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MCHOTSE - H-Bombs & Laser Fusion
“Gambling for H-Bombs: Publicizing and Privatizing Laser Fusion, 1969-1975”
Alexander Wellerstein, American Institute of Physics
Commentary by Dr. Martin Collins, National Air and Space Museum
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new technology known as “laser fusion” blurred Cold War distinctions between war and peace. Essentially a “dual use” technology, the physics of laser fusion is similar to thermonuclear weapons. However, laser fusion also held out the promise of important peaceful uses: it could be a limitless form of cheap, clean electrical power.
In a very small span of time, interest in laser fusion spread outside of classified government laboratories, well before the government was ready to declare the technology safe for unclassified work. Foreign companies, university researchers, and, most problematically, private corporations, all got into the laser fusion game in the early 1970s. This created a regulatory headache that called into question the very foundations of the Cold War secrecy regime: what was kept secret, why it was kept secret, and who it was kept secret from.
The problem, in its essence, was that Cold War system had been set up to handle disloyalty and espionage, not profit- or glory-seeking, and the government was slow to adapt to, and at times completely befuddled by, these emerging changes.
Refreshments at 4:00-4:30pm. Click on the link above to read the pre-circulated paper. The MCHOTSE is organized by the Department of History and receives some support from the University Certificate in Science, Technology and Society.