No. 51, June 24, 2003

1. S. Uchii, Recent Studies on the Soviet Nuclear Project

2. Our Activities in 2002

Editor: Soshichi Uchii


Recent Studies on the Soviet Nuclear Project

by Soshichi Uchii


First let me mention the following three books:

  • Herbert York, The Advisors, Stanford University Press, 1989 (1st ed., 1976).
  • David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb, Yale University Press, 1994.
  • Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun, the making of the hydrogen bomb, Simon and Shuster, 1995. [Japanese translation from Kinokuniya, 2001]

These three books are some of the major sources of my current lecture on the ethics of science, as regards the scientists' role in a society and in international affairs. Of course I was using my own book, The Ethics of Science (Maruzen, 2002), but I have finished this already at the beginning of June; this book is meant to be the material for a half-year course, while I am giving a condensed course which meets twice a week.

Now, what I wish to do in this review essay is an important addition to the arguments presented in the book. When I discussed the ethics for the scientist, the main model was extracted from the "Franck Report" (1945); we should realize that the authors of this report were living in, and working for, a basically free-and-democratic nation (despite some misgivings stemming from the state of war). And I have confirmed that this model works well for treating, drawing on York's excellent work, the ethical problems involved in the development of the superbomb after the war; as well as for treating, drawing on Seaborg's memoirs, the scientist's role in international affairs such as the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

However, I had little idea as regards the ethics of the scientist working for a nation under dictatorship, such as the Soviet Union under Stalin. But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, various hitherto unknown documents became available, and Holloway has shown an exemplary work. His book is a groundbreaking work treating three major themes: (1) How did the Soviet scientists and engineers develop their nuclear weapons? (2) What was the relationship between scientists and the political system, and how was it changed by the nuclear project? And finally, (3) What was the effect of nuclear weapons on international relations?

As I shall argue later, (2) and (3) have a close relationship with my problem of the ethics of the scientist. Now, speaking of the Soviet bomb, there was an unsettled question as to the role espionage played in its development. Rhodes' impressive book answers this question convincingly, by checking both the American documents (such as the trial records of spies such as Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and Klaus Fuchs) and the Soviet documents. And equally impressive is Rhodes' narrative as regards the making of the American superbombs; in addition to the technical details (as far as permissible from the security), he penetrates even to the personalities of such crucial figures as Edward Teller, Robert Oppenheimer, Ulam and von Neumann, for instance.


Let us briefly review new facts, either unknown or left open in York's work, but revealed by newer studies by Holloway and Rhodes. For an overall view, see the Timeline (1932-1956) extracted from Holloway and Rhodes.

First of all, the Soviet first bomb, Joe 1 was an exact copy of the "Fatman" tested in the Trinity and dropped on Nagasaki. There were at least two spies in Los Alamos: one is Klaus Fuchs (able physicist), and another a mechanist, David Greenglass, working for high-explosive lenses to be used for the Fatman. Through them, the Soviet espionage obtained all the essential information of the Fatman by the end of June 1945; recall the Trinity experiment took place on July 16. The Soviet director Igor Kurchatov (1903-1960) knew even approximate date of the experiment; and by October he must have known the production rate of U235 and Plutonium in the US (Rhodes 1995, 173, 192-5). Then, why did the Soviet project take 4 more years for their first test? This brings us to a second fact.

That is, although the Soviet project obtained a blueprint of the bomb, the Soviet Union had no atomic industry; it possessed almost no uranium ore. While the Allies were attacking Berlin, Anglo-American troops and Russian troops rushed to remove uranium ore in Germany; and the Americans got about 1100 tons, the Russians 130 tons (Rhodes 1995, 160-1). Kurchatov appealed to Stalin that he did not get enough support for his project, but Stalin did not respond appropriately; Stalin, as well as his associate Beria (in charge of the bomb project), did not trust scientists nor espionage. Stalin got furious on the news of Hiroshima, and the Soviet project of the bomb started anew only after that news. Thus, the Soviet project took four years in order to prepare the materials for the bomb (U235, graphite, deuterium, reactors, plutonium, and the technology for constructing the bomb, as well as scientific checks).

