The hydrogen bomb cant be done, or if it can be done, it will take too long, or if it can be done and doesnt take too long, it will require too large a fraction of the nations scientific manpower, or if it doesnt require too large a fraction of the nations labor force, it will be too massive to deliver, or if it is deliverable, we oughtnt to make it. The ideas had existed since the early 1900s; the research started in the 1930s, and by 1938 nuclear fission had been demonstrated experimentally. The possibility that nuclear fission could be used to create weapons of mass destruction was almost immediately evident to scientists.
In August of 1939 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt recommending that the United States begin research on the development of nuclear weapons. Thus, at the height of World War II, President Roosevelt launched a crash program to design and build the atomic bomb. The Soviet Union at the time was struggling economically because of the war and physics was not yet a matter of great interest to the powers-that-be. After witnessing the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in July of 1945 the priorities of Soviet government changed significantly.
Faced with this new atomic threat, Stalin instigated a drastic acceleration of nuclear research with the aim to build a bomb of his own. Yakov Borisovich Zeldovich was appointed to lead the Soviet atomic bomb project, and two years later, a second theoretical group was created to verif[y] and improve calculations made by Zeldovichs group. The second group consisted of Andrei Sakharov, Semyon Belenki, Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg, and Yuri Romanov and was led by Igor Tamm. After two months of lick[ing] Zeldovichs anus Tamms group took a turn in a new direction: Sakharovs first idea.
Sakharovs design was completely different from the dead end that Zeldovichs team was struggling with. Surprisingly, it is very similar to Edward Tellers 1947 Alarm Clock design even though Sakharov had had no connections with the West and had come up with his design, which he called the Layer Cake, completely independently of Teller. Stalin maintained a limited amount of trust in the Soviet scientists, and as a form of insurance, when the Soviet Union had obtained documents describing the US design for the atomic bomb he gave orders to build it as early as possible.
Scientists at the Installation soon received detailed descriptions of the US bomb, Fat Man and began building it immediately. This counterfeit of Americas atomic bomb was built successfully and tested on August 29, 1949. Although the blast achieved the aimed-for impression in the West, Soviet scientists knew that they were still months behind the US. As a result of this pressure, accelerated development of Sakharovs Layer Cake design began on February 26, 1950. Pressure was even greater in the West.
The Soviets first bomb took the US by surprise and scientists at Los Alamos were pressed to conceive something new. Rumors of the feasibility of a superbomb were widespread, but it was not until March of 1951 that a design was proposed that showed any promise. The Teller-Ulam Configuration, which was formulated by Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam, called for a bomb that combined both nuclear fission and fusionallowing, theoretically, for unlimited release of energy. The superbomb was built immediately and tested on May 9th.
Learning of this, the Soviet scientists were told that no effort should be spared in the rapid completion of the Layer Cake project. It was tested on August 12, 1953 and definitely caused a stir in the west, although many soon realized that it could not have been a true thermonuclear bombthe US was still ahead. Sakharovs Third Idea was almost identical to the Teller-Ulam Configuration, but, again, he had had no contact with the West and formulated his ideas independently of the US.
It was instantly clear that this new design had potential for unlimited power, which meant that one of two things could happen: the nuclear arms race could continue forever, each country building a bomb bigger and more powerful than the last, or it could end with the mutual realization that neither country could win. The Chasm: We did not put two and two together because the two twos were in different compartments; they were not together.
Progression in science relies on an open scientific community where ideas can be published, criticized, and discussed. New ideas as well as sudden discoveries result from years of collaboration between groups of scientists who are diverse in their backgrounds, ideas, and localities. At the beginning of World War II in the early 1940s this open venue of scientific thought vanished from society. A wall was erected between eastern and western scientists in order to maintain the extreme degree of secrecy that was demanded during the nuclear arms race.
Even scientists within the separate countries were being isolated from each other due to the use of compartmentalization by their respective governments. Scientists had very limited control over issues of secrecy, and government officials, whose main concern was secrecy, had the final say. Each scientist, engineer, and worker connected in any way to the Manhattan Project (43,000 people total) was to know everything he needed to know to do his job and nothing else. Compartmentalization became an issue of controversy between scientists and the government in the US.
Many scientists argued that that the future of physics relied on open knowledge and that the United States would lose its superiority if scientific research did not become free again. Leo Szilard, an American physicist, held a more radical view of compartmentalization and argued that there is no way of telling beforehand [who is] likely to discover and invent a new method which will make the old methods obsolete and therefore army compartmentalization rulesshould be ignored in the interests of completing the bomb.
The governments goal was to establish security by gaining control over the various members of the project [as to] minimize the likelihood of vital secrets falling into enemy hands, and in order to accomplish this, compartmentalization had to be used. The locations of plants in Hanford and Oak Ridge were not well known, but the security around Los Alamos was considered crucial. It was not printed on maps or published in newspapers. In fact it did not even have an addressonly a post office box.
It was completely isolated, every action was constantly monitored, and everything released to the outside world was censored. But because of the amount of security that surrounded Los Alamos, a level of collaboration was allowed within it. Los Alamos became a place where scientists were able to discuss ideas more openly. Compartmentalization was less of a concern, and as a result scientists were able to obtain a broader range of information that enabled them to make connections that were vital to the development of the bomb.
The Los Alamos of the Soviet Union was Arzamas-16 or The Installationas Sakharov called it. The security surrounding the Installation was even tighter than that of Los Alamos. There were people who worked there who did not know where it was. The people who traveled the distance were not even supposed to reveal the amount of time that it took them to reach their destination. All reports within the Installation were written by hand because typists were not trusted. Communication with the outside world was prohibited: no letters, no phone calls, no contact.
