a Hiroshima type bomb, could he have converted it into a major hydrogen weapon?
Well, it wasn't known how then, but if we had a present day Hitler by
only $21,000 worth of lithium deutride and uranium metal he could make
a bomb that would destroy New York.
MILL: Is there some danger of nuclear accidents, of an atomic bomb being set off by an irresponsible person or because of an accident?
Yes, there is. Truly, there is. You know I think that the
States is in great danger now because of the danger that a war will
break out that would destroy the United States as a nation and kill
of the American people. There have been something like twelve
in the United States: planes crashing, or similar accidents involving
bombs, and several of them (Involving) hydrogen bombs. In no case
has the bomb exploded although, down in Georgia, plutonium, a bad
was spread around and caused contamination. Well, how many
of this sort have to happen before a bomb does explode and wipe out
COHEN: Colonel Prentice, the Orientation Officer of our Chemical - Bacteriological Warfare Arsenal, has stated that he feels chemical-bacteriological-radiological warfare is the most "humane" type of weaponry. Can you comment on that?
Well, this is in the same category as Teller and Latter's statement
radiological warfare could be "humane." I don't know just what
mean by this. Chemical and biological warfare attack human beings
but leave property undamaged. Their principle argument seems to
that your bank account will remain even if you are killed - that you
get the destruction of property in this way. While this may have
some appeal to the financiers, I don't know whether these methods of
can properly be called "humane."
COHEN: Exactly what is the "neutron bomb"?
It is proposed that if we were to carry out enough tests of hydrogen
perhaps some way could be found to make a bomb that would sort of
so far as the explosion went, but that would produce great amounts of
You wouldn't get a blast that would destroy the buildings, but you
would be able to kill most of the people. It would be almost as
as bacteriological warfare in this respect - you'd achieve an unhappy
for a great many people without destroying property.
COHEN: Wouldn't it fill the Arctic Ocean with radioactive mud if we used atomic explosives to make a harbor?
PAULING: Yes, it would. In my opinion they underestimate greatly the amount of damage that would be done by the radioactivity released. They "pooh-pooh" the radioactive carbon14 that would be created just because its effect would be spread over the next 10,000 years. They don't seem to care what happens to human beings 5,000 or 10,000 years from now.
COHEN: Could a test ban agreement be effected pending settlement of such conflict areas as West Berlin?
PAULING: If we are going to wait until all the conflicts are settled, we are going to be waiting forever. We just have to accept the principle that the disputes must be settled without recourse to war.
MILL: If we had a disarmament agreement whereby all nations were allowed to keep our stockpiles, would it do us good, or would it do us harm?
PAULING: Well, I think we should have international agreements about control of the stockpiles to prevent them from being used. I don't advocate destroying them. There's too much doubt on the part of the Russians that we would destroy all of ours; and on our part that they'd destroy all of theirs. What we need to do first is to get away from the situation where buttons can be pressed that would lead to the death of nearly everybody on earth. We have to have some United Nations authorities to see to it that it is made as hard as possible to set these weapons off. Then, after some years have gone by, after a decade, perhaps, the nations will get tired of the expense of keeping the atomic weapons stockpiles. They'll dismantle them and use the plutonium for fuel.
COHEN: Since you feel there is little or no strength in the arguments for secret underground testing, the necessity for developing smaller tactical weapons and secret outer space testing, is there anything really valid that stands in the way of a bomb test agreement being reached now?
PAULING: No. I advocate an immediate international agreement with controls on inspection as good as can be devised and as practical for the money you spend on it, say, a billion dollars. And what about international agreements to control the manufacture of vehicles for carrying nuclear bombs? Supersonic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles require such a big manufacturing operation that it would be impossible to build them in secret. This would be far easier to control than the bomb tests. It wouldn't cost nearly so much to do an effective job. I think the system of controls and inspection of conventional armaments could be essentially perfect. There is no way of hiding such activities on a large scale.
