The History of the Lab-to-Lab
From classified to international: Harry Dreicer on early years of U.S.-Soviet collaboration in fusion physics
Los Alamos physicist Harry Dreicer tells a story of early international exchanges in the field of thermonuclear fusion. In 1958, at the time of second Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, it seemed that the target could be soon within reach. The US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was intent on producing a strong show of success in Geneva. Dreicer recalls that the AEC Chair "even offered a prize—I think it was like a million dollars or something—to the group that could make fusion by, I think, the autumn of ’58." After 60 years of concerted international effort, the target still does not have a clear end date. Dreicer tells about first contacts with the Soviet fellow physicists, impressive on the theorectical front but "scared" to socially engage with the Americans in the early era of international science exchanges.
The story begins in February 1992, barely two months after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when the Russian nuclear weapons laboratory directors visited Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
Two weeks later, LLNL Director John Nuckolls and LANL Director Siegfried Hecker visited the Russian analogues to American labs, Russian Federal Nuclear Center- VNIIEF and Russian Federal Nuclear Center-VNIITF, in the formerly secret cities of Sarov and Snezhinsk.
In September next year, LANL and VNIIEF scientists conducted the first joint experiment using an explosive magnetic generator designed in Sarov. Dozens and hundreds joint endeavors followed suite.
More about lab-to-lab in a 15-min video (courtesy of CISAC)
With hundreds of nuclear weapons professionals participating on each side, the US-Russian lab-to-lab interactions made impact not only on the issues tackled but also on the minds and hearts of the people involved. This side of the lab-to-lab record goes all the way from poignant, perceptive reflections captured in the poetry by Brodie Anderson, Walt Atchison and Bob Thomsen to wryly funny ballads depicting the hardships of the unpredictable Russian logistics by Patricia Newman to humorous observations about surpising discoveries of the American everyday life by Georgii Skripka and Andrey Sviridov to the testimony of the value of open-minded authentic interactions in the stories of Paul White.