Frank von Hippel, April 1995
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
METTA SPENCER: I thought Cortright’s idea was hard to do. It would be easier to show how the Western peace movement influenced Soviet policy.
FRANK VON HIPPEL: I think that’s exactly right.
METTA: But it is hard to collect anecdotes.
VON HIPPEL: Mine are specific.
METTA: Can you give me a chronology first?
VON HIPPEL: I have been to Moscow about thirty times since 1983. It was Reagan who started it with his Star Wars speech and the “Star Wars” speech caused a lot of alarm in Moscow, even more alarm really than it did among the arms control groups here. And, Velikhov organized, really in response to that, a ?Committee of Soviets Scientists for Peace and Against the Nuclear Threat.? They had an organizing meeting in May 1983, with a big set piece. The group was really based on the Soviet academy of Sciences and they had speeches and so on, an inaugural event.
METTA: Was that the one that Derek Paul went to?
VON HIPPEL: May have gone. I’m not sure. I think they may have had a few Westerners there. Anyway, a group from the Soviet Academy which wasn’t identical with this group of Velikhov’s, sent an open letter to the American Scientific community about the [ESDI’] saying in effect, ?You people have convinced us that it would be counterproductive to have an anti-missile race. There were talks going on through Pugwash and in other ways on these matters in the late sixties. Have you changed your mind??
There wasn’t much of a response. Except maybe our response at that time was initially the only response. At that time I was chairman of the Federation of American Scientists, and Jeremy Stone, who was president, initiated the response. He was critical in making a decision because the FAS had been, our main concern with the Moscow government had been Sakharov. We had been doing all we could to put pressure on some scientists not to go to Russia to show our displeasure with the scientific community for Sakharov’s exile in Gorky. Jeremy was really a leader in that group. We were getting concerned about the arms race. The Reagan administration was really alarming in that regard. We decided that Sakharov would want us to put our concerns about nuclear war ahead of his situation. So we accepted… Jeremy responded. It would be interesting to get his response on this, but the result was that we got an invitation to come over and talk about it. Jeremy, John Holdren, John Pike, and I. By Velikhov on Thanksgiving weekend in Moscow. And then we had about half the meeting in Tbilisi in Georgia.
There was sort of evolution of the posture of Velikhov’s group even during our meeting. Jeremy made sure that Sakharov was on the agenda, and that the group there knew our concerns about that matter. And feeling pretty good about that. Jeremy was, I guess, the most paranoid of our group about being exploited by the Soviet group. There were actually a couple of events of that type. One was down in Tbilisi. I remember, one of the people who was prominent in the committee was Anatoly Gromyko, Andrei’s son. At one point, they brought in some TV cameras and lights, and he started giving a speech in the words of his father. I turned to Velikhov and I said, ?____.? And he said, Okay, ___ shut up, Gromyko!? (laughs) And then we sort of gathered in a small circle of chairs and started talking seriously. That was pure Velikhov.
METTA: Did you ever have a authentic conversation with Anatoly Gromyko?
VON HIPPEL: No.
METTA: I mean, was he just doing his cold war…
VON HIPPEL: It was hard to tell. I remember another incident with Gromyko where we went to a meeting Sadruddin Aga Khan hosted in Geneva . A big bash. It may have been 1985. And Gromyko came up to me and said, ?I’d like to have an interview on Russian TV and you can say anything you want. I promise there won’t be any cut … So then I decided (I was feeling a little ornery that night) I would try to explain to them why Western Europe was concerned about an invasion, and how this concern was driving the nuclear arms race. And I started, and supposedly none of them knew English and after about thirty seconds one of them jumped up and said, “Cut! Cut! Thank you very much”… [laughing]
METTA: He went around with a camera crew and all?
VON HIPPEL: Yes. And so he was friendly and he wrote a book with somebody else in the foreign ministry about new thinking but I never really felt close to him.
METTA: That wasn’t the Breakthrough book, was it?
VON HIPPEL: Maybe. I looked at, read very quickly and it seemed it was a new thinking kind of book, yes. But anyway, to return to my story, that was our first meeting with Velikhov. The key people were Velikhov, and there were two deputy chairman for the committee ? Roald Sagdeev, who later succeeded Velikhov as chairman, Sergei Kapitza, who was sort of a good liberal presence, and Andrei Kokoshin, who I felt was a minder, his initial role was as a minder to those who were politically naive scientists to make sure that they didn’t get into too much trouble, but who seemed to me who really got into it.
METTA: But he is now a very high level guy. He almost got to be Defence Minister.
VON HIPPEL: He’s Deputy Minister, yeah. That’s right. So, anyway, I wasn’t sure how significant an event that was. We met a few times in memorable meetings until the meeting I mentioned in Geneva. Also there was a meeting in October, 1985, after Gorbachev came into power. It was the centennial of the birth of Niels Bohr. We actually met in events around the world in that period, and this one was the Bohr centennial. At that meeting, Gorbachev had announced the testing Moratorium in August of ?85 and Velikhov was trying to figure out how the scientists could help in this.
The moratorium hadn’t had much reaction in the West. There wasn’t a response from the Reagan Administration. In general, the people weren’t electrified. He was trying to figure out how to get it more attention. We were riding back in a bus together and he was saying he thought that the government might be willing to have a Western group come in and really monitor and verify that there was no testing going on. I thought that was kind of interesting and I mentioned it when we got back to the group that’s now called Parliamentarians Global Action. [Phone].
METTA: I know Aaron Tovish very well and I’ve interviewed Nick Dunlop.
VON HIPPEL: I don’t know whether Tovish was thinking about this already but I told him and I think actually Rob Socolow, my colleague Rob Socolow proposed it. He’s the Director of this ____ Center for Environmental Studies. I think he had actually, originally proposed this idea of monitoring the moratorium and Tovish had picked it up and he got an interest among the six. He contacted Jack Everndon who was a seismologist in the US Geologic Survey in California, who had devoted his career to monitoring.
METTA: Aaron contacted him?
