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Citizen Kurchatov: Stalin's Bomb Maker

 

Suspicious Absence

When the Soviet Union entered the war, many physicists dropped their research and joined the war effort. Combining his knowledge of ships and physics, Kurchatov worked on projects to protect naval ships from magnetic mines. His work earned him a Stalin prize, but he contracted pneumonia and was put in charge of the Physicotechnical Institute's armor lab in 1942.

But while Soviet scientists were occupied with developing defenses against German invaders, British, American, and German scientists were pressing ahead with building an atomic bomb. It became obvious to some Soviet scientists that something was happening when articles on nuclear physics suddenly disappeared from western science journals.

Flerov, then serving in the Soviet Air Force, wrote a letter directly to Stalin warning him that Germany was probably working on a bomb, and that the Soviets needed to start a similar program.

He didn't receive a reply, but it did not go unheeded. Stalin already had information that the British were working on a bomb. His spies had obtained a copy of the MAUD Committee's report, a summary and plan for the development of an atomic bomb for Britain. It covered all the steps required to build a bomb, but it estimated several years before a bomb could be constructed.

Although Stalin and his chief of security, Beria, suspected the information, they both felt that it was a chance worth taking. The German army was advancing on Stalingrad. It was a desperate time.

 

1940
In April, the MAUD Committee (not yet named) meets for the first time to discuss a British bomb program.

1942
In October, Gen. Groves asks Oppenheimer to head Project Y.

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