Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Citizen Kurchatov: Stalin's Bomb Maker

 

A Russian Scale

Kurchatov launched a huge uranium mining operation, worked on a reactor to produce plutonium, started massive isotope separation plants, purification plants, and instructed his team to design a bomb.

The monastery town of Saint Sarov was chosen to house the scientists and their laboratories. The city was renamed Arzamas-16 and was ringed by barbed wire and patrols of troops.

Scientists worked under intense security, sometimes handwriting reports because they didn't trust the typists. Code words were used in reports to obscure the contents.

However, there was a sense of mission and common cause inside the facility. All the scientists believed they had to build the bomb to protect the Soviet Union and the rest of the world from imperialist domination. They all worked together on this daunting task, something many believed would take years to accomplish.

While the U.S. and Britain started with nothing, Kurchatov did have the espionage materials. However, he couldn't completely trust their claims and questioned some of their results.

Caught between the world of espionage and science, he could let only a few of his subordinates know the origin of the information. During discussions and formal seminars, he would occasionally inject something from the espionage materials as if he had thought of it himself. Then the other scientists would try out the idea and see if it gave the results they were looking for.

 

The Soviets named their secret facilities after a nearby town and a post office box.

Some of the scientists nicknamed the facility "Los Arzamas."

  Next: Atomic Powers
Previous: Post-War Tension
NEH
Site Index Home Good of Mankind Cold War Super Bomb Atomic Powers A Russian Scale Post-War Tension Arzamas-16 A New Weapon Nuclear Secrets Revolution