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Edward Teller, father of H-bomb

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 10, 2003

STANFORD, Calif. - Edward Teller, who played a key role in U.S. defense and energy policies for more than half a century and was dubbed the "father of the H-bomb" for his enthusiastic pursuit of the powerful weapon, died Tuesday. He was 95.

Mr. Teller died in Stanford, Calif., near the Hoover Institute where he served as a senior research fellow, according to a spokeswoman for the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, which Mr. Teller helped found.

Mr. Teller exerted a profound influence on America's defense and energy policies, championing the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, nuclear power and the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Among honors he received were the Albert Einstein Award, the Enrico Fermi Award and the National Medal of Science.

But Mr. Teller's critics were as impassioned as his supporters. During the Vietnam War, he was the target of unrelenting vilification from antiwar activists. He was seen as the model for Dr. Strangelove, the motion picture character with an artificial arm who "loved the bomb" and spoke with a Central European accent.

Mr. Teller's staunch support for defense stemmed in part from two events that shaped his dark, distrustful view of world affairs - the 1919 communist revolution in his native Hungary and the rise of Nazism while he lived in Germany in the early 1930s.

Witty and personable, with a passion for playing the piano, Mr. Teller nevertheless was a persuasive Cold Warrior who influenced presidents of both parties.

In 1939, he was one of three scientists who encouraged Einstein to alert President Franklin Roosevelt that the power of nuclear fission - the splitting of an atom's nucleus - could be tapped to create a devastating new weapon.

Two years later, even before the first atom bomb was completed, fellow scientist Enrico Fermi suggested that nuclear fusion - fusing rather than splitting nuclei - might be used for an even more destructive explosive, the hydrogen bomb.

Mr. Teller's enthusiasm and pursuit of such a bomb - he called it the "Super" - won him the title "father of the H-bomb," a characterization he said he hated. The first megaton H-bomb was exploded in 1952.

The H-bomb was never used in war, but atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945, quickly leading to Japan's surrender.

In 1995, Mr. Teller looked back a half-century and wondered if the United States could have showed Japan the tremendous power of the bombs without destroying the cities. Some scientists had suggested at the time that a bomb be exploded in the sky miles over Tokyo harbor in hopes of scaring Japan into surrendering with a minimum of casualties.

"I think we shared the opportunity and the duty, which we did not pursue, to find . . . a possibility to demonstrate" the bomb, Teller said at a 50th-anniversary forum. "Now in retrospect I have a regret."

- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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