Antimatter Technology for Military Purposes:

Excerpts from a Dossier and Assessments of Physicist

Edited by Marek Thee
International Peace Research Institute, Oslo

Published in Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 19. Nos. 3--4, 1988.


(Pages number refer to Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 19. Nos. 3--4, 1988)

1. Introduction: "Antimatter is real" 443

2. Andre Gsponer and Jean-Pierre Hurni: Antimatter weapons 444

3. B. W. Augenstein: Concepts, problems, and opportunities for use of annihilation energy - (Excerpts from a RAND NOTE) 450

4. Robert Walgate: Defence lobby eyes antimatter 456

5. Edgar Ulsamer: The promise of antimatter 458

6. Andre Gsponer and Jean-Pierre Hurni: Antimatter underestimated 459

7. William H. Scott/Edwards AFB: USAF predicts antimatter propellants 460

8. Jeff Hecht: Space scientists probe the heart of antimatter 462

9. Questionnaire on the potential military use of antimatter technology and responses of physicists 463

9.1 The questionnaire 463

9.2 Response of Hannes Alfvèn 463

9.3 Response of anonymous physicist No 1 463

9.4 Response of anonymous physicist No 2 464

9.5 Response of Richard L. Garwin 464

9.6 Response of anonymous physicist No 3 464

9.7 Response of Frank von Hippel 464

9.8 Response of Bertrand T. Feld 464

9.9 Response of Kosta Tsipis 465

9.10 Response of anonymous physicist No 4 465

9.11 Response of Hu Side 465

9.12 Response of anonymous physicist No 5 465

9.13 Response of Jorma K. Miettinen 465

9.14 Response of Klaus Gottstein 466

9.15 Response of Francesco Calogero 466

9.16 Response of D. Berenyi 466

9.17 Response of anonymous physicist No 6 466

9.18 Response of anonymous physicist No 7 467

9.19 Response of Raul A. Boix Amat 467

9.20 Response of anonymous physicist No 8 468

9.21 Response of anonymous physicist No 9 468

9.22 Response of Peter Weinzierl 468

9.23 Response of Philip B. Smith 469

9.24 Response of anonymous physicist No 10 469

10. Conclusion: On the alert relative to antimatter technology research 469

1. Introduction: "Antimatter is real"

In spring 1987 I was alerted by the studies of the Geneva-based Independent Scientific Research Institute (ISRI) on breakthrough achievements in basic research on antimatter technology at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics CERN in Geneva, with the potential uses for military purposes. An over 50-years old "science-fiction" theory on the existence of antimatter had been substantialized, and the vision of producing extremely powerful annihilation energy, immensely stronger than nuclear energy, by the fusion of the masses of a particle and its antiparticle, moved into the stage of laboratory experimental research. On the night of July 17-18, 1986, for the first time in history, antimatter was captured for a few minutes within an antimagnetic trap at CERN. The excitement was great, though little of its historical scientific-technological importance and implications reached the outer world.

Yet the military was quick to jump on the new technology. In a note of March 21, 1988. Aviation Week & Space Technology reported:

Today, despite the scientific community's continued difficulty in overcoming the aura of fiction that surrounds antimatter and its possibilities for rocket propulsion, il has moved into the realm of serious research in Europe, the Soviet Union and the United States. The "giggle factor" is over. Antimatter is real, and we know how to make it and keep it. It has promise, Col. Ros Nunn, USAF Astronautics Laboratory (AFAL) commander, said. Studies are being conducted under Air Force sponsorship at "keep-it-alive levels", he said:

"The potential military use of antimatter technology goes far beyond rocketry propellants. It may also serve to animate research on new exotic arms like Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs), or as a trigger for powerful thermonuclear weapons. A very small quantity of antimatter, on the order of nanograms, used as a trigger for nuclear explosions could then replace the need for underground nuclear testing, thus petrifying the nuclear arms race" [1].

I was disturbed by the studies and materials provided to me by the Director of ISRI, Dr. Andre Gsponer, and sent out a questionnaire to a number of world prominent physicists, East, West and South, inquiring on their assessment of the potential inherent in antimatter technology and its use for military purposes. Below are excerpts from the dossier on the potential military use of antimatter technology, and the questionnaire as well as responses from the physicists containing their evaluation on the prospects of antimatter technology. In conclusion, I state the case for remaining alert to trends and dynamics in antimatter technology research.

