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Citizen Kurchatov: Stalin's Bomb Maker


Sergei Kaftonov

During the Second World War, Kaftonov chaired the State Defense Committee's science group, which included Ioffe and Kapitsa. He reported directly to Molotov who was chairman of the State Defense Committee.

Kaftonov served as the liaison between the scientists and Molotov and ultimately Stalin. Before writing to Stalin, Flerov had sent letters to Kaftonov warning of the potential German bomb project.

Flerov's letter was not the only evidence Kaftonov had of the German project. He also possessed a Nazi research notebook captured by front-line troops. He lobbied Stalin for at least a minimal research project to check the feasibility of an atomic bomb. When Stalin finally agreed, Kaftonov first asked Ioffe to direct the project, but Ioffe suggested Kurchatov and another physicist. After interviewing both, Kaftonov chose Kurchatov because he liked his manner.

Although Kaftonov helped initiate the atomic bomb project, he caused some problems later. After the war, he was promoted to Minister of Higher Education and he took an active role in purging "anti-Soviet" scientists. When Lysenko denounced modern genetics as anti-Soviet, hundreds of geneticists were arrested. Kaftonov attempted to do the same to physicists who accepted the theories of quantum mechanics.

However, when Beria asked Kurchatov what he thought of the drive to remove quantum mechanics from Soviet science, Kurchatov told him the entire bomb project depended on quantum mechanics.



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