Biography of Theodore B. Taylor: The Curve of Binding Energy By John McPhee

An excerpt from the book The Curve of Binding Energy by John McPhee, a biography of physicist Theodore B. Taylor.

THE CURVE OF BINDING ENERGY. By John McPhee. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974.

About the book: McPhee, a New Yorker author, has written an enthralling biography of Theodore B. Taylor, the incredibly inventive nuclear physicist. Taylor designed the smallest and lightest nuclear bomb ever made, as well as the largest-yield fission bomb ever exploded. Working in secrecy, backed by the U.S. Government, he made the spaceship Orion, the size of a 16-story building. Powered by 2,000 atomic bombs, exploding one at a time, Orion was intended to move very rapidly to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, but the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 shelved the project. As to any individual, anywhere, having the capability to make a private atomic bomb, both McPhee and Taylor seem convinced it is possible.

From the book: Just how few people could achieve the fabrication of an atomic bomb on their own is a question on which opinion divides, but there are physicists with experience in the weapons field who believe that the job could be done by one person, working alone, with nuclear material stolen from private industry.

The Los Alamos Primer, which contains the mathematical fundamentals of fission bombs, was declassified in 1964 and is now available from the Atomic Energy Commission for $2.06 a copy. For $4, a book titled Manhattan District History, Project Y, the Los Alamos Project can be bought from the Office of Technical Services of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. Written in 1946 and 1947, this was the supersecret technical description of the problems that came up during the building of the 1st atomic bombs. The book was declassified in 1961. On its inside front cover is a legal notice that says, in part, "Neither the U.S., nor the Commission, nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission ... assumes any liabilities with respect to use of, or from damages resulting from the use of, any information, apparatus, method, or process disclosed in this report."

Taylor to McPhee: In England, about 5 years ago, somebody--it was a hoax--advertised U-235 for sale. He got plenty of takers. For the making of a bomb, more than enough information is in the public domain already.

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