VON HIPPEL: Yes. I can’t remember how that contact was made and then the
consultant to the Parliamentarians turned out to be Charles Archambeau, who _________ government employee. Well, anyway they started working up a proposal and then I remember Tom Cochran may have independently come up with his idea. The upshot was that, I guess I had visited… and so I was aware of this point of these ideas and also aware of Velikhov’s interest, and in April, I was actually taken along, asked by Tovish to be the science advisor to a group of parliamentarians —
METTA: In ’86.
VON HIPPEL: Yes, in ’86. I was asked by Tovish to be his science advisor to a group of parliamentarians that were going to meet with Shevardnadze and urge that the moratorium be extended. I think they had asked [Wiesner] first, but he couldn’t do it. And we went and visited Shevardnadze and gave him a message and it was all very diplomatic and I wasn’t sure how much we had accomplished, and so I suggested that we meet with Velikhov. And I was told by the foreign ministry that he was out of town and that they had seen him skiing in the Caucasus on TV. But it turned out that Kapitza found him and we went over to Velikhov in his office.
METTA: But he was back?
VON HIPPEL: He was back, yes. It must be pretty dull in Soviet [Laughs]… in those days anyway. And, we met in his office and we came in and this was Terbeek, who is now I think the Prime Minister of Netherlands.
METTA: Relgius Ter Beek?
VON HIPPEL: Check his name. And also Olafur —-
VON HIPPEL: Yes, and Aaron and Nick and I. We came into Velikhov’s office, and Velikhov said, “got any ideas?”. This is sort of again typical Velikhov, and we started to brainstorm, and one of the ideas was this idea of monitoring and Velikhov and I agreed to organize a workshop for Western groups who were interested in doing that. I contacted Cochran and Tovish was already there and Evernden. We had the meeting the following month, in May in Moscow. It turned out that the Parliamentarians couldn’t do it. They needed it to be bilateral. They didn’t want to just unilaterally verify that the Soviet Union wasn’t testing. They could only do it under the circumstance where it was a bilateral moratorium. So that knocked out the parliamentarians and Evernden was knocked out by the fact that he was government. He didn’t want to have anything to do with it. So that left Cochran. Adrian De Wind was along, who was the one who was Cochran’s chairman. Basically, Cochran was able to piggyback on Tovish’s words by inheriting [Charles] Archambeau, who was able to organize the monitoring. The NRDC undertook to organize it.
METTA: What I don’t understand is why the NRDC was involved with it.
VON HIPPEL: Oh, it was a very peculiar way that Cochran got involved. He knew that the US was having some secret tests, that they weren’t announcing, and so he was thinking, well, maybe we should get some seismic information from the Nevada, which will reveal these tests. Somehow he was concerned about being accused. He has this nuclear weapons data book,which is a part of the accumulation of data about the arms race. It was his effort. And then, he was sort of anticipating that he would be attacked by sort of exposing US secrets. He said, well, maybe we should propose to the Russians that we set up a seismic station near their test site as well. And it was sort of a crazy idea but it actually —
METTA: This is another unilateral action, or concession or something on the Soviet side.
VON HIPPEL: Yeah, in the end it was unilateral, that they were already having a unilateral test moratorium. There were people muttering in Washington, well, maybe they are testing at low yield, we just can’t detect their signals, though we learned later on that the U.S. capability was — Anyway, so we agreed on that. And Velikhov had to get permission. And then, so he sent us up to Leningrad for the weekend while he lobbied with Gorbachev and he did get sort of half a blessing. It turned out later on that not all the people involved had really fully signed up until actually the NRDC had its people in Kazakhstan.
METTA: That’s called winging it.
VON HIPPEL: The only way… there were so many people who could say no over there in that system. So then the NRDC raised the money and De Wind was key on that, and the Carnegie and McArthur Foundations. And Archambeau organized a group from the University of California, San Diego, who were all set up to go someplace else, to take their seismometers to Kazakhstan. So the project went forward.
METTA: How long were they there with the equipment?
VON HIPPEL: Well, it actually went in stages. It initially just had some surface seismometers and later on the set up a permanent station and left some graduate students there. It went on for about a year in total and then, it was taken over by a consortium of U.S. seismological organizations. It may have been about a year. It was taken over by, I forget.
METTA: What went on after they went back to testing?
VON HIPPEL: Yes. But their seismometers were turned off every time there was a test. In fact, they weren’t actually measuring much because people could fly into the test site and yank out all sorts of wiring. It took them a long time to get the stations going again, after the tests. It wasn’t much of an operation after they started testing again. But they stayed there and they had entree in their collaboration on the Russian side with the Institute of Earth Physics. The Incorporated Research Institutions in Seismology, a group in Washington picked up this, with government funding, in which Chris Paine (who was working with Kennedy at the time) was key.They actually pretty quickly abandoned the stations in Kazakhstan but they set up a network all over… There are about ten stations now all over the Soviet Union, which could be the backbone of a real verification.
METTA: The Americans finally came across with something. What did they allow?
VON HIPPEL: Right, the US Government? it was always be a reciprocal arrangement and the NRDC said that they would get stations set up in Nevada around the U.S. test site. It was really symbolic because there were other university seismic stations already operating in that area with public information, so there wasn’t going to be any real stripping away of any secrecy. It turned out that [Karpen] could’ve gotten all along this information from the University seismic station in California.
METTA: For heaven’s sake.
VON HIPPEL: So the NRDC did work hard to get that reciprocity. It was important. And in fact reciprocity has always been important in other situations. I am fighting right now to get reciprocity on warhead elimination. And so it was symbolically important to the Russians that they be able to tell their conservatives that they were getting access to the same kind of information in the U.S. as they were giving away in Russia.
