Soviet Nuclear History
This is a collection of primary source documents related to the Soviet development of nuclear weapons. These letters and memorandums come from the 1940s up to the 1980s, and are from varied archival sources. Included are early notes and letters by physicist Igor Kurchatov, who was the head of the Soviet atomic bomb project in the 1940s. The collection also discusses later Soviet nuclear developments and related international treaties. See also Nuclear Proliferation, and the related collections in the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. (Image, first Soviet atomic test, 1949)
March 07, 1939
Letter from People’s Commissariat of Power Plants and Electrical Industry to the Council of People’s Commissars of USSR, 'On the Organization of the Research Activities on the Nuclear Atom'
In this letter the Soviet minister proposed to the Soviet government to concentrate the nuclear research in Ukrainian Institute of Physic and Technology (UIPhT) and to locate in Kharkov the nuclear scientists from Leningrad Institute of Physic and Technology because Kharkov institute had very good base for the nuclear studies. If this proposal was realized Kharkov could become more important Soviet nuclear center than Moscow or Sarov. In any case this letter of people’s commissar recognized the prominent role of the Ukrainian Institute of Physic and Technology (UIPhT) in the Soviet nuclear science.
February 22, 1940
Letter from State Plan of Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to Academy of Sciences of USSR, 'About the Rationality of the Cyclotron Construction in UIPhT'
This letter informed the Academy of Sciences that UIPhT asked the government of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic to allocate 75 thousand rubles for designing of the cyclotron, and 1,5 million rubles for its building. The State Plan asked an advice on necessity to build the cyclotron.
February 28, 1940
Letter from Director of the Institute of Physical Problems Petr Kapitsa to State Plan of Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, 'About Cyclotron of Ukrainian Institute of Physics and Technology'
This document is an answer to the letter from State Plan of Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic to Academy of Sciences of USSR “About Rationality to Construct Cyclotron in UIPhT” (22 Feb 1940). The answer of academician Petr Kapitsa to this letter was very critical. Kapitsa wrote that UIPhT “during the last several years built a number of research installation but did not finish them. However it started to build new installations. Such activities of UIPhT can’t be considered as normal”. So Petr Kapitsa discouraged building a cyclotron in UIPhT, and this was one of the reasons why this institute did not become the leading nuclear center in USSR.
April 17, 1940
Conclusion of Radium Institute of Academy of Sciences on Invention of UIPhT Fellows Sent to Agency of Military Chemical Defense
In this letter two nuclear scientists from UIPhT described the construction of the nuclear bomb and proposed to start activities in producing of the nuclear arsenal and make these activities secret. Two Ukrainian physicists were first Soviet scientists who revealed the way of producing the nuclear weapon (of course they did not know about the similar inventions of the western scientists which were made at the same time because of secrecy regime).
Technical Proposal of F. Lange, V. Maslov, and V. Shpinel, 'Fission of Uranium Isotopes by Using Method of Coriolis Acceleration'
Kharkov Institute scientists proposed in this document the concrete steps to build a nuclear weapon. The document demonstrates that Ukrainian physicists understood how to receive weapons grade uranium and elaborated concrete technical proposals to achieve this goal through uranium enrichment in centrifuge.
Conclusion of National Institute of Chemical Studies of Soviet National Committee of Defence on Invention of UIPhT Fellows Which Was Sent to Agency of Military Chemical Defense
In this document, leading Soviet scientists criticize the idea of Kharkov physicists to use Uranium in military goals, because they do not believe it is possible to realize nuclear fission in the current practical conditions faced. The Soviet National Committee of Defence received these skeptical assessments in 1941 and decided not to develop the military nuclear program.
Letter from V.A. Maslov to People’s Commissar of Defence of USSR, 'About Necessity to Organize Activities in Using of Atomic Energy in the Military Goals'
In this letter from Victor Maslov to People's Commisar of Defence, Marshal Timoshenko, Maslov makes one final attempt to persuade Soviet leadership to start a military nuclear program, despite the strong criticism from leading Moscow scientists toward the idea.
