Late in 1938 Soviet physicists learned from Frederic Joliot-Curie that he and his colleagues had discovered a fundamentally new type of nuclear reaction. Neutron bombardment had split the uranium nucleus into two radioactive splinters. From that moment on the study of uranium fission' became the main concern of Igor Kurchatov's laboratory at the Physico-Technical Institute in Leningrad.
Kurchatov assigned two of his younger colleagues, Flyorov and Petrzhak, to conducting important experiments aimed at establishing the possibility of the spontaneous fission of uranium. The two scientists discovered that such fission does take place. Early in 1940 they sent a brief account of their discovery to the American magazine "Physical Review", in which most of the papers dealing with work on uranium had been published. Weeks passed, however, and there was no reply. Meanwhile Soviet physicists noticed a surprising change in American scientific magazines. Previously they had been full of reports about uranium fission work, but now suddenly they became absolutely silent on the subject. Clearly a blanket of secrecy had been thrown over the whole subject.
The military significance of the work on uranium was becoming more and more evident. Academician Nikolai Semyonov sent a letter to the Ministry of Heavy Industry, pointing out that it had become possible to develop a weapon of fantastic destructive power. However, the Nazi invasion in June 1941 made it impossible to follow up this idea just then. Physicists turned to problems of such immediate importance as radar and the protection of ships from mines.
But by June 1942 the Soviet Government had received reliable information that secret work aimed at creating a new powerful weapon was under way in both Germany and the United States. The Government consulted some of the country's most eminent scientists on the physicist best suited to direct the Soviet atom bomb project. The man they named was Igor Kurchatov.
Kurchatov gathered together nuclear physicists whom the war had scattered all over the country. The State Committee for Defence sent him the people he asked for regardless of whether they were in the army or in the defence industry.
The building of the Institute of General Inorganic Chemistry in Moscow was placed at his disposal. For the first time an armed guard was placed outside the doors of the laboratories where scientists tackled the problems of nuclear research. Throughout the war years work at the Kurchatov institute proceeded at a rapid pace. The beginning of 1945 marked the completion of a cyclotron, built in the amazingly short period of one year! Soon Kurchatov and his colleagues were celebrating another victory: industry had begun supplying them with the graphite they badly needed.
Then, in July 1945, came the news of an explosion of tremendous power at Alamagordo, in the United States. Twelve days later the world was shocked by the monstrous explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States had begun its "cold war" against the Soviet Union.
It was now essential to protect the Soviet Union from a new peril. The Government of the Soviet Union appealed to Kurchatov and his colleagues to complete their work on the atom bomb as quickly as possible. Kurchatov and his colleagues, most of whom had suffered great privations in the war, were being called upon to accomplish what had been achieved by the scientists of America, sheltered from the war and its hardships.
And they succeeded. On September 23, 1949, Kurchatov and his colleagues tested the first Soviet atom bomb. The successful test was conducted in the presence of senior Soviet Army commanders and government leaders.
The Soviet physicists heaved a sign of relief: they had coped with their duty to their country. The Soviet Union's security was assured.
© 2003 - 2006 Елькин В.И.