[1] William U. Scott/Edwards AFB, "USAF Predicts Antimatter Propellants. Could Be in Use by Early 21st Century." Aviation Week & Space Technology, 21 March 1988.

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2. Andre Gsponer and Jean-Pierre Hurni: Antimatter weapons

[View article]

Author: Andre Gsponer and Jean-Pierre Hurni

Title: Antimatter weapons

Published in French: Les armes à antimatière, La Recherche /17/ (Paris, 1986) 1440--1443.

Published in English: Antimatter weapons, The World Scientist (New Delhi, India, 1987) 74--77.

Reprinted in English: Antimatter weapons, Bulletin of Peace Proposals /19/ (Oslo,1988) 444--450.

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3. B. W. Augenstein: Concepts, problems, and opportunities for use of annihilation energy - (Excerpts from a RAND Note)

Author: B.W. Augenstein:

Title: Concepts, problems, and opportunities for use of annihilation energy: an annotated briefing on near-term RDT&E to assess feasibility.

Published: RAND Note N--2302--AF/RC, June (1985) 61 pp.

Comment: Prepared for the United States Air Force.

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4. Robert Walgate: Defence lobby eyes antimatter

Author: Robert Walgate

Title: Defence lobby eyes antimatter

Published: Nature, Vol. 322 (21 August 1986) 678.

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5. Edgar Ulsamer: The promise of antimatter

Author: Edgar Ulsamer

Title: The promise of antimatter

Published: Air Force Magazine (February 1986) 19--20.

Comment: Edgar Ulsamer is Senior Editor (Policy and Technology)

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6. Andre Gsponer and Jean-Pierre Hurni: Antimatter underestimated

[View article]

Author: Andre Gsponer and Jean-Pierre Hurni:

Title: Antimatter underestimated

Published: Nature, Vol. 325 (26 February 1987) 754.

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7. William H. Scott/Edwards AFB: USAF predicts antimatter propellants

Author: William U. Scott

Title: USAF Predicts Antimatter Propellants. Could Be in Use by Early 21st Century.

Published: Aviation Week & Space Technology (21 March 1988).

Comment: The author is at Edwards Air Force Base.

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8. Jeff Hecht: Space scientists probe the heart of antimatter

Author: Jeff Hecht

Title: Space scientists probe the heart of antimatter

Published: New Scientist, Vol. 118 (14 April 1988) 1608.

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9. Questionnaire on the potential military use of antimatter technology and responses of physicists

Below is the text of the questionnaire which I have sent out on April 2, 1987 to 29 world prominent physicists, West, East and South. Among those who responded were scientists from the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Argentina, Austria, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Federal Republic of Germany, Israel, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, mainly linked to the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. They included two Nobel prize winners, two physicists formerly engaged in the Manhattan project, two with previous research in antimatter and most of them are actively involved in basic research. The ratio of responses was high: out of the 29 addressed, 22 responded. It was symptomatic that most of the responses arrived almost instantly during the month of April 1987, a few came in May. This may be taken as a sign of keen interest and concern. Below, following the text of the questionnaire, are excerpts from the responses.

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9.1. The questionnaire

[View questionnaire]



Dr. Marek Thee

Radhusgt. 4
0151 Oslo 1

Oslo, April 2, 1987


Enclosed please find a paper "Les armes à antimatière" by Andre Gsponer and Jean-Pierre Hurni published in La Recherche, Vol. 17, No. 182, 1986, dealing with the possible use of antimatter technology for military purposes. If feasible, this seems to be an alarming prospect.

As you may know, I am very concerned with the misuse of science-based technology for military purposes, and the role military technology is playing in stimulating the arms race. The exploitation of antimatter research for military objectives, if workable, may revolutionize modern military technology. Should this be attainable, some preemptive action would be indispensable.

In this context, I would very much appreciate and be grateful for your assessment concerning:

a) The feasibility of the use of antimatter technology for military purposes;

b) the assumption that in five to seven years antimatter military technology could be instrumental in the construction of new exotic weapon systems;

c) the hypothesis that nuclear testing could in the near future be substituted by laboratory antimatter technology.

I am looking forward to hear from you.

Warm regards.


1 encl.