COHEN:Do you feel that your own efforts for disarmament, first to effect a test ban, and then to work for an effective inspection system, have been effective in any way?
I was asked at my hearing in Washington before the Internal Security
of the Senate on the 21st of June this year: "Do you think it's
Doctor Pauling, that this petition (Petition to the United Nations of
15, 1957 signed by 11,021 scientists calling for a nuclear test ban)
about the change In policy or crystallization of new policies in the
of the world?" I said: "I don't believe that it is right to say
petition "brought about" the change in policy, but it would please me
and, in fact, it does please me immensely, to think that this petition
and my activity may have played a certain - even though perhaps only a
small - part in having brought about this change, not only in the
States but in the USSR and in Great Britain and in the opinions of
nations of the world."
COHEN: Do all nuclear bombs have the same basic core?
PAULING: Yes. They all have the same basic core. And most of the cost is just this initial plutonium.
COHEN: One of the major U.S. objections to a bomb test ban agreement has been the claim that underground tests could be held secretly. Is it possible to excavate a cave deep enough underground that even a Hiroshima size bomb could be muffled to the degree that it couldn't be detected?
PAULING: Theoretically you would need to dig a hole 800 feet in diameter and about a mile underground and put the bomb in the middle of it. A Hiroshima bomb exploded there would probably escape detection.
COHEN: What would the engineering problem be?
PAULING: Well, this question has been analyzed, and the engineering problem is a pretty serious one: First, no one knows how to dig a hole 800 feet in diameter and a mile underground, except in a salt dome. The salt domes are few and far between, but it could be done by running immense amounts of water in and out to dissolve the salt. This water would have to be run into a river and ultimately reach the ocean. Chemical analysis would show that this is being done - so that it wouldn't really be possible to dig such a hole in secret. The world would know.
COHEN: How much do you think it would cost to dig such a hole?
PAULING: It would take two years and cost ten million dollars. It's unknown if such a hole could be used repeatedly for nuclear testing. And if somebody tried to do this he would almost certainly be detected.
COHEN: What are the possibilities of clandestine outer space testing of nuclear weapons?
PAULING: It's much harder to hide outer space testing. And, of course, it's extremely expensive - ten million dollars is nothing. If you explode a bomb 10,000 miles up you get nearly as much fallout in the atmosphere as if you had exploded it on the surface of the earth. So you easily detect it from the increase in radioactivity. Now, if you shoot a rocket to the other side of the moon and have it explode, and then have records of the explosion shipped back to earth from measuring devices that you somehow placed on the other side of the moon, you might be able to hide it.
MILL: What would anyone gain from secret bomb tests?
PAULING: Prof. Bethe knows more than I about such matters. He was with the Atomic Bomb Project at Los Alamos and holds the patent on the hydrogen bomb. He says that we would have very little to gain by this.
COHEN: I thought Dr. Teller developed the hydrogen bomb?
Isn't that what Life magazine and our press in general have always
that Teller is the
I know they say that, but Bethe, not Teller, actually holds the patent
on the hydrogen bomb. He had been the leading Physics Advisor to
the President, and is the most reliable physicist in the country today,
at least in the opinion of his fellow physicists. Dr. Bethe has
The Russians, on the other hand, could gain considerably by the resumption of tests. However, since they probably already have enough small nuclear weapons to give them a sizable capacity in case of tactical nuclear war, they do not have a desperate need for improving their weapons, and thus not enough incentive for testing to risk a violation. Yet, if nuclear tests were resumed legally, the Russians would probably make more rapid progress than we would.
If the Russians really want tactical nuclear weapons of small yield - then the best thing for them to do would be resume testing such small weapons officially, exactly as we suggested in the original proposal of President Eisenhower on February 11th. The fact that they asked him for a moratorium on small weapons indicates to me that they don't put much weight on development of these weapons. I think that they are just sensible enough to see that the idea of fighting a war with small nuclear weapons is silly because neither the U.S. nor the USSR would go down to defeat until the world had been destroyed. That's all there is to it.