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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

War-time Developments

The date of the beginning of work on the "uranium project" in the USSR can be considered September 20, 1942, when the State Defense Committee issued an order "on the organization of work on uranium," which obliged the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (Academician Ioffe) to resume work on the feasibility of using atomic energy by splitting the uranium core and presenting the VPK by April 1, 1943, a report on the possibility of creating a uranium bomb or uranium fuel."

On November 27, 1942 the GKP issued a decree "On uranium mining." The Resolution provided for the establishment of a special institution and start of work on the exploration, extraction and processing of raw materials. Since 1943 the People's Commissariat of nonferrous metallurgy (NKTSM) started production at the mine in Tajikistan Tabasharskom and processing of uranium ore with up to 4 tons. Salts of uranium per year. In early 1943, scientists had been mobilized previously withdrawn from the front.

The first operations on the Soviet atomic project started in several rooms of the Seismological Institute. As the work expanded, the question of a new location for the laboratory was raised.

The USSR State Defense Committee issued a degree 2872 dated February 11, 1943, where it formulated the goals on solving the uranium problem to develop and build a nuclear weapon in the Soviet Union. The appointed government project leader was Molotov, 2 years later replaced by L.P. Beriya. Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov was named responsible for building a uranium bomb. On April 12, 1943, A.A. Baykov, the vice-president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, signed an order on creating the Laboratory #2 the future Kurchatov Institute to be headed by I.V. Kurchatov.

Pursuant to the GKO decision of 11 February 1943, The #2e Laboratory of Sciences of the USSR was organized, chief of which was Kurchatov (in 1949 it was renamed the Laboratory instrumentation USSR Academy of Sciences -.. Lipa, in 1956 on its base was established Institute of Atomic Energy, and now it is "Kurchatov Institute") which it was to co-ordinate all the work on the implementation of the nuclear project.

Already on March 22, 1943 Kurchatov wrote a letter to Stalin: "Having familiarized myself with American publications on this issue, I was able to establish a new direction in solving the entire uranium problem. The perspectives of this direction are extraordinarily fascinating." In conclusion, the passage followed: "In this connection I ask you to instruct the Intelligence Authorities to find out what has been done in the direction in question in America." Beria fulfilled Kurchatov's wishes.

Kurchatov was given large powers in engaging required institutes, design bureaus, and factories, as well as recalling specialists from the acting army. Y.B. Khariton, Y.B. Zeldovich, G.N. Flerov, I.K. Kikoin, A.I. Alikhanov they were facing the challenge of competing against the best physicists in the world, gathered in the USA to work on the Manhattan Project. During this period, the Soviet Union, with the majority of its European area under occupation, while suffering severe losses, directed all if its forces and resources to the frontline of the Great Patriotic War. By late 1944, there were about 100 people working in the Laboratory #2, including scientists, technicians, automobile drivers, and the coal heaver.

In 1944, Soviet intelligence had obtained a guide to the uranium-graphite reactors, which contained very valuable information to determine the parameters of the reactor. But the uranium needed to download even a small experimental nuclear reactor did not yet exist in the country. On September 28, 1944 the government made it mandatory to take NKTSM USSR uranium and uranium salts in the State Fund and tasked with keeping them in the Lab number 2.

In November 1944, a large group of Soviet experts, led by the Chief of the 4th Special Department of the NKVD Kravchenko, traveled to liberated Bulgaria, to study the results of exploration Gotenskogo field. On December 8, 1944 the decree was issued on the transfer of mining and processing of uranium ore from the SCMC the jurisdiction established in the Directorate of Mining and Metallurgical Enterprises (GMF GU) of NKVD 9th Office. By January 1945, Bulgaria produced about one and a half tons of uranium ore per week.

In December 1944 Kurchatov and Ioffe appealed to Stalin to replace Molotov, who was formally leading the atomic project, by Beria. Stalin agreed, and from December 1944 to July 1953, Lavrentiy Pavlovich solely directed all the affairs connected with atomic weapons. The overwhelming majority of party bosses, including Khrushchev, did not really know anything about these works. According to Sudoplatov: "In April 1945, Kurchatov received from us very valuable material on the characteristics of a nuclear explosive device, the method of activation of an atomic bomb and the electromagnetic method of separating uranium isotopes. This material was so important that the next day the intelligence agencies received his assessment. Kurchatov sent a report to Stalin, built on the basis of intelligence, about the prospects for using atomic energy and the need to conduct broad activities to create an atomic bomb.

It is possible to get a nuclear explosive from uranium either by isolating the uranium-235 isotope (its content in the raw material is below 1%), or by producing a non-existent chemical element plutonium in nuclear reactors. Neither of the two technologies was available in the USSR, so they had to be engineered and built. As to the nuclear reactor (which was called an atomic boiler back then), it could have either a graphite or a heavy-water moderator. Production of heavy water is an extremely energy-intensive process, while getting reactor-class ultrapure graphite is very labor-intensive.

There were also differences in physical efficiency between the two types of moderators. Academician A.I. Alikhanov, the Thermotechnical Laboratory director, insisted on the heavy-water reactor. Kurchatov disagreed and finally was able to succeed in having the uranium-graphite boiler version accepted. The Laboratory #2 developed several methods of separating uranium isotopes: gas-diffusion, thermodiffusion, and electromagnetic.

In 1944, the Laboratory #2 scientists built and launched a cyclotron, which irradiated uranium with neutrons and allowed to accumulate tracer amounts of a new, non-existent in nature, element plutonium, the basic metal for a nuclear charge.

Establishment of a nuclear explosive device using plutonium-239 required the construction of a nuclear reactor for its realization. Even for a small experimental reactor required around 36 tons of uranium metal, 9 tons of uranium dioxide and about 500 tons of pure graphite. The problem to develop and master the special process for producing the required purity graphite was solved by 1943, and in May 1944 production had been launched at the Moscow Electrode Plant. But the necessary quantity of uranium was not in the country to the end of 1945.

The first technical specifications for the production of uranium dioxide and metallic uranium for a research reactor Kurchatov were issued in November 1944. In parallel with the creation of uranium-graphite reactors work was done on reactors based on uranium and heavy water. The question is why it was necessary to "spray strength" and move in several directions simultaneously? Justifying the need of Kurchatov in his report in 1947 gives the following figures: The number of bombs that can be obtained from the 1000 tonnes of uranium ore different methods is 20 using the uranium-graphite reactor, 50 - in the diffusion method, 70 - with an electromagnetic 40 - using "heavy" water.

The reactors with "heavy" water, while having a number of significant shortcomings, had the advantage that allowed the use of thorium. Thus uranium-graphite reactor although gave the opportunity to build an atomic bomb as soon as possible, but had the worst result in the sense of the fullness of the use of raw materials. Given the US experience, where the four studied methods for the separation of uranium was selected gaseous diffusion, December 21, 1945 the Soviet Government had decided to build plants #813 (now Ural Electrical and Mechanical Plant, Novouralsk) to produce highly enriched uranium-235 by gas diffusion and number 817 (Chelyabinsk-40, now a chemical plant "Mayak", Ozersk) to produce plutonium.

In January 1945, the NII-9 (now VNIINM) was organized as part of the 9th Department on the basis of individual laboratories of the State Institute of Rare Metals (Giredmet) and one of the defense plants for the study of uranium deposits, solving the problems of processing of uranium ore, production of metallic uranium and plutonium.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2018 18:54:06 ZULU