September 28, 1942
Decree No. 2352 cc of Ukrainian State Committee of Defence
This famous, de-classified document officially started the Soviet atomic project aimed at producing the nuclear bomb. The second point of this document orders the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences to establish a plan for the project of Uranium enrichment. F. Lange, a scientist from the Ukraine Institute of Physics and Technology, was appointed as head of this project because he worked previously on theoretical aspects of Uranium enrichment.
Report of Secretariat of Council of People’s Commissars of USSR to V.M. Molotov, 'About the Implementing of Decree No. 2352 cc of State Committee of Defence'
This report, sent from the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR to V.M. Molotov, informs Molotov that the project for Uranium enrichment was prepared by F. Lange and his colleagues by December, 1942. The installation of this project was planned to be produced outside of Ukraine, in a facility in Kasan.
April 01, 1943
Note of I.Kurchatov for M. Pervukhin, 'About Necessity to Demobilize V.M. Kelman'
In this document, the "father" of the first Soviet nuclear bomb, Igor Kurchatov, asks the chief of the Soviet ministry of energy, Pervukhin, to help demobilize the Ukranian physicist Veniamin Kelman, who was a fellow of UIPhT before the war. In this note Kurchatov writes about the high quality of the Ukrainian nuclear scientist and about his importance for the development of the Soviet nuclear program. This document once again demonstrates that Ukraine played a significant role in the Soviet military nuclear program.
September 29, 1944
Letter, Igor V. Kurchatov, Director of the Soviet Nuclear Program, to Lavrenti Beria
In this letter, physicist Igor V. Kurchatov, the scientific director of the Soviet nuclear project, writes to secret police chief Lavrenti Beria, whom Stalin had given principal responsibility for the atomic effort. Prodded by his own scientists and by intelligence reports of the secret Anglo-American atomic enterprise, Stalin had initiated a small-scale Soviet nuclear weapons program in late 1942-early 1943. But the level of support political leaders had given the project failed to satisfy Kurchatov, who pleaded with Beria for additional backing.
November 04, 1945
From the Journal of V.M. Molotov, 'The Reception of the Czechoslovak Ambassador Horak, 4 November 1945 at 2200'
In a meeting with Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs V. M. Molotov, Czechoslovak Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jiri Horak requests that Stalin send greetings to the International Congress of Students to be held in Prague, expresses concerns about the implications of a joint Soviet-Czechoslovak company for developing uranium, and voices his hope that the Volhynia Czechs will be permitted to resettle in Czechoslovakia.
January 25, 1946
Handwritten notes by Igor V. Kurchatov, Director of the Soviet Nuclear Program, on a Meeting with Stalin, Beria and Molotov
Excerpts from Igor V. Kurchatov's handwritten notes from a conversation with Stalin on the secret Soviet nuclear project, accompanied by Beria and Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov, at the Kremlin on the evening of 25 January 1946.
January 25, 1946
Notes on the discussion between I.V. Kurchatov, lead scientist for the Soviet nuclear effort, and Stalin
Kurchatov's notes on his meeting with Stalin, Molotov and Beria. Stalin promises the all necessary help to the soviet effort to build an atomic bomb. He suggests that the project should be build on "a Russian scale," without concerns for cost saving.
June 21, 1946
Soviet Council of Ministers Resolution, No. 1286-525, On Development of Soviet Atomic Weapons
Resolution outlining the work of the newly established Design Bureau No.11 (KB-11). Atomic bombs are referred to in the resolution as “jet engines S,” in two versions, S-1 and S-2 (abbreviated as RDS-1 and RDS-2). RDS-1 meant the analog of the first U.S. plutonium-239 implosion type atomic bomb tested on 16 July 1945 in New Mexico RDS-2 signified the analog of the uranium-235 gun type bomb exploded over Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.
September 29, 1946
Letter from Igor V. Kurchatov to Lavrenti Beria requesting additional support for the project on buiding an atomic bomb.
Igor Kurchatov, the scientific director of the Soviet nuclear project writes secret police chief Lavrenti Beria, whom Stalin had given principal responsibility for the atomic effort, asking for additional resources to solve uranium shortages faced by the project. (excerpts)