Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Los Alamos Project Ends

J. Robert Oppenheimer (AP)
J. Robert Oppenheimer

It was the usual Los Alamos party. J. Robert Oppenheimer was there. Edward Teller, Richard Feynman (irrepressible as always, playing the bongos) and all of the principal scientists on the Los Alamos project. They stood in small groups, talking, smoking, and drinking. As usual, Oppenheimer was smiling his martyr smile, engaged in conversation with several women. Teller, who seemed to Klaus to be reptilian, was boasting about his new idea, the theory behind a "super bomb," one that would be ten times more powerful than the one they were working on. Klaus smiled and said little.

"We will be ready in two weeks for the test four weeks at the most," Oppenheimer said, according to Richard Rhodes in Dark Sun. "Then we'll see what we have unleashed on mankind. I only hope it makes a difference. I mean, the war is practically won."

Teller, overhearing the conversation, assured Oppenheimer that the lives of thousands of soldiers would be saved by the new weapon.

Klaus smiled and said little.

The next morning, Klaus arrived in Sante Fe in the dilapidated car he had borrowed from a co-worker. Klaus had an old friend to meet.

He walked to the bridge in Sante Fe where Harry Gold was waiting.

* * *

That August 1945 was a difficult time for the Los Alamos scientists. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from all reports, were even more devastating than they had imagined. Klaus was not certain that he had made the right decision. Yet, Klaus believed, the weapon was too powerful to remain in the custody of a single power. If such a force had to exist, it had to exist in such a way that no nation would be tempted to ever use it again.

Perrin and most of the British delegation prepared to leave Los Alamos, asking Klaus to finish up a number of details so that Perrin could set up a Los Alamos type lab in Britain. Klaus was willing to wind up the work. While he was eager to return to England, he had no reason to decline the assignment Perrin had given him. It wasn't as if he had someone waiting for him.

Many of his American colleagues began to leave Los Alamos. A few seminars were conducted by Teller and others on the "Super," but Klaus found the idea theoretically remote, and concentrated on refining details of the Nagasaki bomb. Soon, he too could leave. In early 1946 he took the train to New York, visited Kristel in Cambridge to say farewell, and sailed home to England.