After that, in July, 1986, Gorbachev organized a big event, an international meeting of scientists in Moscow that was focusing on the test ban. And again it was his efforts to try to get more attention to this and also, I think, to make clear that it was appreciated in the outside world, making it clear to Gorbachev and the people who were taking a lot of flack from the conservatives for this unilateral test ban. And, a group of us actually went to visit with Gorbachev and shortly before we went in, Velikhov said to me, “Will you be our spokesman? I get to visit him more than you do, so you can say what you think.” And so I basically told Gorbachev that it was important to persist with the moratorium and I tried to explain to him some of the verification issues that he was interested in. It turned out that everybody got their say. We went around the table and everybody said something.
METTA: Wasn’t that whole thing published in a newspaper at that time?
VON HIPPEL: Yes, it was rather odd, actually. I was taken aback when the next day I saw the whole transcript on the front of Pravda, a very odd picture, of us sitting around the table and then with an inset of Gorbachev, in the picture that was much bigger. But it was my first meeting with Gorbachev and it was interesting. I had a mixed reaction to him. One was that he was very bright. I thought he was quite cold and calculating kind of person.
Then the next event was January 1987. Gorbachev had given a speech on maybe we should go to zero. I can’t remember whether it had been a year or just recently—
METTA: We could always find out.
VON HIPPEL: But anyway this event was tied to that — to the possibility of deep cuts and of going toward zero.
METTA: Would this have been after Reykjavik?
VON HIPPEL: Reykjavik. I don’t think so. Could check. My sense is that Reykjavik happened later on that year. Hm, you may be right. Cause the INF Treaty was in 1987 and that took a while to percolate. I’m confused. Anyway, the scheme was how deep could we go and Gorbachev had said, zero by the year 2000 and even the most radical respectable arms controllers said, let’s not talk about zero. Let’s talk about deep cuts.
You want to know about more than my involvement. I should go back and tell you something else. There is something that I wasn’t that involved with but which I think was important. It had to do with how they reacted to Star Wars ultimately.
Velikhov’s group had meetings and discussions all the time, not just with our group. They were quite ecumenical. They were having group meetings regularly, committees on international security and arms control.
METTA: Who were some of these?
VON HIPPEL: Garwin. Penosvsky [sp?] Those were two people.Velikhov would chair that group. It was a Russian academy group but in fact, the people were all virtually identical to the group of scientists that we werer meeting with. Goldansky, Sagdeev, Kokoshin were all involved on their side. I suspect that [Richard] Garwn was the one educated them most about all the countermeasures. He __________ all the measures of missile defence. They became convinced and they really made their arguments in their own. They even wrote a book about how you could have different countermeasures. And the result, that was the basis for Gorbachev’s decision to have what he called an asymmetric response to Star Wars: that they wouldn’t try to compete with the US by building their own Star Wars defence system. They would go to the cheaper route of just making whatever the US put up there ineffective.
METTA: Chaff and stuff.
VON HIPPEL: Yes. Decoys and so on. It was very important because, basically, it meant that the U.S. Star Wars advocates couldn’t claim there was a race on and therefore had to justify Star Wars on its own. That’s why we didn’t get stuck in an ABM race.
METTA: You think that Garwin had something to do with the ideas for countermeasures?
VON HIPPEL: Well, Garwin was publishing his stuff in the West. He explained to them the same arguments he was making. He was arguing here that the systems could be made impotent at low cost compared to their cost and he explained it to the Russians. I think he should be given a lot of credit ? well, the Russians should be given credit for making their own decisions. But he played a very important role in digesting that and suggesting it. Sagdeev and Kokoshin were the key people. They could give a version of their own.
So, now, I return to January 1987. One of the events there was that Sakharov had jsut been released from Gorky. What Velikhov’s role was in that, I don’t know. A lot of people … I don’t think the Sakharov gave Velikhov much credit, because Velikhov hadn’t been responsive to his appeals during the time he was in Gorky. Velikhov really organized a five-ring circus. He had the scientists meeting, writers, and actors, the artists meetings, the businessman’s meeting, doctor’s meeting, and political scientists? meeting all going on in parallel. And then he and I organized that scientist’s meeting. It turned out to be the most important. I organized the western group of the scientists meeting. I selected the people.
We had sessions on deep cuts, and a session on space-based weapons systems. John Pike was most important in that. There was actually a debate between Kokoshin and Sakharov that came out of that. At that time, the Soviet government was saying that they could not negotiate cuts in offensive strategic weapons unless we re-committed ourselves to the ABM treaty. Jeremy Stone on the Western side and Sakharov on the Soviet side were saying, look it is so ridiculous. The Star Wars program is so ridiculous. Just go ahead and decouple. Don’t let this crazy Star Wars program hold hostage our opportunity for making some deep cuts. Sakharov made that statement that session and then later on he and Kokoshin had a debate, with Kokoshin defending the linkage. Later on they did deal.
One other thing which I think was very important was the group of West European non-offensive defence types. Anders Boserup was there, Robert Neild from Cambridge, and Albrecht von Mueller from Germany.
METTA: Gee, I didn’t know von Mueller was involved in that.
VON HIPPEL: I think so. Now I should go check, you?ve raised a question in my mind.
METTA: Actually, it does make sense — there was a response to them in the footnotes some place and that includes Von Mueller, Boserup, and Neild, and they misspelled names and stuff, and it doesn’t say what about them? I can find it. I haven’t read that much in the last week.
VON HIPPEL: I have files I could [clear it up]. Anyway, Kokoshin was into the stuff already. The final crowning event of this thing was that we all went to the Kremlin and met with Gorbachev, and one person was represented from each of these meetings. I remember that Graham Greene was speaking for the writers, and he said, “I forgot what we decided. But I think you should set up a relation with the Vatican.” [we laugh]
METTA: Did he literally say that?
VON HIPPEL: Yeah. And Bernard Lown spoke for the doctors and actually embarrassed some of them by being too fawning toward Gorbachev. And I spoke for the scientists and my talk was published in the Bulletin, if you want to look at it. anyway, on the way over, Kokoshin was working with me on what I was going to say about non-provocative defence. He was very interested in that.
METTA: I wonder how he got interested in non-provocative defence, and to what extent do you think it was Western?[I’m omitting a couple of sentences here in deference to another guy who did not want to be identified.]