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9.2. Response of Hannes Alfven

[View original letter]

Department of Plasma Physics
S-100 44 Stockholm

Stockholm, April 14, 1987

Dear Marek,

(1) There are strong arguments for the view that the Universe is matter-antimatter symmetric and that annihilation plays a major role in the evolution of the Universe -- although this is not the generally accepted view.

(2) It is generally agreed that there is no antimatter in the solar system.

(3) Production of appreciable quantities of antimatter is an extremely complicated process.

(4) I conclude that it is extremely unlikely that antimatter will be of any military importance.

Kind regards,

Hannes Alfvèn

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9.3 Response of anonymous physicist No 1

Thank you for your letter of April 2. You may relax about the possibility of antimatter weapons. Nobody has as yet produced antimatter. To produce even one gram of antimatter at Fermilab, one of the most powerful high energy accelerators, would take something like a century if the machine is operated full-time. Even if the antimatter could be produced, nobody has any idea how to contain it without destroying the container. Antimatter weapons are a crazy idea which comes up from time to time in various military establishments, but it should not be taken seriously.

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9.4 Response of anonymous physicist No 2

On the military utility of anti-matter, I am exceedingly skeptical. Although not an expert I think the idea of a use weapon is nonsense. Anti-matter specifically a positive electron (positron) and a negative hydrogen (H^- instead of the normal H^+) have been made so they have very short life times and are produced only with energy consuming reactions. I am sure that the energy needed to make them exceeds by far the energy they could bring to a weapon. I'll talk further on this, but think it safe to dismiss the idea of an eventual weapon.

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9.5 Response of Richard L. Garwin

[View original letter]

Richard L. Garwin
IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center
P.O. Box 218
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598

April 22, 1987

Dear Dr. Thee:

Thanks very much for your letter of 04/02/87 and the enclosed article by Gsponer and Hurni.

I do not believe that "within 5 to 7 years" antimatter military technology could be instrumental in the construction of any new weapon.

Note that the nuclear weapon of Figure 2 is really a thermonuclear weapon, in which only the ignition of the normal fuel has anything to do with antimatter. This would be a far more difficult task than the ignition of fuel by the use of small amounts of plutonium.

We are certainly a long way from the use of antimatter technology for military purposes, and for a long time after it became possible in the most advanced nations, it would be only they who could do it.

But there is no need to open this can of worms. Certainly, antiprotons from CERN could never be transported to the United States for use in a military project. We could indeed imagine transporting a few antiprotons technically, but not politically.

I hope this answers your question. I enclose a couple of recent papers.

Sincerely yours,

Richard L. Garwin

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9.6 Response of anonymous physicist No 3

(NB: In the Bulletin of Peace Proposals, page 464, this answer is appended to the previous one by Richard L. Garwin)

I think that Gsponer is highly unreliable in these fantasies. Furthermore, Augenstein of RAND is similarly working in another world. It is the utmost in fantasy to suggest (page 4.8) "As long as antiprotons made in Europe (on Swiss territory) could be bottled and brought back to the United States ... a production/Accumulation facility ... wouldn't in the near future have to be built in the United States." There are very few things on which I have refused to work, but since I see absolutely no benefits to the United States in the creation of any antimatter-related weapons, I have told one of my good friends that "if it is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well."

I regard the Gsponer-Hurni letter to Nature of 02/26/87 as ridiculous. "Collecting and cooling muons" would have to be done in two microseconds, and that would certainly not be adequate to form a "very intense beam..."

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9.7 Response of Frank von Hippel

[View original letter]

Frank von Hippel
Princeton University
School of Engineering and Environmental Studies
The Engineering Quadrangle
Princeton, New Jersey 08544

(Undated and hastly handwritten on the questionnaire)

In response to your questions:

a) Unfeasible in the foreseeable future.

b) Wrong,

c) Ridiculous.

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9.8 Response of Bertrand T. Feld

[View original letter]

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Physics
Cambridge, MA 02139

April 23, 1987

Dear Marek,

I was more amused than disturbed by the paper "Les armes à antimatière" by Gsponer and Hurni from <>La Recherche<>. Frankly, there is really nothing new there, except for a degree of technological "optimism" that goes beyond the reasonable.

