Atomic Heritage Foundation

In partnership with the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

The Cold War

The Cold War

Hans Bethe. Photo courtesy of Cornell University.

Los Alamos's Conscience

Harold Agnew at LANL

Agnew at LANL

  • Los Alamos's Conscience

    Los Alamos's Conscience

    Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan explains why Hans Bethe remains a beloved figure in Los Alamos. In a 1982 interview, Bethe discussed the threat of nuclear war.

    Narrator: Hans Bethe remains a beloved figure in Los Alamos for his contributions to science, which earned him the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics, and for promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Later in his life, he spoke out against the further development of nuclear weapons.

    Heather McClenahan: Hans became really a conscience for Los Alamos. He was a man who said, “If we’re going to be building these weapons, we need to have a say in how they’re used and where they’re used,” and those sorts of things.

    For many years, he would come back to Los Alamos. He worked extensively on the Cold War on the hydrogen bomb and subsequent weapons that were developed over time.

    Because of his greatness as a scientist, his greatness as a teacher, his greatness as that conscience of Los Alamos, we have called this the Hans Bethe House to honor him.

    Narrator: In a 1982 interview with Oppenheimer biographer Martin Sherwin, Bethe expounded on the threat of nuclear war during the Cold War.

    Hans Bethe: If nuclear war were started, it threatens us at least as much as the Russians. And so it is no longer a useful threat against the Soviets.

    Also, it is no longer true that the Russians have great dominance in conventional weapons. Of course, they have enormous manpower. Of course, they have very large numbers of tanks. Of course, they have been building up their conventional strength quite strongly in recent times.

    However, their allies are not dependable. I think our allies are dependable—as long as they are not afraid of being destroyed by our trying to save them.

  • Agnew at LANL

    Agnew at LANL

    Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan provides an overview of former LANL director Harold Agnew’s distinguished career.

    Narrator: Harold Agnew made important contributions to international nuclear policy, the Manhattan Project, and to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan recounts Agnew’s career.

    Charlie McMillan: Harold Agnew is obviously well known to our community. He has personally been part of the history of this laboratory almost since its inception, not only a witness to history, but also someone who has helped to shape that history. I think when I look at our laboratory today, I continue to see Harold’s hand on many of the things in our laboratory.

    Harold came to the laboratory, like many of you did, as a graduate student, and joined the experimental physics division in 1943. He participated in 1945 in the Hiroshima mission. At that point, he had already served on Enrico Fermi’s team at the University of Chicago that had successfully done the first chain reaction.

    In 1964, Harold became the head of the Weapons Nuclear Engineering Division, and in 1970 he became the Laboratory Director. He was the Laboratory Director for nine years. It was under Harold’s leadership that we developed the underground test containment program.

    He completed the Clinton P. Anderson Meson Facility, what we know as LANSCE [Los Alamos Neutron Science Center] today. He acquired the first Cray supercomputer. He trained the first ever class of IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors, and I think since that time, almost all IAEA inspectors have come here for training. When I said that his hand continues to be on the laboratory today, there are examples.

Quick Fact:
The Los Alamos National Laboratory continued to work on nuclear weapons research and other scientific research during the Cold War.