VON HIPPEL: I don’t know but I suspect he picked it up from the West Europeans. There were some Russians who did come ? you know, there was this Pugwash Working
Group — mostly East Europeans but there were a few Russians. It is possible that there was somebody from Kokoshin’s institute or even Kokoshin himself. You?d better check with the Pugwash people. That was important in spreading this idea.
METTA: Also I know that Michael Harbottle told me that the Generals group. He didn’t think that the Soviet Generals — they claimed not to have any influence.
VON HIPPEL: Yes, I suspect not much happened with the Generals.
METTA: Harbottle was in something called Just Defence. Do you know about it?
VON HIPPEL: No. Anyway, Kokoshin actually showed me things that he had put into Gorbachev’s speech, along those lines.
METTA: Can you find anything that pins that down or documents it exactly? I couldn’t get to see Kokoshin now.
VON HIPPEL: I had a copy. I’m not sure that my copy underlines the phrases that he put in. One of the things I could — right now unfortunately is not a good a time for me to go digging through my files, but you know, depending on how long your project is going on. In April I wil have more time.
Then the non-provocative guys and I were invited back. At that meeting, they picked up on it anyway, and you had the sense always throughout this of the “prophet in his own time” problem was rife in Moscow — that the Westerners were being used by people who were trying to get these ideas into the system. Sometimes we were bringing new ideas but sometimes people were also asking us to help deliver these ideas. Boserup and Neild and von Mueller and I were invited back to talk about — There was a supposedly non-governmental organization that worked on the talks over security in Europe. Anyway, they hosted that.
METTA: You don’t know the name of the group?
VON HIPPEL: I could dig that up. It was a Committee on Security in Europe, something like that. Kokoshin was leading the group on the other side. And we discussed at a workshop for two days on non-provocative defence And I remember we met with the former ambassador to Denmark who was then in the foreign ministry, interested in these things. [That would be Lev Mendelevitch.]
METTA: The Russian?
VON HIPPEL: The Russian, former ambassador to Denmark, whom Boserup knew. Then we were asked, I think it was by Kokoshin to write a letter to Gorbachev, to urging him to do this non-offensive defence. It took a while to actually get around to that. We ultimately did it, at the Pugwash meeting in Austria that summer, ?87. Von Mueller was the author. I was not really into it deeply; my area is nuclear. But somehow the Russians thought that it was important for me to be involved in these things because I was taken seriously by the Gorbachev group. Somehow they were using me as a vehicle. Velikhov had used me, making me the spokesman for the Scientists at the 1987 meeting. So we wrote a letter to a Gorbachev. It was a good letter, A response came back, actually, saying that he agreed.
METTA: Now has that ever been printed?
VON HIPPEL: We did print it. I think it’s been printed in a couple of places. One is in the FAS Newsletter. And I think Pugwash published it. I’ve got it. Maybe if you come back to me with a list of questions later I’ll get these things out and send you a copy.
METTA: What I am thinking of is before your time but back when the ABM Treaty was cooking, Pugwash had a guy. His name sounds like millionaire.
VON HIPPEL: Millionshchikov.
METTA: Something like that. He was infuenced by Pugwash to favor the ABM treaty. Do you know anything about this. I talked to Joe Rotblat about it but I didn’t have the tape going.
VON HIPPEL: I have heard that. It was before my time. In fact, there is a footnote in one of Ray Garthoff’s books where he footnotes a meeting in which the Russians cited as being key to convincing them of the [Garwin- type?] argument against the ABM system the first time. A previous generation of Russians. Millionshchikov and Artsimovich was these two people. Artsimovich actually—maybe I have not given him due credit. I think Artsimovich understood these things independently, didn’t have to be told by the Americans, but on the U.S. side Wiesner was one of the key people and Garwin was too. Basically, at that time, was a time when these arguments were being marshalled at the U.S. debate and they were basically transmitting into high-level Soviet Scientists who then were able to deliver the message.That may have reinforced the message that they were already trying to deliver. And Velikhov has written a little bit about this. He and I had back-to-back articles in Physics Today on this whole relationship i 1989 and he talked about this earlier period. He . really was sort of a successor of both Artsimovixh and Millionshchikov. Millionshchikov was the vice-president of the Academy, and Velikhov succeeded him there. And Artsimovich was the leader of the Soviet fusion program, which Velikhov succeeded to that. We felt he was a very conscious of that and in fact told me early on in our relationship that one of his principal motivations in organizing this committee of Soviet scientists was to educate a new generation. These guys had died. And you had to educate a new generation.
METTA: I drew you off course.
VON HIPPEL: No, I was quite going through chronologically. We’re up to 87. And at the meeting in 1987, in Moscow, the January meeting, there were a lot of things that happened, in addition to what I have told you. One thing was that with Jeremy’s initiative we signed an agreement between the Federation and the Committee of Soviet scientists to do a joint research program on [key productions?]. And actually, it was a five year program, and I remember Velikhov saying, “Oh, you admire our five-year plans so much?” [laughs] And at about that time, Velikhov actually started phasing himself out of the Committee of Soviet Scientists and Sagdeev took over, so really…
METTA: Why was he doing that?
VON HIPPEL: Well, he was accumulating a lot of hats.
METTA: Wasn’t he also in charge of the cleanup of Chernobyl?
VON HIPPEL: That’s right. In ’86. Well, he wasn’t in charge of it but he was the key person. Chernobyl was also part of Velikhov’s and my developing relationship because my first area of foreign policy that I involved myself in was reactor safety. I actually organized the American Physical Society reactor safety committee in 1974. The piece of that issue that I took over was containment and consequence mitigation. That was the piece of the APS study that I was responsible for. So when Three Mile Island happened, I actually got the message at the White House: get potassium iodide to Harrisburg and take it in case there’s a release of radioactive iodine. Now we got three days into the event before I actually got through to the White House. There were people in the bureaucracy who were working on this but they hadn’t got through to the White House either. And so I realized it was such an obvious thing to do but it might not in fact come to high-level attention in Moscow or Chernobyl. So I sent a telex to Velikhov to this effect and Velikhov took this telex to the people who were working in Moscow on Chernobyl and they said,“Okay, you be in charge of the science”. And it was my fault that he got involved with that. But then he went and became the hero of Chernobyl, in a way. He was trying to understand what was going on scientifically and exposed himself to an awful lot of radiation.