Of course, as a scientist I know better than to say "impossible" or "never", even about ideas that are pretty far out, as long as they do not violate any fundamental law of physics, which the Gsponer and Hurni paper does not. But, still, a serious look at the present state of the elementary particle art convinces me that such an application is <>at least<> three or four decades away, if not further. I would therefore prefer to concentrate my efforts on avoiding catastrophe by use of currently available technologies -- a concern that, as you well know, is by no means all that remote.

I suppose that, sooner or later, the "whiz kids" in some of our weapons laboratories will start to creep up on such possible devices. But I am sure there will be ample warning of such progress: and I will worry about this problem (if I'm still around) when the time comes.

With best regards,


B.T. Feld
Professor of Physics

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9.9 Response of Kosta Tsipis

[View original letter]

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

April 21, 1987

Dear Marek,

It was a pleasure hearing from you with your letter of April 2. I have always remained not amused with Dr. Gsponer's accounts in the past, and the one you sent me leaves me with the same reaction.

Although proton-antiproton annihilation is indeed the ultimate mechanism for transforming matter into energy, I find his fears totally over-inflated. The devices that are required to produce and accelerate antiprotons are very large structures the size of small factories at best. The notion of "bottling" antiprotons is fanciful even for science-fiction. Therefore I cannot agree with Dr. Gsponer that this technology can be applied to the manufacture of deliverable weapons. Often, at least in the U.S., scientists seeking funding from the defense department for their work, claim weapons' applications for it to enhance the probability of funding. I have not heard of anyone claiming antimatter weapons applications, but ... physicists are quite inventive when research grants are involved!

As for nuclear testing: One must test what one wants to develop: If one wants to develop a fusion weapon or a third generation weapon that is what he has to test, and antimatter experiments cannot substitute for that. I find this claim also baseless. Let me close by adding that Figure 2 of the article is fanciful but not meaningful in terms of weapon's technology. There are much more important and immediate issues to pursue.

With best regards.


Kosta Tsipis

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Response of anonymous physicist No 4

Thank you for your letter of April 2 and for the enclosed article from La Recherche.

Let me answer briefly your questions:

a) In principle one cannot exclude attempts to find future military uses of antimatter technology;

b) However I don't believe that in five to seven years (and even within much longer time) antimatter military technology could be instrumental in the construction of new exotic weapon systems;

c) I find highly speculative the hypothesis that nuclear testing could be in the near future substituted by laboratory antimatter technology.

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9.11 Response of Hu Side

[View original letter]

Institute of Applied Physics and
Computational Mathematics
P.O. Box 8009, Beijing
The People's Republic of China

April 19, 1987

Dear Dr. Thee

I'm very glad to receive your letter. It calls to my remembrance of the pleasant time in Budapest and your helpful conversation.

In the letter, you mentioned the probability of the use of antimatter technology for military purposes. Now I'd like to give my opinion on this point. Any progress in science-based technology will not only bring benefit to mankind, but also be used for military purposes, e.g., nuclear energy, laser, X ray-laser, etc. Great energy is released during the collision between particles and anti-particles. So there is latent probability for antimatter technology to be used for military purposes. But as you know, It needs huge power and very great, expensive engineering to produce the anti-particle current. In my opinion, military use is the matter in the distant future. There is no feasibility of it in this century at least, furthermore, nuclear testing can't be substituted completely by laboratory antimatter technology in this century.

Warm regards.

Sincerely yours,

Hu Side

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9.12 Response of anonymous physicist No 5

Oral response to point c):

If you would have asked me two years earlier about the use of antimatter technology to trigger a nuclear explosion, I would have said that this is ridiculous. Now, however, after having read the studies of Gsponer and having talked to him, I start to take this prospect seriously.

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9.13 Response of Jorma K. Miettinen

[View original letter]
[Second page of letter]

University of Helsinki
Department of Radiochemistry
Unioinkatu 35
SF-00170 Helsinki 17


Dear Marek,

Thank you or your letter dated April 2, 1987, and the enclosed article. I was in Lapland when it arrived but got it a few days ago. I have read the article with great interest since I have followed this antiproton annihilation research many years.

This article is scientifically quite sound but it gives in one respect a wrong image: it gives the image that CERN would be usable for camouflaged military research by the Americans. CERN is a fully international laboratory. All research carried out there is fully open. I am sure it cannot be misused, for military research. You cannot stop this type of basic research although it sometime, somewhere, may lead to military applications. So, please, be careful not to smear CERN although the two French physicists present their doubts regarding a possibility to use CERN-produced antihydrogen for annihilation research. There is a long, long way to weapons development from such a basic research experiment.

