There is much irresponsible talk, especially by rightwing nutters, that the USSR “stole” the atomic bomb. That’s ludicrous. Russia’s always been one of the scientific and mathematical powerhouses in the world. It took the Americans 44 months to develop an A-bomb (December 1941 to July 1945); the USSR took 50 months (June 1945 to August 1949)… the timeframes are similar… the urgency behind both were similar… the two countries had equal prowess in mathematics, physics, and engineering. Bear this in mind… the USSR could copy the B-29 for series production without blueprints (and converting from American measurements to metric, to boot) in less than two years, a feat possible only because the USSR had engineers equal in skill to their American colleagues. It was likewise with “the bomb”. Anglo Americans are spoilt juvenile brats who think themselves the crème de la crème of the world. Such isn’t so…
By the way, during the VOV, A A Brish was a partizan fighting the fascist occupiers in Minsk… he was NOT a coward like Willy Romney, Rush Limbaugh, Paul Ryan, or Bill O’Reilly… he served, and served with honour. A man well-worth attending to, I’d say…
On 29 August 1949, the USSR exploded its first atomic bomb in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. It was code-named “First Lightning” by Soviet scientists and “Joe 1” (after Joseph Stalin) by the Americans. To test the bomb’s destructive capacity, engineers built houses, bridges, and even a metro line. The explosion was 50 percent more destructive than initially planned. This took the world by surprise, because the Soviet nuclear development programme was a well-kept secret for nearly 10 years. The USA reacted with President Truman’s announcement that he was aware of the nuclear explosion in the USSR. From that moment on, the Cold War shifted towards a balance of power. On the eve of the 65th anniversary of “First Lightning”, Rossiya Segodnya met with one of the bomb’s creators, Dr A А Brish, a renowned Russian nuclear weapons engineer. Brish told us about Stalin, nuclear myths, and why you can’t steal a bomb.
Arkady Adamovich, what significance does 29 August 1949 actually have in world history?
A A Brish
On that very day, we proved that we had the ability to create our own nuclear weapons and were able to break the monopoly of the USA, which was planning to attack our country with atomic bombs. Thus, we excluded the mere possibility of a unilateral and punitive nuclear war. Because of that, we’re still able to preserve the postwar peace. However, I should specify that it was an atomic detonation with an automatic control, put on a tower, without the body of a bomb. Therefore, it wasn’t a full-bodied nuclear weapon.
Our first atomic explosive was made in the shortest time-frame, in a country left half-ruined after the war. How on Earth was it possible?
It was really a surprise. It was a real miracle, as our industry was devastated. Millions of people were killed. Our leadership displayed true courage, will, and talent, gathering outstanding experts and leaders who were able to develop an atomic bomb in the shortest time-frame possible, as they gave us all the necessary resources. We were really pressed for time. If we were late, the Americans could’ve used their nuclear weapons against us. (By the time of the First Lightning test, the USA had already dropped two bombs on Japan: Rossiya Segodnya) It was really a stroke of luck that Stalin appointed the then-young I V Kurchatov as scientific research director. Kurchatov was the one who recruited all the scientific staff for the atomic bomb project. He also suggested Yu B Khariton for the post of chief designer of the first Soviet atomic bomb. The development of its own nuclear weapons was undoubtedly a great feat for Russia.
Quite often, one hears that our intelligence agents simply “stole” the bomb from the USA and thus the major role in the development of our atomic weapons belongs to intelligence agents and not to scientists.
This isn’t true. People who simply don’t understand what they’re talking about say that. What could it possibly mean to “steal” a bomb? One might get some documents, which would be meaningless in and of themselves. You need high-profile experts, technology, and a separate branch of industry to implement them, and it involves much work. Experts, who understand how complicated technical systems are developed, have no doubt about it. By the way, the claim that we only developed our atomic weapon thanks to our intelligence agents first emerged in the USA in 1950, shortly after the exposure of Klaus Fuchs… a participant in the American nuclear programme, who voluntarily supplied our intelligence community with information about his work. Later, American journalists and some American scientists claimed that, with the help of its intelligence agents, the USSR not only obtained the secret of atomic bomb development, but the hydrogen bomb as well. Thus, the USA could provide an easy explanation for the outstanding success of Soviet scientists.
However, our scientists do give credit to our intelligence community. The information they provided was of particular importance at the initial stage of our atomic project, up to 1945. That data forced the leadership of our country to give special attention to the development of the atomic bomb for the nation and inspired scientists such as N N Semyonov, Yu B Khariton, and Ya B Zeldovich, who had already achieved substantial success in nuclear research before the war. In 1945, however, the USA published a book, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes, where it openly described the process of how the USA developed the atomic bomb. The people who made the decision to publish that book were absolutely convinced that we wouldn’t be able to develop our own atomic bomb quickly. Nevertheless, they were wrong. They didn’t take into account that we had outstanding scientists. Regardless of all the military losses, our country managed to preserve its powerful scientific and technological potential.
Those who talk about the alleged “theft” of the bomb don’t take into account the historic and political connotations. We needed to demonstrate as soon as possible that we also possessed atomic weapons. It was all about the safety of our motherland and not a question of technical priorities. One can’t say that our first atomic detonation was a full copy of the American one. Thanks to the intelligence, we only knew its scheme, which didn’t need a blueprint. Our experts worked out all the engineering and technical documentation for the development of an atomic charge using that scheme. By mid-1949, we had conducted our own scientific and technical engineering studies for the development of our own innovative atomic bomb, but the leadership made the decision to use a charge developed using the American scheme for its first test. It was justified… at that time, a war with the USA could have broken out at any moment. To test our own innovative construction would’ve meant we increased the risk of an unsuccessful test. We couldn’t afford that. However, already by 1951, during the second test, we used a charge for an atomic bomb fully developed by our scientists. It was twice as powerful and twice as light as the one developed using the American scheme. Soviet scientists placed the utmost priority on the development of the first transportable hydrogen bomb, which we successfully tested in the USSR on 12 August 1953. At that time, the US didn’t have anything even remotely similar, and American scientists admitted that.
There is a myth (which, like any myth, does not have any documented confirmation), that the Soviet scientists who worked on the bomb received honours for their achievement based on the penalties they would’ve suffered had the test failed. Those who would have faced the death penalty if the bomb failed to detonate received the order of Heroes of Socialist Labour and those who would’ve merely been imprisoned received different orders and slightly less prestigious awards. Allegedly, that was the decision of L P Beriya, who oversaw the atomic project, who struck fear in the hearts of the scientists.
There was no fear! Rather, there was an extreme sense of responsibility and an urge to defend the Motherland. As for Beriya, he was an outstanding organiser, and he did a lot for the development of our nuclear weapons. We should always keep this in mind when talking about that work.
Work… is it the most important aspect of your life?
When you develop new nuclear weapons with unique characteristics, it captivates you; you need to prove that it’s going to work. I’m a devoted person who’s easily carried away, but my most important occupation has been the development of a weapon that would defend our country. This inspired me to devote my whole life to all the issues that I’ve worked on. We couldn’t let any country use nuclear weapons with total impunity. Now, I’m eager to live on, to be able to pass the knowledge I have to younger generations, and the feeling of personal responsibility for the results of this work, which was always a hallmark of the atomic scientists of my generation.
29 August 2014