This fact should be instructive to those who want to declare, categorically, that the scientist alone (or, at least primarily) is responsible for manufacturing the bomb. No, unless a nation (or its dictator or whatever) support such a project with all of its resources, the bomb cannot be produced; thus the bulk of responsibility goes also to politicians. Stalin, for instance, ordered "Provide us with atomic weapons in the shortest possible time", and promised all kinds of support. The salary of the scientists in the project doubled or tripled after this. Which implies, on the other hand, the failure may result in the death of those with a major responsibility (recall the "Great Terror" in the 30s).

Kurchatov superimposed on the Joe 1; the photo in Holloway (1994) and Rhodes (1995) posted as "Joe 1" seems wrong. See High Energy Weapons Archive.


Thirdly, The Soviet project went quite smoothly from the atomic bomb to the hydrogen bomb. A promising idea (due to A. Sakharov) called "Layer Cake" was already at hand in 1948 as well as the idea of using lithium deutride as fuel, before the first detonation of Joe 1, but its research was postponed until the success of Joe 1. Thus the project of the hydrogen bomb was original, unlike that of the atomic bomb. Moreover, the invention (1954) of multi-stage ignition of fusion fuel by means of X-rays (known as Teller-Ulam invention, and what Sakharov called the Third idea) seems to be original too, as far as Holloway examined.

Moreover, Stalin would not have responded to an American proposal for a moratorium on the hydrogen bomb research; Holloway argues against any counterfactual neglecting the personality of Stalin, and this looks reasonable. Thus, Herbert York's conjecture (York 1989, 96-102) must be corrected in view of this; the Soviet project would have obtained a superbomb as it actually did, regardless the American decision on the superbomb. Of course, the knowledge of the Mike in 1952 and the Bikini tests in 1954 must have increased the psychological urgency, and thereby may have accelerated the Soviet development, but that is another question.

Holloway's argument has some force indeed. However, we have to notice that Stalin died in March 1953, and this does not favor Holloway's argument. Even after Stalin's death, with the knowledge of the American test of Mike, the Party leadership favored "Layer Cake" rather than super (see the Timeline); Kurchatov was reprimanded in Moscow for approving of super rather than pursuing "Layer Cake" version. Then, what if the US had not made Mike (its first super)? The Party reprimand would have been much more severer, and the Soviet super program may have been canceled; further, the Soviet scientists, including Kurchatov, might have been much less eager to pursue super, even if they had come to that idea (with no example of realizability of super, such as Mike). This is a counterargument against Hollway. Thus, York and Holloway may be on a par, even if we grant Holloway's point.

Anyway, Layer Cake (Joe 4) succeeded on August 12, 1953, yielding about 400 kilotons. And the first superbomb test took place on November 24, 1955; because of the test conditions, its fusion fuel was reduced to a half, but it yielded 1.6 megatons. Moreover, it caused a few casualties. Kurchatov was, after seeing the ground zero, shocked and felt that this weapon should never be used. In fact, this test became the turning point for Kurchatov, and he decided to retire from any further test.

Sakharov described his own feelings as follows:

When you see the burned birds who are writhing on the scorched steppe, when you see how the shock wave blows away buildings like houses of cards, when you feel the reek of splintered bricks, when you sense melted glass, you immediately think of times of war... the very moment of the explosion, the shock wave which moves along the field and which crushes the grass and flings itself at the earth... All of this triggers an irrational yet very strong emotional impact. How not to start thinking of one's responsibility at this point? (Quoted from Holloway 1994, 316-7)

Moreover, although these scientists created this terrible weapon, they are not allowed to say anything how it should be used; the Party alone is supposed to decide what to do.


Holloway is quite instructive as regards the notorious Lysenko affairs; one may suspect this has nothing to do with the nuclear weapons, but it is not so.

Stalin gave an important speech in the Bolshoi Theater on February 6, 1946. In this, he underlined the importance of science, presumably the projects of the atomic bomb, radar, and rockets in his mind (the bomb project was already assured of Stalin's full support, immediately after Hiroshima). However, at the same time, he implied that the economic policy would return to the prewar pattern of priority for heavy industry, and the production of consumer goods and raising living standard come only next---that was the main point of his new "Five-Year Plan".

Following this, the campaign for ideological orthodoxy began; attacks on "Western ideas", on "cosmopolitanism", and even on "publishing papers in Western journals" (Holloway 1994, 207). It was in this intellectual climate Lysenko gained his impetus. In 1948 Lysenko talked with Stalin and promised great improvements in agricultural product, "if he was allowed to defeat his scientific opponents and prevent their interference with his work" (Holloway 1994, 208). Stalin took it, and the "Western" genetics was expelled as incompatible with Marx-Leninism.

