Born secret — the heavy burden of bomb physics

Proflieration, Threats

Born secret — the heavy burden of bomb physics

How data restrictions shaped nuclear discovery, energy research and more.

In March 1950, an official from the Atomic Energy Commission — then the guardian of US nuclear secrets — oversaw the burning of thousands of copies of the magazine Scientific American. The contention? They contained information so secret that its publication could jeopardize the free world.

Several statements in an article about the hydrogen bomb had raised red flags with government officials, even though they had all been reported publicly before. The government’s concern was not about what was said, but about who said it. Physicist Hans Bethe, who wrote the article, had been the head of the theoretical division at the Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico during the Manhattan Project, the top-secret Second World War programme that led to the atomic bomb.

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