Then, your specific questions:

a) It is theoretically quite feasible to use antimatter technology to military purposes some time in distant future, maybe 30 to 50 years ahead. Antimaterial research is just now at the beginning of its experimentation, like fusion research was 35 years ago, and it will take at least another 35 years before fusion will provide a significant portion of the electricity we consume.

It will be just <>military<> applications, which will be the most likely, some time, decades ahead, when practical applications may become possible. Antimaterial will be too costly for electricity generation in foreseeable future.

b) The assumption that antimaterial technology could be applicable for new weapons in 5-7 years sounds to me overly optimistic. Several Finnish theoretical physicists who are experts on this field are of the same opinion.

c) Yes, it is possible, that some nuclear tests with antimatter primer may become possible in 5-10 years but they serve those esoteric, extremely expensive weapons, the development of which will take a much longer time.

The cheaper weapons based on fission and fusion need to be tested with a different primer.

The French article is quite good otherwise but too alarming regarding misuse of CERN.

If you wish so, I could write to your journal a short article on the risks of antimatter weapons in which I would try to give a balanced picture of the matter.

Please find enclosed a lecture I held recently at our Anniversary festival of our University. There is also a comprehensive translation in Swedish and an abbreviated one in English. The lecture has only been published in Finnish. You may use it if you wish.


Jorma K. Miettinen

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9.14 Response of Klaus Gottstein

[View original letter]
[Second page of letter]

Forschungsstelle Gottstein in der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Frankfurter Ring 243
D-8000 MUNCHEN 40

Direktor: Professor Dr. Klaus Gottstein

6 April 1987

Dear Dr. Thee,

Thank you very much for your letter of April 2 and for the enclosed paper.

The use of antimatter for weapons is a theoretical possibility which has been discussed for a long time. So far it is pure science fiction. Even with the new facility at CERN the production of antimatter is six orders of magnitude below the production that would be needed for military purposes. In addition the technical problems would be enormous because the contact with ordinary matter would have to be avoided before the intended moment of explosion. In the laboratory there exist possibilities for doing this by suitable arrangements of electromagnetic fields but it is hard to imagine that such an arrangement could be made into a transportable weapon.

Nevertheless, you are quite right that these developments should be watched closely. After all, an "antimatter bomb", would be a new type of nuclear bomb, after the fission and fusion bombs. It seems to me, however, that it would be premature to raise an alarm about this at the present stage. As far as I know, no one is working on projects of this type, not even within the SDI program! Fortunately, the technical barriers are insurmountable for the time being. The "old-fashioned" nuclear bombs are much cheaper. If one day our hope will materialize that nuclear weapons will be banned, antimatter bombs would be banned automatically with them.

With best wishes and regards,


Klaus Gottstein

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9.15 Response of Francesco Calogero

[View original letter]

Dipartimento di Fisica
Universita degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza"

Roma, 7.4.87

Dear Marek

I have read the article in La Recherche 182, 1440-1443 (1986) on antimatter weapons. I am not impressed. I suggest the thought about these developments should have a very low priority in the list of your worries about the future.


Francesco Calogero

(NB: Francesco Calogero is the Director of the Rome office of Pugwash.)

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9.16 Response of D. Berenyi

[View original letter]

Institute of Nuclear Research
of the Hung. Acad. of Sciences
Bem ter 18/c
H-4001 Debrecen PF 51.

15 April 1987

Dear Dr. Thee,

Thank you for your letter of 2 April and the paper you sent me together with your letter.

I think that it is quite sure that antimatter technology principally makes it possible to produce a more effective and even more harmful nuclear weapon than those existing today. Of course, I do not really know how much time is necessary to the development of the military technology in this line.

I firmly believe that scientists will realize the danger of antimatter technology and will do their best all over the world to prevent the misuse of this scientific achievement.

With best regards,

Sincerely yours,

Professor D. Berenyi
Director of the Institute

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9.17 Response of anonymous physicist No 6

I believe that the production of antiprotons, their storage at the low temperatures required in order not to escape from a feasible magnetic bottle and the engineering problems connected with fashioning a reliable instrument are very demanding.

