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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 H-bomb.

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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