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David Holloway on: Political Importance of the Sakharov Design
David Holloway Q: After the test of Andrei Sakharov's Layer Cake, you described in your book a scene where the scientific director of the Soviet nuclear program Igor Kurchatov walks up to Andrei Sakharov and bows to him, calling him the "savior of the Soviet Union". What is that all about?

DH: When we look back now at this history, we draw big distinctions between the sloika ["Layer Cake"] design and the two-stage weapon and so on. At a public level, and I think at a political level, these distinctions were not at the time seen to be of great importance. For the scientists clearly understood the difference in design, but the political leadership in the Soviet Union, I think thought, well, this is one kind of thermonuclear weapon, so it's a thermonuclear weapon. And the real significance for the Soviet Union was that the leaders were afraid that having eliminated the American atomic bomb monopoly, they would now be faced by another American monopoly in thermonuclear weapons, and that that would have the same kind of political effect that they had feared from the atomic bomb. In other words, it would just encourage the United States to try to put pressure on the Soviet Union and leave them feeling inferior.

So the real significance of the August '53 test politically was that in the eyes of the political leadership it removed any danger of an American monopoly, because the only American thermonuclear test up to that been had been of a large assemblage which was not a deliverable bomb. So politically, this was a very important test for the Soviet Union, so [one of the Soviet leaders, Georgii] Malenkov conveys a message of congratulations to Kurchatov and through Kurchatov to Sakharov in particular for his contribution to this. So the political leadership kind of knew who the key people were in the project, knew that this was essentially Sakharov's design, and I think felt that this was politically of enormous importance.

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