The Reds and the Hydrogen Bomb

In August 1953, only six months after the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union tested a nuclear weapon in Kazakstan.  This weapon was the first hydrogen bomb developed by Igor “The Beard” Kurchatov, Stalin’s hand-picked head of the Soviet nuclear program that started in 1943.  The Soviets had detonated their first successful atomic bomb in August 1949, starting the infamous nuclear arms race of the Cold War with the United States.

Sakharov (left) and Kurchatov, the Soviet bomb makers.

Sakharov (left) and Kurchatov, the Soviet bomb makers.

 

The bomb test in seven years later was 18 times more powerful, but weighed less physically.  The key to the new hydrogen bomb was  “layer-cake,” the idea of a Soviet scientist named Andrei Sakharov.  His new idea was to layer uranium with tritium and deuterium, in order to create a thermonuclear explosion.  A thermonuclear explosion is caused by the energy from the fusion of hydrogen atoms.    However, in order to create the conditions necessary for hydrogen fusion, a nuclear explosion from the fission of atoms must be initiated in order to create the pressure and high temperatures needed to force the fusion of hydrogen atoms.  Essentially, the hydrogen bomb’s trigger is an atomic bomb, like the ones used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In October 1953, the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) reported on the nuclear tests and confirmed their success in an article.  It declared very little about the test themselves, only say “They fully confirmed the calculations and assumptions of the scientists and engineer-designers.”  The majority of the report focused on the need to maintain a Soviet nuclear arsenal in the face of aggressive American rejection of arms reduction.  The TASS report claims that “The Soviet Union considers it its most important task to see that atomic energy is put at the service of the cause of peaceful progress.”

In another article from Izvestia, this time from early September 1953, discusses John Foster Dulles’ speech to the American Bar Association in Boston.  It attacked Dulles for his stance of the U.N. Charter in reference to weapons of mass destruction.  The article stated that Dulles sought to change the U.N. Charter in order to protect an American nuclear monopoly.  However, the article was clear to point out that the U.S. no longer had a monopoly on WMDs, since the Soviets now had their own thermonuclear weapon.  At the end, the article gives support to the USSR by saying, “the Soviet government has repeatedly proposed to the governments of other countries that armaments be considerably curtailed, the use of atomic and other weapons of mass destruction banned and strict international control over this ban established within the framework of the U.N.”

Despite their claims of seeking arms reduction, the Soviet nuclear program continued to grow, even after Stalin’s death.  In the name of the “people’s security,” the Soviets built bigger and bigger bombs, and more and more of them.  In October 1961, the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated, the “Tsar Bomba” (a 50-megaton bomb) was tested in Novaya Zemlya.  The “Tsar Bomba” was 1,350–1,570 times the combined power of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or 2,000 times as powerful as the August 1949 Soviet bomb.

Tsar Bomb in comparison to other nuclear weapons

Tsar Bomb in comparison to other nuclear weapons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

TASS article: http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13834143

Izvestia article: http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13834146

Citizen Kurchatov: http://www.pbs.org/opb/citizenk/index.html

17 Moments: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1954bomb&Year=1954&navi=byYear

 

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