Archives Week, Day 4: Conspiring for Livermore (1952)

by Alex Wellerstein, published December 22nd, 2011

Just a quick document for you today from the Legislative Archives: John Walker and Bill Borden, staff members on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, conspiring about creating a “second laboratory”: what would become the Livermore laboratory.1

Click image for the full PDF.

It’s a short piece, from early 1952, but I find it pretty revealing about the “second laboratory” mindset at the time. It’s desperation is what appeals to me: Walker is fed up with the Atomic Energy Commission and the General Advisory Committee, and have basically concluded that the only way forward would be to give a bunch of cash to “an eminent scientist” who would round up patriotic colleagues and start their own lab, independent of the AEC or GAC. Walker believes that this “non-government and non-military establishment” impetus “would be important from a moral standpoint.”

Where the cash would come from, and who the scientist would be, is left unconsidered.

It’s kind of a mad scheme, given that the AEC had a total legal monopoly on this kind of research. It also show the lengths these particular Congressional staffers were willing to go — they were aiming to play a hugely active role in national policy.

I want to give a hat-tip to a former student of mine from Harvard, Eli Jacobs, who is interning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has a number of great posts up on the CSIS blog, but my favorite so far is a discussion of a 1978 Defense Nuclear Agency report where they recommended nuking the Chinese-Soviet border in the case of war, with the hope that this would encourage China to invade the USSR. It’s an impressively bad idea for a lot of reasons, and you know how much I like collecting impressively bad ideas.

  1. Source: John Walker to Bill Borden, “Second Laboratory,” (21 February 1952), in Records of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, RG 128, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Series 2: General Subject Files, Box 60, “Thermonuclear Program: Second Laboratory.” []

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