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Citizen Kurchatov: Stalin's Bomb Maker


Equivalent Rewards

Just before the test, Khariton suspected that if they failed, they would be shot. Always suspicious, Beria brought two observers with him who were invited witnesses at the earlier American bomb test at the Bikini Atoll. He wanted to make sure the scientists weren't trying to trick him.

Soviet atomic testAfter the flash lit the surrounding hills and the subsequent air blast shook the bunker, Beria was extremely happy. He hugged and kissed Khariton and kissed Kurchatov's forehead. But even then he didn't completely trust the test. He called the observers who watched from a distant hilltop and asked if Kurchatov had failed compared to the Americans. When they confirmed that the tests were real and equal to the American tests, he called Stalin to inform him of the results.

It was still 5 am in Moscow and Stalin was asleep, but Beria insisted that he be woken. When he told Stalin that the tests were a success, Stalin replied: "I already know." Beria was furious that Stalin would know and suspected someone else told him first. Even in his victory he was looking for conspiracies.

Kurchatov with medalsLater, Stalin rewarded all the scientists who were involved, ranking their rewards according to what their punishment would have been if the test had failed. Kurchatov, Khariton, and two others were awarded the Stalin prize and several perks for life, because they would have lost their lives upon failure.


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