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Soviet Response to President Truman's H-Bomb Announcement
February - May, 1950
The Soviet Union reacted swiftly to President Truman's announcement in January
1950 of a crash program to build the hydrogen bomb. Just four days later,
Lavrentii Beria the head of the Soviet nuclear weapons program issued Protocol
No. 91. In it he ordered Igor Kurchatov, the scientific director of the
project, and several of the scientists on his team to submit a report within
five days on the development of Andrei Sakharov's "Layer Cake" design for an
On May 26, 1950 Beria wrote a letter to Stalin outlining the scientists'
progress. He started by saying: "As you know from speeches being made by U.S.
leaders and from numerous articles in the foreign press, the United States and
other foreign countries are making a sensation of the hydrogen superbomb." He
then went on to describe the work Kurchatov, Sakharov and other Soviet
scientists had been doing on the hydrogen bomb and he enumerated various
problems including the cost of producing adequate quantities of tritium.
Beria concluded that "given our enemy might become the owner of a new quite
effective weapon, we believe it's possible to set up the investigations and
practical work on the development of a hydrogen bomb design and the productions
of the materials needed (tritium, deuterium, lithium-6) in spite of all the
above mentioned difficulties." Beria then urged Stalin to approve the
development of two hydrogen bomb designs and the construction of the facilities
necessary to produce sufficient quantities of tritium.
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