Q: So Andrei Sakharov comes up with a new design for the H-bomb. What
happens to his concept, given that the Soviet Union does not even have a
functioning atom bomb yet?
DH: Well, basically what happens is of course, that the thermonuclear effort is
very much a side show. The main effort is to get the atomic bomb, not only
because that's the task they've been set, but because you also can't build a
thermonuclear bomb without having, you know, a fission bomb.
So what happens is that in 1949, [Andrei] Sakharov design is debated and
discussed at various levels. I think people see that it is a good design.
There is some evidence that [the scientific director of the Soviet nuclear
program Igor] Kurchatov has already taken steps to insure that the lithium
deuteride would be produced for the bomb...But then after [President] Truman's
announcement at the end of January 1950...that the United States is going to
develop a superbomb, then [the head of the Soviet nuclear program Lavrentii]
Beria says, gives the final kind of authorization to go ahead [with] the
production and testing of the sloika design in the Soviet Union.
So there is a kind of period in which they know they have a design, but what
really puts it, kind of clinches the high priority for it, is the American
announcement that the United States is going to develop a thermonuclear bomb.
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