METTA: It seems to me I heard that he was sick.
VON HIPPEL: Well, he did go to hospital for a while after that. I think he got about 40 rem, which wouldn’t cause radiation sickness. Those people go to the hospital in a different style that we do. They go for rest cures, rather than when they are sick. So I think he may just have been exhausted.
So going back to 1987, we had this agreement. And Sagdeev and I organized the research. At the first meeting I don’t think Kokoshin was leading the Russian group. We actually had a meeting in Florida maybe a year later, 88, when we started seriously working. Kokoshin said, ‘Let’s write a book’, and in the end we wrote a book in which Kokoshin and Sagdeev were delinquent. The U.S. side did most of the work. It focused on nuclear warhead arms control. And I can give you a copy of the book if you like. I’ve got a surplus of copies. Ted Taylor played a key role in that book. Because when the INF Treaty came up for ratification. Hmm. No, I may have it mixed up. Maybe it didn’t come up for ratification until the spring of 1988. And I remember Jesse Helms asked, “What about the warheads?” We talk about destroying the launchers but what about the warheads? Aren’t those the things that hurt people??
METTA: It’s kind of [Laughing].
VON HIPPEL: The adminstration said yes, yes, but we can’t verify the elimination of warheads because it there is all this science that we don’t want to reveal to the Russians. We had a press conference with Ted, which basically explained __ and at the same time, I was agitating. I and a two other people had written in September 1985 issue of Scientific American, an article proposing a cutoff, a re-proposal (It was an old proposal) to cut off on the production of highly enriched uranium on both sides. I was trying to sell that over there and I finally did. It took some years. First, there was a big struggle about whether they were going to include that in the Russian edition of Scientific American. It took two years before the censors allowed them to print it. I don’t know why. It was somewhat sensitive and I think Velikhov had to go to pretty high levels to get that. One thing was that I estimated how much plutonium the Russians had produced (maybe that was why they were sensitive) from the Krypton 85 in the atmosphere that was released when you reprocessed it. It has a ten and a half year half-life and it accumulates, so on the global level, if you subtract out the sources that you know, the residual is the Soviet plutonium production. So Velikhov was very amused that I had penetrated one of their deepest secrets.
METTA: [Laughs] Non-intrusive verification.
VON HIPPEL: So finally, in 1989, they actually, I kept pushing it, and finally in 1989 they got Gorbachev to agree to it. Originally, it was in a U.S. proposal in the 50’s, and the US abandoned it after ’69. But then Gorbachev picked it up in 1989. That was in the context of the FAS work.
We also did a major study on warhead detection in the context of the FAS. There was a big blowup about that in the spring —.
METTA: Like, from a distance?
VON HIPPEL: Well, the question was, what kind of distance. And Gorbachev, when he was over here in the —?
METTA: I think I know what you are talking about. He made the statement that he could tell from a distance whether these missiles had warheads on them or not.
VON HIPPEL: In 1987. He was over… He could detect them from a distance. And this actually came from an idiot __________, I ran into later who had an institute of geophysics who had this idea that the neutrons coming out of the warheads would make argon in the atmosphere radioactive and then you could detect that radioactive argon downwind. Velikhov picked up that idea and I think it was actually Velikhov who told Gorbachev, who was telling a deep dark secret. Probably now so it can be told.
METTA: But there was no basis for it?
VON HIPPEL: Simple calculations, which Sagdeev and his group quickly did, showed that it was in the background, undetectable. And this event interested them in the subject. So we got into the subject quite deeply together and they did some calculations. Steve Fetter, on our side, a young physicist at the University of Maryland, did calculations. And basically, the calculations were both. ? from a distance of tens of meters you [could?] detect gamma radiation, and then you could shield them.
Tom Cochran picked up this idea and said, ‘Boy, this sounds like another opportunity for another NRDC demonstration.’ And I was ambivalent about it because I was concerned that we would be misleading because you could conceal these things. The context was that the Russians wanted to include sea-launched cruise missiles in the START negotiations and the Americans were resisting this because they said you couldn’t verify it. That was the context in which Gorbachev had made that incorrect statement. But it wasn’t entirely incorrect, it turned out. There was something else behind this crazy idea, which we learned later on. But anyway, Velikhov loves demonstrations and so he and Cochran got together and organized a group, really built around Fetter, the guy who has been working in the FAS group on the calculations, to ?
METTA: How do you spell his name?
VON HIPPEL: F E T T E R. Steve Fetter. And Velikhov managed again to talk to Gorbachev, and said, “Okay, we’ll provide a warhead, if you can measure the radiation from it.? And this was in July 1989 and Tom organized a group which included a couple of journalists [names them but inaudible] and three congressmen.
METTA: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this. That’s true?
VON HIPPEL: Yes. It was a real event.
METTA: I haven’t heard very much.
VON HIPPEL: Well it was. It was a big splash in the New York Times and the Washington Post anyway in 1989.
METTA: Strange that I don’t know anything about it.
VON HIPPEL: A number of other things in that tour that I will tell you about. So Velikhov arranged and we actually went on a cruiser, a Soviet Navy cruiser off of Yalta, and the NRDC group measured the gamma rays coming out of the launch tube for this sea- launched cruise missile, and then the Russians showed how they detected warheads. They set up a neutron detector in a helicopter that they flew by and they detected the warhead from up to 70 meters away. And later on I talked to the guy who designed this detector who said it had been in use for over ten years and in Soviet navy and they had actually flown over U.S. ships. That was behind what Gorbachev had said. I said, “How did the U.S. ships let you get that close?” Then he showed me pictures of the U.S. sailors waving.[Laughing]
METTA: That’s a wonderful story.