I should reply to your questions. Thus:

a) On physical principle, feasible.

b) If military expectations, cost and engineering effort make this path worthwhile to the military, I should think that at least 10 years would be required in order to arrive at acceptable conditions for a practical instrument.

(c) I doubt this. The purpose of testing is not to verify the physics but to calibrate an instrument accurately.

Altogether, I believe, one should continue to follow developments and in particular the so-called "cost-benefit" estimate of so demanding a development, without being prematurely worried that it threatens the world more than the threat which hangs over it at present.

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9.18 Response of anonymous physicist No 7

Thank you very much for your letter concerning the misuse of antimatter technology. I am afraid that the answer to your questions a) and c) is positive. The article in La Recherche gives many arguments showing that antimatter technology is an almost ideal tool in order to develop new weapons. However, all this assumes that there should also be a positive answer to your question b). Roughly speaking, it appears that the production and storage capability of antiprotons should be increased by a factor of order 10^7, in order to be effective. This is still a large factor for the moment. I have no way of ascertaining the rate of "progress" in this direction.

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9.19 Response of Raul A. Boix Amat

[View original letter]
[Second page of letter]

FANAL Federation de Asociaciones Nucleares de America Latina
Cosillo de Correo 860
Correo Central
Republica Oriental del Uruguay

April 24th, 1987.

Dear Dr. Thee:

Thank you for your letter of the 2nd inst, and clipping enclosed therewith on the possible use of antimatter technology for military purposes. Together with Dr. Pignotti of the Nuclear Projects and Technology Division of our firm, we have studied the paper referred to, and transcribe hereunder our conclusions:

We share with you the concern about the exploitation of antimatter for military uses. From the statements in the paper of Gsponer and Hurni it is clear that this is no longer just a theoretical possibility, but rather a concrete threat.

Let us, however, first make some general comments on peaceful uses, which are not discussed in detail in this paper, but are relevant to general policies on the subject. In principle, the fuel not being available, exploitation is not economic because more energy has to be spent in manufacturing fuel than can be recovered from it. However, the energy problem does not only reside in the economics of generation, but also in the difficulty in storing energy. It appears that storing antiprotons may in some cases turn into an effective way of storing energy, with possible peaceful applications (such as in propulsion or generation in a peaceful space program). With this possibility in mind, I believe that it will be impossible to curb the antimatter based energy research and development.

Going to your specific questions, I believe that in this article convincing arguments can be found for a positive answer to your question a). The application that appears more likely to me is the replacement of the detonator of an H bomb by an annihilation device. This raises the important issue, mentioned in the paper, of the necessity of extending all arms control agreements to include fusion.

It is very difficult to assess whether new exotic weapons based on antimatter technology will be feasible in a period of five to seven years. This will depend on how far classified research has gone at the present date and how much effort and resources are devoted to this subject. In my judgment, the assumption that in this period such weapons will be feasible cannot be ruled out, and is therefore an adequate "working hypothesis".

Concerning your third question, I believe that lab testing is never a complete substitute for field tests. Therefore, the statement by Gsponer and Hurni, that the possibility of lab testing will "evidently render ridiculous any attempt to slow down the arms race through an eventual complete test ban" is an overstatement. A complete test ban would be a great step ahead, and would slow down the arms race. The possibility of low and medium power explosions triggered by antimatter should be kept in mind, and refinement of detection techniques may help to curb these "leaks".

With best regards,

Raul A. Boix Amat

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9.20 Response of anonymous physicist No 8

I received your letter on problems of antimatter. ... Of physics there is not much news here. Nevertheless, I found it very interesting. In the first place, it was a most timely reminder of other people's reflections on possible applications of the results of fundamental physics, results which we physicists tend to believe are utterly without practical significance and of no interest at all to anyone. We come so very quickly to lose ourselves in our work. Secondly, it was interesting to see the central role CERN plays in this connection. No matter how open and civilian the project, the military are apparently watching very closely.

Even though it is difficult to believe today that antimatter could acquire any significance as weapon or fuel over the next few decades, it would be naive to believe that research towards this end will cease. Antimatter could have potential especially as fuel for future space voyages. And this is a field in which great resources will be spent in the years ahead. That the military should be interested in this possibility is of course unsurprising and correspondingly sad. But given SDI and other science fiction costing billions, it is clear that antimatter is a seductive possibility which could be used with great effect to influence politicians in budget matters.

