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David Holloway on: The Beginning of the Soviet Nuclear Program
David Holloway Q: Can you tell me about the beginning of the Soviet nuclear program?

DH: With the discovery of fission, just at the end of '38, the Soviet physicists become extremely interested [in nuclear physics], and there is some very good Soviet work on the theory of nuclear fission done by [Iulii] Khariton and [Iakov] Zel'dovich, who later play key roles in the nuclear weapons program...

[The Soviet scientists] certainly in '43, '44, they had a very good grasp of the theoretical issues, but they had no chance of doing experimental work. So a lot of the [espionage information] coming in was to say, well, these are the kind of fission cross sections for uranium 235, or yes, this is -- we can identify the chemical characteristics of plutonium, and these are the isotopes, and these are the fission cross sections. This was stuff they could not find out. They knew it was important, so when they began to get that information, of course, they were very excited, and you know, began to understand, yes, a bomb is a feasible thing, but they also understood in order to build it, you needed to build up the whole industry that would give you the uranium ore and the refine the ore, and you know, so on, so that you get the materials to work with.

Q: You had said before that the flow of information of intelligence was amazing. What was amazing about it?

DH: I think the detail. First of all, as far as we could tell, there was a vast amount coming. But secondly, I think what is more amazing, is that they were getting intelligence right from the point at which, if you had been given your dearest wish, you would say this is where we want the intelligence to come from.

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