Similar trends in other disciplines gained impetus from this "success", and even physics came under threat. Marxist philosophers' attack on relativity and quantum mechanics regained impetus, and the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum mechanics was banished. From 1948 to 1949, a large conference for physicists was planned for discussing physics and ideology. The conference was due to start on March 21, 1949, but it was abruptly canceled.

Only Stalin could have taken the decision to do this and it appears that he canceled the conference because it might retard the atomic project. According to General Makhnev, ..., Beria asked Kurchatov whether it was true that quantum mechanics and relativity theory were idealist, in the sense of antimaterialist. Kurchatov replied that if relativity theory and quantum mechanics were rejected, the bomb would have to be rejected too. Beria was worried by this reply, and may have asked Stalin to call off the conference. (Holloway, 1994, 211)

A similar incident is reported by Rhodes too. The Soviet equivalent of Los Alamos was Arzamas-16 (at Sarov), sometimes called "Los Arzamas".

A commission arrived in Sarov one day to make sure everyone agreed with Soviet agronomist Trofim Lysenko's Marxian notions of heredity, which stalin had endorsed. Sakharov expressed his belief in Mendelian genetics instead. The commission let the heresy pass, he writes, because of his "position and reputation at the installation," but the outspoken experimentalist Lev Al'tshuler, who similarly repudiated Lysenko, did not fare so well. Sakharov and a colleague had to intercede on Al'tshuler's behalf with Boris Vannikov's deputy Avrami Zavenyagin ... Zavenyagin attached a second political commissar to Al'tshuler's department at Sarov to keep an eye on the miscreant. (Rhodes 1995, 515)

Later, Al'tshuler was summoned to Moscow (in 1952), and threatened with exile. So, his boss, Iulii Khariton had to phone Beria, and urge that Al'tshuler be released, because he was indispensable for the bomb project.

From these incidents, Holloway's brief but strong claim gains credibility: "It was the atomic bomb that saved Soviet physics in 1949" (Holloway 1994, 211). However, the other side of the coin is that Kurchatov and other members of the project were working, literally, for their lives in the project of the bomb.

In any case, the Stalinist campaign for the ideological authority even on the matters of science revealed an inconsistency with Stalin's desire to have the atomic bomb as soon as possible. At the outset of the bomb project, an eminent physicist, Peter Kapitsa questioned the leadership of Beria (who was quite ignorant of physics), and Kapitsa insisted on pursuing the Soviet own project, relying on the ingenuity of their own scientists such as Kurchatov, Khariton, and Zel'dovich; but Stalin rejected this, and Kapitsa was placed under house arrest for the next 8 years. Beria insisted on making a copy of the Fatman (which should be a detestable "Western" product!).


Another problem Holloway's book illuminates is the moral question those scientists faced, when they considered whether or not to join the project of the bomb. On this problem, Holloway quotes from Nikolai Dollezhal', the chief designer of the first production reactor of plutonium.

In his memoirs [published in 1989] Dollezhal', the chief designer of the first production reactor, discusses his own thoughts in 1946 when Kurchatov first drew him into the atomic project. Dollezhal' had regarded the bombing of Hiroshima as a "repulsive act of cynical antihumanism". If that was so, did the Soviet Union have the right to make and use the same weapon? His answer to this was yes, on two grounds. First, making the weapon was not the same as using it against peaceful cities. The military and political leadership would choose the targets. And although Dollezhal' knew something of the terrible purge of 1937, "those affairs were internal --- domestic, so to speak". The Soviet Union, as far as he knew, did not contravene the laws of war: unlike the Germans they had not destroyed the noncombatant population; unlike the Allies they had not carpet-bombed German cities. Dollezhal's second argument was that possession of the bomb did not necessarily mean that it would be used. All the main combatants in the war had had chemical weapons, but no one had employed them. That was because they feared retaliation. Hence the Soviet Union needed all the means of attack possessed by the aggressor, if it wanted to prevent such weapons from being used. (Holloway 1994, 205)

Thus, according to Dollezahl', he thought it necessary to have the atomic bomb as a means for preventing attack on the Soviet Union by the US, which already had the bomb and used it against Japan. In Dollezhal's own words:

The security of the country and patriotic duty demanded that we create the atomic bomb. And these were not mere words. This was objective reality. ...The ancients had a point when they coined the phrase "If you want peace, prepare for war." (Quoted from Holloway 1994, 205-6)

Thus Dollezhal' concluded that work on the bomb was morally justified. And he adds that in a conversation early in 1946 he found that this was Kurchatov's position too (Holloway 1994, 206).