I also believe that there is little reason to chastise CERN in particular in this connection. Even though technology is developed at CERN with possible military use sometime in the future, this is true of much else in today's society. What about a normal university education in the modern natural sciences which makes it possible to continuously hire fresh graduates to work on military research projects on high-tech weapon systems? Without universities and research institutions the military sector of today could not function. It is our attitudes toward war and weapons as means of conflict resolution that must change, not our exploration of the world around us that must stop. The first we can do something about, the second still preserves our hopes for a better future.

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9.21 Response of anonymous physicist No 9

Concerning the paper in La Recherche, November 1986, pp. 1440-1443:

p. 1442:2 - If insulation of the anti-H bullet depends on a helium-cooled superconductor generating a magnetic field, there seems to be some safety problems connected with loading and transport of such arms.

p. 1442:3 - A stream of electric charges with extra high intensity may "activate" a magnetohydrodynamic generator --- but only for a short moment? The meaning seems to be starting rather than replacing a thermoionic generator on earth. In outer space --- perhaps --- smaller currents could be of interest, and of longer duration.

p. 1443 - The borderline fundamental-military research is evidently here a critical, and well treated problem.

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9.22 Response of Peter Weinzierl

[View original letter]

Institut fur Experimentalphysik
der Universitat Wien
Strudlhofgasse 4
A-1090 Wien 4

Vorstand Prof. Dr. Peter Weinzierl

April 10, 1987

Dear Dr. Thee,

Thank you very much for your letter of April 2. 1987. I read with much interest the article by Gsponer and Hurni you had included. But I am not really alarmed by their considerations.

I agree that several years from now a transport of extremely cold antiprotons will be technically feasible and so the use for military purposes cannot be excluded. Even if one believes the figure of 1 microgram as sufficient for the ignition of an H-bomb, I cannot see how the "ultrapurity" of this neutron bomb will in any way justify the enormous investments required. Weapon grade fissile material is available in vast amounts and practically free of charge compared to antiprotons. I also suspect that the process of cooling down the antiprotons to temperatures allowing a magnetic enclosure will involve serious losses.

As far as exotic weapons are concerned I do not believe in the success of a SDI program with or without antiproton-weapons.

The real danger involved is the anti-satellite capability of space weapon devices which is relatively easily to achieve.

The main effect of this gigantic program is the technological spinoff for military and civilian purposes. I am especially doubtful about X-ray lasers because of the impossibility of focusing this radiation. Furthermore I think that the respective passages on page 1442 of the article can only by considered as science fiction.

Sincerely yours

Peter Weinzierl

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9.23 Response of Philip B. Smith

[View original letter]

Nederlands Pugwash Komitee
Secretariaat: Westersingel 34
9718 CM Groningen
The Nederlands

Groningen, April 8, 1987

Dear Marek,

Your letter with enclosed article gave me the feeling that if it were possible I would choose to belong to another race than the human race.

There is not much that I can say with any certainty. What can be said is this:

1. If the slightest possibility exists that any technique can be applied to killing people, all concerned with that occupation will do their best to so apply it.

2. Professional organizations are certain not to favour any limitations on military work. The official organization of physics in Europe, the European Physical Society, has vehemently and successfully opposed any discussion of even as mild a proposal as requesting physicists not to work on weapons.

There is a possibility though to go about it politically. Even though I do think that any application of anti-matter is still a science fiction story it is not unimportant. The reason is that the diversion from honest scientific work, even if it is in order to search for a "will of the wisp" is costly and demoralizing. So therefore I suggest that we get together a panel of physicists and non-physicists to see if the countries supporting CERN could be brought to put political (i.e. financial) pressure to bear on the leadership. One could, for instance, try to get the exportation of any anti-matter to other laboratories prohibited unless they promised that no weapons-related work be done with it.

If the suggestion caused a storm of protest because it is a ridiculous idea, then one could reply that in that case there could be no harm in such a prohibition. If on the other hand some weapons-application were to be practical and some laboratory were to covertly divert material obtained from CERN, you could not do anything about it.

I do not think any of the things mentioned in the article are practical, but as I said above, it is an ideal opportunity to test the principles of European physicists.


