Edward Teller: the Real-Life Dr. Strangelove

In this documentary, Motherboard explores the life and legacy of the father of the hydrogen bomb.

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Sep 29 2017, 2:30pm

According to North Korea's Foreign Minister, Kim Jong-un is considering testing its hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean in response to rising tensions with President Trump. But in order to understand the significance of the hydrogen bomb, you need to understand the people who created it.

In a 2013 video documentary, Motherboard explored the life of Edward Teller: the father of the hydrogen bomb, and the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick's character Dr. Strangelove.

According to Ralph Moir, Teller's student and eventual colleague, Teller believed that scientists bear no responsibility for the use of their creations.

"He wanted to make a contribution to mankind, but he's also very interested in science and anything new," Moir told Motherboard in 2013. "It was patriotic to have a strong defense. But also, it was fascinating science."

However, not everyone agreed with Teller. In the 1940s, this gave way to an ethical debate that split the world into two groups: Those who sided with Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atom bomb, believed that a stronger successor to the atom bomb was dangerous and unnecessary. Those who sided with Teller believed in a benefit to building a weapon so destructive that it exists only in obsolescence.

The scientific community almost entirely sided with Oppenheimer, but President Truman sided with Teller. In 1952, the US successfully detonated the first hydrogen bomb.

Later in his life, Teller would help launch Plowshare, a US experiment for nuclear weapons use in building and construction. Teller also believed the US should invest in geoengineering, nuclear engines for spacecrafts, nuclear testing in space, and nuclear reactors powered by thorium rather than uranium. None of these ideas have yet come to fruition.

It's been over a decade since his death, but Teller's name remains controversial.