For immediate release

May 15, 1997

For further information, contact Jeremy J. Stone (202) 546-3300

Atomic Scientists Call for Halt to Research On New Types Of Nuclear Weapons

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), founded by original atomic scientists in 1945, released today a historic letter to the President from the senior living atomic scientist of World War II, Hans Bethe, urging a halt to the funding of nuclear research into new categories of nuclear weapons such as pure-fusion bombs. The Administration is now reviewing what research will be permitted under the signed but unratified Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Nobel Prize winner Hans Bethe, who led the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos during World War II, was the right hand man of Robert Oppenheimer in the construction of the first atomic bomb. Bethe did not oppose research into the possibility of a hydrogen bomb, which some feared might trump the atomic bomb.

But pure-fusion bombs or neutron bombs without fission triggers would not, even if invented by others, threaten the retaliatory capability of our existing nuclear arsenal. Such weapons could only be of important use to proliferators (who could avoid the need for fissionable material) or terrorists.

Accordingly, Bethe advised President Clinton that the taxpayers ought not pay for physical experiments, computational experiments "or even creative thought designed to produce new categories of nuclear weapons". He noted that the Stockpile Stewardship Program--which he supports--did not require such research.

Frank von Hippel, Chairman of the FAS Fund, asserted that these dangerous possibilities for future military research could not be kept out of the Senate debate over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. For example, just last week, a former Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, quoted the IAEA Daily Press Review of June 6, 1994, referring to a mini-neutron bomb, and saying: "Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Mikhailov says that a new generation of nuclear weapons could be developed by the year 2000 unless military nuclear research is stopped." And, last year, in the May 15, 1996 Wall Street Journal Sam Cohen wrote about "The Coming Neutron Bomb Threat."

FAS President Jeremy J. Stone said that this letter was "twice historic, a reverse replay of the famous episode in which Albert Einstein wrote President Roosevelt about the possibility of an atomic weapon and, in addition, a highly unusual call on Government not to fund even creative thought for what amounts to new categories of weapons of mass destruction." The Federation released, at the same time, a five page background paper written by Frank von Hippel providing technical background.

Senator Moynihan comments on Bethe letter

New York Times article about Hans Bethe by Bill Broad (from the Congressional Record)

Text of Bethe letter

President Clinton's reply

For Background by von Hippel, click here

To FAS home page, click here