However, this environment, as with Los Alamos, allowed the physicists to work in collaboration and discuss ideas openly. The chasm that developed as a result of World War II completely separated Western and Eastern scientists. Yet even during this divide the views and discoveries of Soviet scientists parallel those of scientists in the US very closely. All three of Sakharovs ideas was first thought of in the US, and then completely independently by Sakharov and his colleagues in the east.
Even more astonishingly, both the scientists in the Soviet Union and in the United States felt that they were building the atomic bomb for the same reason. In his memoirs, Sakharov stated that the purpose of nuclear weapons was to deter war, not to wage war, and when American physicist, John Archibald Wheeler, was asked to name the most important aspect of nuclear energy, he replied My answer is simple: a nuclear device to keep the peace. How do two sets of people in such different localities and under such different governments repeatedly come to the same conclusions and convictions?
Perhaps this is because they had been working together closely for years before the war. Their minds were set on the same path and neither set of people had any reason to diverge from the path. Furthermore, the background information on nuclear fission had been published before the warboth countries were working from the same basis of information. Wheeler gives another reason with his statement: ideas cant be locked away in vaults; if they do not occur to one person, they will eventually occur to another.
As a result of these similarities, it was very possible, and maybe even likely, for Soviet and American scientists to arrive at the same conclusions and to hold many of the same opinions. The Scientific Community: Some discoveries in science are made quickly, by individuals; others emerge slowly as a result of many diverse contributions from many researchers. Scientists of the world work so closely and share so many of the same views that they could almost be considered a family. A perfect example of the strength of this community of scientists is the Teller-Oppenheimer controversy.
However, it displays certain reluctance for forgiveness within the community as well. In April of 1954 J. Robert Oppenheimers security clearance was cancelled because of suspicion aroused in Washington. Hearings were held in April and May, and to the surprise of many, Edward Teller, who had worked closely with Oppenheimer, testified against Oppenheimers innocence stating that one would be wiser not to grant [Oppenheimer] clearance. Hereafter, Oppenheimer, an esteemed member of the scientific community, was considered by the United States Government to be a security risk.
For most American scientists he became an instant martyr and Teller and instant villain. Teller had chosen to express his true opinion and put the importance of the security of US government above the ties binding the US community of scientists, whereas Oppenheimer had often taken the side of the scientists against offensive security regulations. Oppenheimer later received an apology from the government, but Teller has been ostracized from the scientific community ever since his testimony.
Teller had lost the trust of many of his fellow scientists, and that has proven to be a difficult thing to regain. As soon as the era of secrecy was over, full contact resumed between the Soviet and American scientific communities. After Stalins death in 1953 there was a gradual resumption of correspondence and visits between Soviet scientists and their Western colleagues which increased with time until relationships nearly equaled those of scientists in the 1920s and 30s. Scientists on both sides were as open as they could be without revealing classified information.
On one of his many trips to the USSR in 1969, the American physicist, Kip Thorne, asked Zeldovich a question involving a principle in physics called the Raleigh-Taylor Instability. Zeldovich gave him a quick clear answer: No, Kip, that doesnt happen. When Zeldovich would not give an explanation of his answer Thorne realized that it must have had to do with classified information. A few months later he posed the same question to an American physicist who had worked on the bomb, Stirling Colgate. Colgates answer was identical to Zeldovichs answer, and as an explanation he would only say it has been shown.
Years after both countries had built and tested thermonuclear weapons, the theories that created them were still classified. At this point, it could be easily argued that secrecy was unnecessary since both countries involved in the conflict had the same informationit was as if they had come to a draw in poker and both countries refused to show their cards. As early as 1944, Neils Bohr advised President Roosevelt that a postwar nuclear arms race could be averted only by open sharing of information, but much of the secrecy surrounding nuclear weapons still remains today.
Thus scientists continued to keep their governments secrets partly because of loyalty and a feeling of patriotism, and in part because of a fear of the consequences that would follow if classified information were betrayed. Oppenheimer got his security clearance revoked, but scientists the USSR could be executed if they were suspected of espionage or even discontent with the government. During the development of the bomb, Soviet scientists knew that Beria had selected understudies to take over the leading positions in the case of failure and that any opposition to the project [would be] fatal.
Needless to say: secrets were kept. The Link: The bomb saved a small island of intellectual autonomy in a society where the state claimed control of intellectual life. Starting at the beginning of World War II, there was a distinct divide between Eastern and Western scientists. Yet, Stalins Iron Curtain extended to every part of society; the Soviet Union was isolated from the rest of the world to such a degree that science became the bridge.
Even with a wall of silence separating them from their American colleagues, Soviet scientists who worked on the atomic bomb served to link their country to the West when all other connections had been cut off. The Soviet Union maintained this contact through a fierce competition with the US that required knowledge of what was happening elsewhere in the world. Espionage was used to maintain a connection to a world that Stalin claimed that the Soviet Union was superior to.
His distrust of Russian scientists caused him to look to America for answerssuggesting that he needed the West in order to prove the superiority of the Soviet Union. This contradiction is only one example of the fallacies innate in the Soviet government under Stalin, but it affirms that the atomic bombsaved a community that constituted an important… intellectual link between the West and the Soviet Union The strength of the scientific community as well as the governments reliance on science to gain superiority was the fragile thread that maintained the relationship between East and West throughout the 20th century.