VON HIPPEL: Yes. So if you transcribed this actually, I would love to have this.
METTA: Okay. I will send it to you.
VON HIPPEL: I’m organizing my own collection. That’s something I don’t do very often.
METTA: And it will also give you a chance to check it and make sure.
VON HIPPEL: And you could also ? it would be a way to get things for the transcripts. You could just indicate where there are things that you would like for me to provide more.
So then, actually, we had also been pushing — Tom and John Pike had been pushing this.
METTA: We’ve got 15 or 20 minutes…
VON HIPPEL: Then we can continue this over the phone. In one area the Star Wars people were pointing at Russian activity with ground-base laser facility in Kazakhstan which has the potential to damage U.S. satellite and might even had some capability against re-entry vehicles. They were saying that the Russians were ahead.
METTA: When people say the Russians were doing great with Star Wars, that’s the kind of things they meant?
VON HIPPEL: That’s one of the particular things that they pointed at. Because there was this mysterious facility in Sary Shagan in Kazakhstan, which was their test site for ABM technology; that’s where they had a very powerful laser that they could shoot things down with. So we agitated with Velikhov, John Pike did and Congressman George Brown got into this. We?d like to visit this place. And Velikhov actually on this trip, arranged that. And so we actually visited this place. There was a great big building out in the desert with a beam director on it. We went inside to look at what the lasers were and later on I showed pictures. I remember showing pictures of what we found inside and somebody from Livermore said “Toys!” There were some desktop ruby lasers and there was an industrial size 20 KW laser CO2 laser and that was it. And sort of 1950s electronics and they were even having trouble tracking airplanes. They had never managed to track a satellite. Whereas out in White Sands, we had a 2000 Kilowatt thing.So this made quite a splash. Tom Cochran and I had an article in the New York Times about the killer laser that wasn’t.
And I had another stop on this trip which came out of my agitating about the cutoff. Velikhov took us to their first plutonium production site. Their equivalent of Hanford, in the Urals near [Chelyabinsk?]. Westerners had never been inside this place. I have a picture of people gathering around one of the u.S. Congressmen we had along; they said they had never seen an American before. They said, “We always dreamed of this.” We actually went inside. They were shutting the plutonium reactors and we visited a couple that they were shutting down. That was when we discovered this “Lake Karachay” which was their reservoir into which they put high-level radioactive waste.I just couldn’t believe it when they said, 120 million curies. I made them repeat it about six times.
METTA: This is the place where if you stand on the bank, you get—
VON HIPPEL: You get a lethal dose in an hour or something? Yes. That’s right. And they asked us whether we wanted to go! [Laughing]. We didn’t have enough guts.
METTA: You said the Cold War is over?
VON HIPPEL: Then they invited us. There was a very wonderful thing; there was a nice picture of this, where they invited us, after visiting the reactor, we went up to another lake, both on an island covered with birches and underneath the birches, there was this big dinner table, covered with linen and already cooked food. And we ate and it was wonderful. It was a fairy tale kind of scene.
METTA: I can’t believe that they dose you in radiation!
VON HIPPEL: It was another lake upstream from the other.
METTA: I see.
VON HIPPEL: Actually, the 79-year-old director stripped off his clothes and jumped into the lake and I did too. So, that was ’89.
And then, there was another meeting. I have a little trouble dating this one. It may have been in the fall of ’88, and Randy Forsberg was one of the organizers. It was on conventional stuff. We went in there and talked about tests.
METTA: Was this in IMEMO?
VON HIPPEL: In IMEMO, yes. You know about this meeting?
METTA: I interviewed Randy too, so I got something about this.
VON HIPPEL: You may have the dates from that. I was badly jet lagged on that trip and I sort of dozed through it. I didn’t contribute much at all. But I remember when I woke up, we were in a meeting and talking with Velikhov and Kokoshin about unilateral things that they could do to get the ball rolling. I remember Ted Warner[?] also was involved in this. He talked about pulling a thousand tanks out of Germany. I was just bowled over about a month later when Gorbachev pulled 5,000 tanks out! More than anything you could think would be politically possible! And then another 5,000 out of western Russia.
Our meetings have continued. We had the most recent one in December. In the last year we had a series of meetings, workshops. The relationship with Velikhov—the committee of Soviet scientists slowly faded away when Velikhov stopped being chairman. And I asked him to set us up with some somebody else. And first, he set us up with a group in the Academy of Sciences, which seemed to be some kind of interface with the military. It was not a very interesting relationship. And then he set us up with a group under the deputy director, the head of the Physics division of the Kurchatov Institute, Spartak Belyaev. Anyhow, we did have a workshop with Belyaev where we had the first meeting with nuclear weapons designers. The two U.S. labs, the 2 Russian Labs — talking about a test ban. And I found that the people from the Western side and the Russian side thought very much alike. They wanted safety. They said that the weapons will not stay safe, will not stay reliable, unless we can test them. And so we argued. And this was actually something I didn’t tell you. Another thing that happened in 1987. There’s a lot more than we?re going to get through. It was the International Foundation. Do you know about the International Foundation for Survival and Development?
VON HIPPEL: Velikhov was very impressed by the fact that the NRDC had been able to get money quite quickly for its seismic monitoring project. He said, “We don’t have such independent sources of funds in Russia. Maybe we should try to establish an international foundation.” So he approached Carnegie and MacArthur and said,“Would you be willing to put some money in to help us?” They said yeah. So he set up a board. His primary counterpart was Jerome Wiesner, on the U.S. side on the initial organization of this. And I was on the board, Sakharov and Sagdeev were on the board. I got to know Sakharov through this board and MacNamara, Father Hesburgh, John Scully from Apple. I basically took over the International Security side of that. Velikhov was my partner but he was distracted so I did most of the work. And we tried to move the test ban forward. That was our first project with this International Foundation in the international security area. I’m not sure whether this meeting in Moscow was under the auspices of the International Foundation. I think it was.
METTA: Where were you trying to get money?
