Sep 8, 2008

New book tracks nuclear wildfire

By ROGER SNODGRASS, Los Alamos Monitor Editor

Danny Stillman, whose book on nuclear science in China got bottled up by the intelligence community, has a new book up on

It won’t be out until January, but “Nuclear Express,” co-written with a former Secretary of the Air Force, may find an even bigger audience, given the growing dangers of nuclear proliferation in the world.

Stillman, who lives in White Rock and still feels constrained after years of legal wrestling with the CIA, referred questions to his partner, Thomas C. Reed.

A former nuclear weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Reed described his own career trajectory as having been “caught up by politics that led to the White House and then to the Pentagon (as Gerald Ford’s Air Force Secretary).” His book “At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War,” was published in 2004.

Stillman worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1965 to 1993, including 13 years as director of the technical intelligence unit. From 1990 to 1999, he made nine trips to China where he was invited to visit many of China’s most important nuclear weapons facilities, talked to key officials and compiled a great deal of information on the Chinese nuclear testing program, including dates and events, their purposes, yields and lessons learned.

Some of this information is included in a new article in the current issue of Physics Today, “The Chinese Nuclear Tests, 1964-1996,” written by Reed in a way, he said, that avoided some of the pitfalls Stillman encountered.

“I’m aware that he has obligations and I have obligations,” Reed said, noting that that the government’s rights and informational courtesies have been respected, “But in the sense that we are trying to warn against nuclear proliferation, we’re all on the same team.”

He has walked a careful line with legal assistance to avoid classification problems. As an author, he was allowed to quote from Stillman, as long as he confirmed the information from a second source.

But the new book has a much broader canvas, with a global perspective on nuclear weapons that covers the period “from the discovery of fission in 1938 to the nuclear train wreck that seems to loom over our future,” according to the blurb on

“It is an account of where those weapons came from, how the technology surprisingly and covertly spread, who is likely to acquire those weapons next and most importantly why.”

“It is not written for physicists, although there are technical footnotes,” he said. “It is really about political history.”

Reed originally wanted to do a book called, “From Trinity to Teheran,” he said, because Iran seemed to be the big problem. “But the problem is not Teheran, but Islamabad and Pakistan,” he said. “We renamed it ‘Nuclear Express,’ to get at how every country starts, how their efforts are interconnected and how politics tie into the process.”

Reed was reluctant to get into details before the book is published.

“I don’t want to have one grenade after another rolling out,” he said. “The point is how it all fits together.”

Two items from the magazine article are especially tantalizing.

One brief section discusses the continuing role of Klaus Fuchs, the German physicist who came to Los Alamos as a part of the British scientific contingent. After the war he was exposed as a Soviet spy and sent to prison in England. But upon release nine years later he moved to Dresden in East Germany and taught physics.

According to the article’s sources, Fuchs met at length with Qian Sanqiang, who masterminded Chairman Mao’s atomic program, and the former Manhattan Project physicist passed along information that also accelerated China’s nuclear program.

Another consequential thread that the book may have a lot more to reveal has to do with Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping’s decision in 1982 to begin transferring nuclear weapons to third world countries, including Pakistan.

Reed said there would be a book tour that would include an event in Los Alamos.

See also:


Anonymous said...

"...Premier Deng Xiaoping’s decision in 1982 to begin transferring nuclear weapons to third world countries, including Pakistan."

Seems China has reaped what it has sown... the India deal. Sorry China, it fall under the category of T.S.

Anonymous said...

Just wait until China offers the same type of deal to Pakistan. That's the fundamental problem with the US- India pact.
Soon, it'll be them (the Taliban sympathizers in the ISI, that is) saying T.S. to us.

Anonymous said...

US particle physics is in serious decline with even Fermilab descending into deep budgetary problems and job layoffs. Meanwhile, over in Europe where the governments strongly support national science, the hugely expensive Super Collider is about to be finally be fired up.

Back here in the US, Congress talks about how important science education is to the country, but then fails to follow up by giving strong support to science-based jobs and infrastructure in the country's national labs. The current science picture couldn't be more stark between the US and the rest of the developed world.

Then, there is that itty-bitty little issue of the Super Collider becoming a Doomsday Machine when it is finally turned on. Oh, well, Earth was a nice place to hang out while it lasted. Perhaps there will be no need to fret about those broken pensions and low retirement income. We may all soon meet on the other side of a black hole. Won't that be a bitch!


** Excitement and Fear Abound Over Super Collider **

Richard Koman, Richard Koman,
– Mon Sep 8, 2:41 pm ET

Scientists are getting ready to flip the switch on the largest science experiment ever conducted on Earth -- the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN.

...The LHC experiments may enable scientists to observe a number of theorized aspects of the early universe. For one thing, 96 percent of the universe consists of so-called dark matter and dark energy. "They are incredibly difficult to detect and study, other than through the gravitational forces they exert. Investigating the nature of dark matter and dark energy is one of the biggest challenges today in the fields of particle physics and cosmology," CERN explained on its Web site.

The experiments may even be able to detect whether extra dimensions of space exist, as theorized by the "string theory" in theoretical physics. But the collider has been the subject of intense fear among the public. Public-relations staffers at the LHC are receiving a flood of worried and angry phone calls and e-mails, reported James Gillies, head of PR for the collider. Nobel prize winner Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has even received death threats, according to the BBC.

"They phone me and say: "I am seriously worried. Please tell me that my children are safe," Gillies told the BBC. "There are a number who say: 'You are evil and dangerous and you are going to destroy the world.'" Gillies said the concerns are "nonsense," adding, "What we are doing is enriching humanity, not putting it at risk."
The concerns are nothing less than a total doomsday scenario. The anti-LHC hysteria was started by Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho, who filed suit in U.S. and European courts to stop the LHC. Their theory is that the LHC will produce micro black holes and "stranglets" that may not decay as rapidly as mainstream physics predicts.

"Any miniature black hole created at rest in a collider would essentially be trapped in Earth's gravitational field, and over seconds to hours, slowly interact and acquire more mass," Wagner says on his Web site.

Anonymous said...

"That's the fundamental problem with the US- India pact."

The fundamental problem with the US-India pact is China. As for Pakistan, should they stray too far they'll become a--wipe for more than one adversary.

Anonymous said...

Normally, I'm not very good at predicting the future. This time, it wasn't hard.
From The Times of India online:
Zardari to visit China to negotiate nuclear deal

ISLAMABAD: Asif Ali Zardari, the president-elect of Pakistan, will visit China next week to negotiate a nuclear deal similar to the one between India and the US, an official said on Monday.

"Pakistan is already in touch with China for the nuclear deal to meet its energy crisis and the talks would start during Zardari's visit," an official said on condition of anonymity.

Anonymous said...

Who doesn't know that the US and India are allies, and that Pakistan and China are allies?? The post- 9/11 deals between US and Pakistan are irrelevant, and meaningless. China will end up supporting Al Quaida in Pakistan, and India will wind up attacked and devastated by terrorists, many home-grown. As a US graduate student in the 70's, I witnessed first-hand the brutalization of Pakistani graduate students in our schools by the Indians. We have bought into that historical fight, and we will regret it.