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February 27: The Soviet Oppenheimer

February 27, 2014
220px-Rus_Stamp_GSS-HaritonYuli Borosovich Khariton, the chief designer of the Soviet atomic bomb, which was first detonated in 1949, was born in St. Petersburg on this date in 1904. His father was a journalist, director of the Soviet House of Writers, who died in the gulag, his mother an actress who went to Palestine. Khariton studied in Ernest Rutherford’s physics laboratory in Cambridge, England in the late 1920s before returning to the USSR to direct nuclear research at the secretive Arzamas-16 center through the 1930s and 1940s. He lived at Arzamas-16, a former monastery, for much of his life, and was its scientific director for 45 years. Khariton was a three-time winner of the title of Hero of Socialist Labor, the USSR’s highest civilian award, and was also awarded the Lenin Prize. In 1993, he said that the Soviet bomb was based upon the intelligence material supplied by British physicist and Communist spy Klaus Fuchs and was similar to the plutonium bomb dropped by the United States on Nagasaki on August 1945. “In a retrospective interview published in the May 1993 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, Khariton acknowledged the fact that Arzamas-16 was built by Gulag slave laborers, but indicated that it did not trouble him. Virtually none of the prisoners who were drafted to work at the nuclear weapons complex lived to see the outside of the Gulag again.” —Nuclear Weapon Archive