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Yuri Smirnov on:His Work on the Nuclear Bomb
Q: Do you remember how you got hired to work on the nuclear bomb program?

YS: I graduated from university in 1960; at the end of March we suddenly discovered two guests in our department. They were not very tall, quite young, thirty-something men, who were walking around our department, wearing the badges of Lenin prize laureates. They had excellent suits on. All of this made an irresistible impression on us, because at that time the announced Lenin prize laureates were literally a handful, and we knew them. But these two guests were unfamiliar to us.

News travels fast among students. It turned out that these mysterious people had come to the dean's office and accurately examined the students' records. Then, two or three days later, it turned out that they had chosen several candidates, with whom they wanted to have a talk. There were either 6 or 7 candidates chosen from the final year physics students. I got included in this list of potential candidates. The interview was private and concerned matters of physics, in order for them to get a picture of the candidate. And the consequence of the interview was that two of us were invited to work for them...

I have to mention that I was a student of Leningrad University, in what is now St. Petersburg. I was curious where the organization for which we would have to work was located and what we would be working on. Instead of answering my question about the location of the organization, one of them took out his passport. We have this phenomenon of registering our residential address. That is, our passports have stamps of the geographical places where we reside. And he opened the appropriate page and I read "Moscow, Center, 30." And I, an absolutely uninformed person, immediately believed that this geographical spot was in Moscow, first of all, and, second of all, apparently not far away from the Red Square, because it said "center." This satisfied me and I did not ask any additional questions.

I just was interested in what we would be doing. And I heard this answer: "You won't be sorry, you will be working on the most current questions of physics and you would find it an engrossing task." The conversation took place on April 1, 1960, and for us as probably for you as well, this is the day of humor, day of joking, and so I thought that I was tired of living in Leningrad after five years as a student and that it would be nice to find myself in Moscow. And I agreed, just as my second colleague, my classmate did. A special form was immediately taken out of the briefcase; they filled it out with my personal data, and they asked me to sign on the last page. I signed and wrote in April 1, 1960. And in several days, I forgot about this thing, because I had to work on defending my thesis. And, besides, I was a young man, and consequently, my interests ranged much wider than some kind of official form.

Several months later I received all of a sudden a fairly ample sum of money, by our standards. As it turned out, that organization sent me... this sum of money for support, so that I would be able to move there. As is customary among students, we immediately spent this money on a party. And I only saved the small part of it that I would need to move from...Leningrad to Moscow. And then when the day of the move to Moscow had come, I arrived in Moscow and appeared at the address I had been given. And only later I understood that I was to show up at the Ministry of Medium Mechanical Engineering (Machine Construction) and there I had a special interview and the consequence of this interview was an assignment to a concrete so-called "mail box."

When, during the interview, I was told I had to go 400 kilometers away from Moscow, I became indignant. I said that that had not been our agreement and that I had been told that I would be working in Moscow and that I would not go anywhere. So the woman who was conducting this conversation showed some document and I immediately recognized that very form with my signature. She told me, you signed here and now you are bound to go there. If you don't go, you will get in major trouble. But, besides, she said to me smiling, you will not regret it. Even academicians work there. You will be satisfied. I told her I would have been glad to go but I had no money because I had spent it all. She said that there was absolutely no problem, she wrote a small note. I went to another office in the same building and they gave me again a substantial amount of money. And so I went I-did-not-know-where.

It was all very mysterious: both getting my tickets and the notification that I should not talk in the train, I should not carry any conversations. They told me, when you get to the spot, you will find out everything. And so I went. The ticket indicated that I had to go to the Shatki station in the Gorkii region. The train was leaving at night; in the morning I saw the Shatki station. It was right there, but I was not allowed to leave. It turned out that I in a special sleeping-car; there were many passengers in it, but they all turned out to be connected to Arzamas-16. Nobody talked to meabout anything in particular. I just saw that the train continued going. And it went for about another 70 kilometers, maybe a bit less, and suddenly I saw a real frontier...

Before we crossed this border a thorough examination was conducted by three soldiers who entered the car and looked practically everywhere and even looked under the lower berth and asked us to leave the car and so on. That thorough examination surpassed even the examination at the state borders, which I remembered [as a child]... But the most remarkable thing was that after we crossed this frontier-line, my fellow-passengers became very talkative. They began to congratulate us, saying, you, guys, are getting into a very interesting place and that you would be shocked. But as there was nothing to see right or left--during the movement of the train I could see only trees, splendid pine wood--I even got a sneaking impression that it might be something underground. And then we arrived and I saw the remains of some monastery. It turned out to be the Sarov monastery. And I still did not know what it was all about. And this was my first impression of the arrival at Arzamas.

The thing is that even after I arrived there,--it was in August of 1960--two or three days had to pass before they arranged all my papers so that I could go to the special workplace where physicists-theoreticians did their work. It took place on August 12, 1960. I entered this building for the first time. And I was met by two people, not very tall, but without the laureate badges. These were the same two people who had talked to me at the university. One of them turned out to be a future corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences, Iurii Nikolaevich Babaev, and the other was the academician, Iurii Alekseevich Trutnev.



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