VON HIPPEL: For the foundation? Well, the Carnegie and MacArthur were the big funders. There were smaller foundations. It was the International Foundation that brought Sakharov
to the U.S. for the first time, maybe the only time, in the spring of 1988, I think. I believe Velikhov tried hard to getSakharov permission to travel abroad. They were not sure he would come back, and he would spill all the secrets.
METTA: I was told that somebody said that he should talk to Reagan, that he would have more influence with Reagan than others.
VON HIPPEL: He did meet with Reagan.
METTA: He didn’t have any influence.
VON HIPPEL: [Phone] [Cut] This is about the test ban? We basically had a workshop in, I think it was the spring of 1990, we had a workshop in Moscow with weapon scientists from all four labs and also Ray Kidder, who was a key scientist from Livermore who basically was actually supporting test ban, and made important rebuttals to arguments that the scientists made. Out of that we produced a report which really I think was an important contribution to making a technical argument with Congress and at the Amendment Conference in January, 1991 — that’s what this was timed for — on the Comprehensive Test Ban. And Ray Kidder and I were regulars. Actually, Ray Kidder and I were invited by Velikhov to testify in front of a Committee of the Supreme Soviet on the Test Ban, and I have to figure out when that was. A lot of this stuff is laid out in progress reports of our Princeton group. So I have two sets of annual progress reports ? one from the Princeton projects and one from the FAS project.
METTA: Look, I definitely need to call you because we’re not through, so I’ll call you and at that point, take a list of things that I should consult.
VON HIPPEL: Yes. I have a lot of paper, and I’ll start by giving you some.
VON HIPPEL: This is a report that we didn’t get to. This is basically trying to get verification of nuclear warheads on the agenda. The Bush administration is very resistant. This was the book that we’re… the material about the detection of warheads and again, the verification of dismantlement. I also include a couple of articles on the 1989 experiment on the measurement of the gamma rays coming out and the neutrons coming out of the Russian warhead. This is the most available thing to me right now. It’s a collection of articles that the American Physical Society put together in my article is in it. It includes my part of the exchange with Velikhov on this relationship, slightly edited. The Non-governmental Arms Control Research, The New Soviet Connection. It’s a chapter in here. There’s also the slightly modified version of the 1985 Scientific American article on the cutoff of fissile materials. One of the connections that I haven’t told you about, was with the Foreign Ministry. At the 1989… thing at the Black Sea experiment, the measurement of the radiation from Soviet warhead. And then somebody from the Foreign Ministry who turned to be Shevardnadze’s idea man, Sergei Kortunov.
METTA: There’s an Andrei Kortunov.
VON HIPPEL: Yes, that’s his younger brother [Laughs]
METTA: I see.
VON HIPPEL: This is Andrei’s smart older brother. Like Sherlock Holmes and Mycroft. [Laughs]. And Sergei became one of my principal collaborators. And I started meeting him every time I was in Moscow. In the Foreign Ministry, we sort of brainstormed about what could be done next, after that July 1989 meeting. I think at the first meeting we had at the foreign ministry, one of the people from the foreign ministry came in with the copy of the article from the Russian edition of Scientific American, all underlined. It really had been used heavily in briefing Gorbachev.
METTA: I came to the right place! I thought I’d be through in an hour.
VON HIPPEL: This is one other thing that we did, producing this journal in English and Russian, 1989. The lead article was by Ted Taylor.
CONTINUING THE INTERVIEW A WEEK OR SO LATER BY PHONE:
METTA: I listened to the end again and I think we got as far as the CTB Conference in Moscow in April of 1990.
VON HIPPEL: Okay, you want to finish?
METTA: Yes. This is a good time.
VON HIPPEL: Under joint auspices on the U.S. of the Federation of American Scientists and the National Resources Defence Council, we had a series of workshops with the Soviet/ Russian government on the verified elimination of nuclear warheads and material. The first meeting was in October 1991 in Washington, where a person who was then the deputy minister of the Soviet Atomic Energy Ministry, Viktor Mikhailov, came with officials.
METTA: Excuse me, there are several Mikhailovs. I interviewed a general, and there is another one who was their arms control negotiator.
VON HIPPEL: No, this person is now the minister of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy.
METTA: Which handles both energy and weapons, as in the United States?
VON HIPPEL: Yes, it does. Although I think it is just nuclear energy. And we had a series of meetings since this proposal. The most recent one was in December. Maybe the most important result of it was that Mikhailov came with a request for $400 million for a storage facility for the components of Soviet nuclear warheads. He said that they had to dismantle at that time ten to twenty thousand warheads and that what was holding them up was that they didn’t have secure storage for the components, which included plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and that they needed financial assistance. Chris Paine, who was one of the NRDC organizers, organized a meeting between Mikhailov and senators, including Senators Nunn and Lugar. This was one of the stimulants for the Nunn-Lugar amendment the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991.” It was an amendment to the defence authorization act that they added in to authorize the transfer of up to $400 million to provide assistance to the Soviet Union for the safe and secure dismantlement of nuclear warheads and other weapons and for other non-proliferation measures. It also included conditions that the U.S. be able to verify the warheads that are dismantled that the components are not used in new warheads. Those conditions were later dropped by the Bush administration because the Russians insisted on reciprocity, that they be able to verify our reductions. I have been beating the drum of reciprocity ever since and am writing an article for Scientific American on this. The $400 million, which a year later was increased to $800 million (fiscal year 1992 defence authorization) by another group of senators, hasn’t gone entirely to building storage because so far there is $15 million is committed to a joint [design?] study and $150 million has been put to the side to provide assistance for that. There are other things that money has been earmarked for. So far, the $200 million has been rather slow moving, earmarked for other things, such as providing railroad cars and secure containers for weapons components and things like that.
We had a meeting in December 1991, when the same group met in Moscow and went to Kiev because the Ukrainians wanted to be involved in those discussions. At the press conference associated with our workshop in Kiev, General Velentsov, who was responsible for nuclear warheads for the General Staff, announced the scheduled withdrawal from the Ukraine and the other two states besides Russia that had tactical nuclear weapons.
