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Citizen Kurchatov: Stalin's Bomb Maker


If We Are Wrong...

Kurchatov's Test ReactorBefore Kurchatov finished his prototype reactor, construction had already begun in the Urals on the plutonium production reactor. By June 1948, the reactor was working. However, only a few weeks later a problem with the reactor core forced them to shut it down for six months while repairs were made.

Beria was getting concerned and made threats to turn some scientists to "camp dust" if they didn't reach their goals. He even let Kurchatov know he was expendable by asking one of his associates if he could step in and replace Kurchatov if needed.

Pressure came from all directions. Visiting government bureaucrats questioned the loyalty of scientists and accused some of sabotage. Political ideologues in the sciences also threatened Kurchatov's project. Some accused quantum mechanics of being anti-Soviet, and therefore a danger to communism.

A conference was proposed to discuss the politics of nuclear physics. When Beria asked Kurchatov what he thought of these accusations against quantum mechanics, Kurchatov answered:

"But if we're wrong, we'll just have to scrap all our bomb work."

Beria went to Stalin saying:

"Kurchatov tells me that this could damage our nuclear project. Why don't we cancel the conference?"

Stalin replied:

"Listen, Lavrenti. Leave the physicists alone. They're doing the job. We can always shoot them later."


Communist ideologues previously claimed that the modern science of genetics was anti-Communist. Genetics was condemned by the government and was no longer allowed in the Soviet Union.

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