News Release

“Oppenheimer” Omits Information About H-Bomb Testing Just Before Scientist’s Career Was Destroyed


Reifer is a professor of sociology at the University of San Diego and an associate fellow at the Transnational Institute. He worked closely with Daniel Ellsberg, whose last book was The Doomsday Machine:  Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.

Reifer said today: “The film ‘Oppenheimer’ raises many important issues, none more urgent than the vast increase in destructive power that came with the making of atomic and then thermonuclear weapons. These latter hydrogen bombs were 1,000 times more powerful than those dropped largely on civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet even earlier the powers that be went ahead with the bomb project, despite concerns that it might ignite the atmosphere and destroy the world. Some have tried to discount this risk in reviews of the film, yet as Daniel Ellsberg (2018) showed in The Doomsday Machine, the uncertainties at the time were quite real.

“Unfortunately, the film doesn’t take the time to go into the period of U.S. testing of the H-Bomb, which along with the earlier atomic explosions, spread radioactive waste, and led to the infamous Lucky Dragon incident, about a month and a half before Oppenheimer’s security hearing depicted in the film. On March 1, 1954, the U.S. exploded an H-bomb at Bikini in the South Pacific, and Japanese fishermen, though outside the no-sail zone, were all sickened by radioactive ash and hospitalized, with one dying in September. This was at a time when Lewis Strauss was President Eisenhower’s Atomic Energy Commission Chair, and advisor on nuclear weapons, from which he orchestrated the destruction of Oppenheimer’s reputation, with the help of the father of the H-bomb, Edward Teller, and the Strategic Air Command of the U.S. Air Force under Curtis LeMay. The Lucky Dragon incident, not to mention the fate of downwinders from the Pacific Islands, the U.S. and more, shows the urgency of movements to dismantle our current doomsday machines which can trigger a nuclear winter. They highlight too, the dangers of nuclear-armed military alliances, aggressive war and the escalation of current conventional wars and preparations for war with China, that risk a nuclear holocaust.”

For more on “Oppenheimer” see interview with historian Gar Alperovitz, author of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, with journalist Andrew Cockburn: “A Few Things ‘Oppenheimer’ Leaves Out.” Also see by Sam Husseini: “‘Oppenheimer’ Omits Truman’s Lie About Hiroshima Being ‘A Military Base.’

Correction, added July 25: A prior version of this news release incorrectly stated that one of the fishermen died within days.