METTA: Ukraine only had tactical weapons, is that right?
VON HIPPEL: No, Ukraine also had about 1,000 strategic weapons and they are now the focus of attention. The tacticals were withdrawn on schedule by May of last year, but now the focus is on the strategic weapons and things have slowed down. In May of 1992, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belorus agreed in Lisbon that the strategic weapons could be withdrawn within the seven-year reduction period. That period hasn’t started yet because Ukraine hasn’t ratified it.
METTA: Is that still questionable? The last time I heard, they weren’t going to do it.
VON HIPPEL: That’s right. There’s a lot of pressure in Ukraine. There are some people who don’t want to get rid of them but they are probably in the minority. The majority view seems to be that they should get compensation in various kinds. One is economic assistance, including money to retrain the people for destroying the missiles, security guarantees against nuclear attack, against threats to their borders, and a share in the value of the uranium that comes from the warheads.
METTA: What would be done with that stuff?
VON HIPPEL: That is actually something else that happened at that October meeting. Mikhailov proposed that they sell it to the u.S. for dilution down to low-enriched uranium for use in nuclear power plants.
METTA: Could the U.S. actually use it or they just trying to be good guys?
VON HIPPEL: Well, this deal is in an advanced stage now. Frank Neff [?] had already published that as an op ed in the New York Times and I think that gave the idea to Mikhailov. The way in which Neff rationaized it is that the U.S. government enriches uranium for utilities. They could fulfill those contracts by diluting Russian uranium and save a huge amount of electricity and pay them our savings. That is the basic idea. Neff is the key person.
Then we had another meeting in February in Washington, where one of our focuses was on conversion. I don’t know whether we had much impact on that. Out of the $400 million, the U.S. had set aside $25 for grants to former Soviet weapons sites to work on non-weapons projects as part of a conversion program. It was matched by $25 million from Europe Economic Community and $25 million from Japan, and money from Sweden. And then the U.S. also put in money for a new centre in Kiev where there was a missile plant. Most of the nuclear stuff is in Russia but one of the main missile design centres was in Kiev. We brainstormed about projects that could be carried out, and give the Russians things to do. We focused on nuclear reactor safety, cleanup of the plutonium production facilities, safeguards, and then there were lots of other things. They had some crazy ideas of disposing of toxic materials with underground nuclear explosions we were trying to talk them out of. But they also do things with chemical explosions, like make [diamond dust?]. The other main focus, which I can pull together to send to you, but we were focusing at the recent December meeting what to do with plutonium. We hadn’t solved the highly enriched uranium problem. Plutonium is more difficult because you cannot dilute it down as you would with highy enriched uranium. If you diluted it with uranium, it could be separated out chemically. So shipping plutonium around in reactor fuel creates a target for people who want to acquire plutonium for weapons. So we discussed a number of possibilities. The Russians, like the Japanese and Europeans, do want to use plutonium fuel. It turns out that plutonium is a waste, it has negative value. It costs too much to fabricate compared to other fuels. So we proposed mixing it in with the radioactive fission waste from which it originated, as that waste is headed for underground disposal. That is now being seriously considered by the U.S. government. We abandoned the idea of plutonium as a fuel in the Ford, Carter, and early Reagan administrations. We don’t have the commitments to plutonium as a fuel that some of these other countries still have. Our group at Princeton and NRDC can provide the analysis to encourage change in that direction. But in Moscow we were almost in a dialogue with the deaf. The U.S. was pushing this alternative and the Russian plutonium reactor people were telling us, “You can’t throw that away! It’s a national heritage.” In fact, people died to make it. We are learning more and more about how many people died. It’s terrible.
Then in December we went to Kiev again at the request of the Ukrainian government. They told us their current positions. And that brings us up to date.
METTA: Let me ask you something related. I talked with Bill Epstein in New York. He is worried. I was happy when the test ban moratorium passed but he is worried that the terms of the moratorium are that they will resume these safety tests and will not be through with that until after the date of the NPT renewal conference and if the US is still testing, that may kill the whole thing.
VON HIPPEL: Yeah. I think that is right. I am trying to see whether we can reduce the number of tests — ideally to zero. But I don’t know whether the Clinton administration will want to reopen that can of worms. The legislation requires that for every test, the department of Energy come back with a report to justify each one. That will be an opportunity to look at the justifications for the tests.
METTA: The problem now is in Congress, not in the administration?
VON HIPPEL: During the Bush administration it was in the administration. But there were strong feelings within the Congress as well. The opposition to that was led by Johnson. Sam Nunn was on the fence, didn’t play a constructive role. There will be a feeling within congress that it was revolutionary for them to end testing at all, and to push it further at this point would be [risky].
METTA: Could the administration just make a decision not to authorize those tests?
VON HIPPEL: They could but ultimately the senate will be in the loop to ratify the comprehensive test ban, and to do in the nuclear area the labs have to get paid off somehow. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also. Carter tried to push for a test ban and the labs rebeled and threatened to tie things up in knots by saying that they could no longer guarantee the reliability of the warheads without testing them.
All parties having agreed that they can live with testing not going on forever, that really does put us on the other side of the divide.
METTA: I’d like to put something in the magazine but I don’t know what to tell Canadian activists to do.
VON HIPPEL: There is an effort now (Bill would know this more than I) to reconvene the amendment conference.
METTA: He didn’t mention that.
VON HIPPEL: Our foundation is working on educating for that. The conditions are more favorable for that now. Ask Aaron Tovish about it.
METTA: He always said that it would be smarter to go that route than through Geneva.
VON HIPPEL: I believe that somebody has to work out the technical details, and that Geneva would be logical for that.
METTA: But he says that if you go through the multilateral process, every nation that signed the PTBT would automatically be signed on.
VON HIPPEL: I’m not contradicting that, but the Amendment Conference would have to create some technical working group to work out the protocol and they would probably turn to the Geneva conference to do that.