A-Bomb Architect Calls for Weapons Freeze

A theoretical physicist who helped lead the U.S. effort to develop the atom bomb has launched an appeal for an end to all federal funding for new nuclear weapons. In a letter to President Clinton, released yesterday by the Federation of American Scientists, Nobel laureate Hans Bethe also urged the president to declare to the world that the United States will not develop new weapons of mass destruction. "We have enough," Bethe told ScienceNOW. "We shouldn't try to find new kinds."

The 90-year-old physicist, who was the head of theoretical studies for the Manhattan Project, is worried that the U.S. government has been unclear about its policies on weapons development. As a result, he fears that it may be perceived as insincere in implementing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has not yet been introduced in Congress. A presidential statement would reassure other countries that the United States is following "the spirit of the test ban completely," says Bethe, a professor emeritus at Cornell University. In his letter, Bethe asked Clinton "not [to] fund computation experiments or even creative thought designed to produce new categories of nuclear weapons."

Bethe's appeal is seconded by another top weapons scientist. "You can't stop people from thinking," says Herbert York, former director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, "but you can tell them you're not going to pay them for it."