Philip B. Smith

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9.24 Response of anonymous physicist No 10

A first reaction to your letter about possible military use of anti-matter:

My own estimate is the following: (in spite of the articles in La Recherche)

a) The use of anti-matter-technology for military purposes seems to me close to science-fiction.

b) It does not seem to me that new exotic weapons will result from anti-matter-technology within ten years.

c) Testing nuclear weapons will not be substituted by tests using anti-matter-technology in the near future.

A further remark:

It can be imagined that thermonuclear chain reactions can be initiated by concentrating very strong laser-beams or beams of particles, or anti-particles (protons, antiprotons or electrons), either for controlled fusion or initiating a thermonuclear explosion. However, this will probably require a laboratory full of equipment, which is not suitable for a military bomb of limited size.

All these remarks are first estimates - Rutherford expressed the expectation - about 1932 - that nuclear physics would never have practical applications and in 1945 we had the A-bomb. So let us be careful.

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10. Conclusion: On the alert relative to antimatter technology research

As may be perceived from the statements of these physicists a majority are sceptical about the chances of maturation of antimatter technology in the near future, but not so much to the longer-term perspectives. No one negates the correctness of the theoretical assumptions. Yet their scepticism concerns the technical barriers still to be overcome, the exorbitant costs to be invested, and the suspicion that the energy required to provide antimatter may exceed the likely output.

With hindsight. I should admit that there may have been some flaws in the formulation of the questionnaire and the language of the appendix. First, it may be that not all the recipients had a perfect command of French to follow the paper from La Recherche (this may also explain the absence of responses from a few addressees); but when sending out the questionnaire, I was not in possession of the English translation. Second, and more importantly, being at the moment particularly preoccupied with the possible use of antimatter for triggering a nuclear weapon explosion so as to circumvent a comprehensive nuclear test ban by substituting nuclear testing with laboratory antimatter technology (see my paper "The Pursuit of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test' Ban", Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1988), I may have laid too great an emphasis on the near-term imminent use of antimatter technology for military purposes to the detriment of long-term perspectives.

Nevertheless, the responses were quick to come and are revealing. It may be interesting to note that all the arguments on the chances of antimatter technology have a similar ring to arguments in the 1930s on the prospects of nuclear energy being produced. Symptomatic in this respect is the remark by one of the respondents pointing to the fact that in 1932 Ernest Rutherford expressed the expectation that "nuclear physics would never have practical applications". The exact wording by Rutherford in a lecture held in September 1933, according to the London Times, was that "anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine" [1]. Rutherford was the great British nuclear physicist and Nobel prize winner who was to lay the groundwork for the development of nuclear physics by investigating radioactivity, discovering the alpha particle, and developing the nuclear theory of the atomic structure.

Edward Teller recalls in this context that Rutherford ridiculed the ideas and concepts of Leo Szillard, the first to perceive the practical uses of atomic energy, which were also doubted in those days by such physicistities as Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi, both Nobel laureates and chief architects of the nuclear age [2]. Teller writes that when he listened to Rutherford in 1935:

He sounded incensed and indignant as he spoke of the suggestion that the great amount of energy stored in the atomic nucleus might be put to practical use. He denounced as complete fools those who would believe that, because the energy contained in the uttermost part of the atom is protected by the strong electric repulsion between positively charged nuclei [3].

Let us then, as stated by one of the respondents, be careful in our assessment. First and foremost, we have to keep in mind the fundamental lesson about the nature of the contemporary race in science-based military technology and of efforts at its containment: whenever military R&D has proved the technological feasibility of new weapons, there has been no force to halt their acquisition and deployment, even if there has been awareness of the precarious consequences. This means that it is primarily at the stage of R&D exertions in military laboratories that effective constraints can be imposed on the development, of new weapon systems. Given the long lead-times in the development of new arms, it is perhaps now -- at the beginnings of strenuous efforts on the military utilization of antimatter technology -- that antimatter research could be brought under some control. Antimatter technology portends an entirely new qualitative leap in the arms race, with unforeseeable consequences. The scientific community, policy makers and public opinion need to be on guard.

[1] Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (London: Simon & Schuster, 1986), p. 27.

[2] Edward Teller, Better a Shield than a Sword (New York: Macmillan, The Free Press, 1987), p. VIII.

[3] Ibid., p. 45. One may add here that Rutherford himself, early in his teaching career at McGill University in Canada, was denounced as an ignoramus by a chemistry professor for maintaining that elements were transmuted by the process of radioactivity.

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