We already know that quite a similar argument was put forward by J. A. Wheeler, when he decided to join the US project on the hydrogen bomb (see Uchii 2002, 100). But in view of the objective situation in 1946, I believe Dollezhal's argument is more cogent than Wheeler's. Whether Dollezhal's judgment on the Stalin regime is reasonable, that's another question; and I believe he was not in a good position to make a correct judgment.

However, now comes a crucial point. Recall what Kurchatov thought after the Soviet first test of superbomb (1955). Why did he think that this weapon should never be used? Holloway does not describe the reason, but it is clear for me that Kurchatov's reason should have been quite similar to that of the Franck Report; that is, this weapon would bring about too much danger to humans (both Western people and the Soviet people) and to the whole world. As regards Kurchatov's initial purpose for joining the bomb project (represented by Dollezhal's preceding argument), he now finished his own job; that is, the Soviet caught up with the US even with respect to the hydrogen bomb. Thus he may now step out of this business. In fact, this super test became the last for Kurchatov. He was now to turn his effort to peaceful uses of nuclear power, and the recovery of international community for the physicists. His teacher Ioffe, and Kapitsa were a member of the whole European community of physicists; but these ties have been severed for 20 years.


Such an occasion for resuming international meetings of physicists took place in August 1955 at Geneva. According to Holloway, it is Kurchatov who directed the Soviet preparation for this, although he himself did not attend. The Russian physicists have done a good job, and they have made a good impression on the Western participants: the Russian physicists were recognized as first-rate in the field of nuclear physics. That was the beginning of a reconstruction of international relationship between the Soviet physicists and the rest of the world, well ahead of the political reconciliation between the East and the West.

Then Kurchatov's own debut on an international stage came the next year, 1956. He visited Britain, with Khrushchev and Bulganin. And he delivered, at Harwell---Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Britain, a lecture on controlled fusion, showing the Soviet progress in this field, by breaking the spell of secrecy prevailed on both sides. This produced an extremely good impression on the British hosts, contributing to laying the foundations of future collaboration. I have already discussed Glenn Seaborg's contribution to the Test Ban Treaty in 1963 (Uchii 2002, 117), but I now realize that there was already a Soviet contribution on the same direction, prepared by Kurchatov and others.


Holloway set as his second theme the relationship between scientists and the political system, in addition to tracing the development of nuclear research in the Soviet Union. We have already encountered some issues related with this theme. Basically, what Holloway tried to show is that this relationship in the Soviet Union was considerably changed by the nuclear project. In his own words:

Stalin regarded scientists and engineers with suspicion, fearing that they might be wreckers or saboteurs, and claimed for himself the right to say what constituted valid science. Physics survived, however, as a sphere of intellectual autonomy, in spite of the repression of physicists in the 1930s. The hopes that existed at the end of World War II for a more liberal intellectual climate were not fulfilled, but physics was protected by the bomb from the terrible obscurantism of Stalin's last years. The survival of physics pointed to a profound cultural contradiction in Stalinism, between the effort to make the Soviet Union a powerful state vis-a-vis the rest of the world and the urge to exercise complete control over the life of society at home. The Soviet nuclear project shows not that science and totalitarianism are compatible, but that totalitarian regimes have to allow some zones of intellectual autonomy in the society if they are to reap the benefits of science. (Holloway 1994, 366)

Indeed, this is one of the most illuminating points in Holloway's book. Many of the critics of science in recent years question the autonomy of science, the freedom of scientific activities. A foolish Japanese critic, in particular, criticized the first Pugwash conference (1957) by saying that it emphasized again the importance of freedom of scientific research (which eventually led to the nuclear weapons, according to him) in conjunction with the need for the social responsibility of the scientist (see Uchii 2002, 66). If I may give you a candid opinion, this critic completely missed the significance of the Pugwash: it was one of the first occasions the East and the West met on the problem of nuclear weapons. It may look to most people living in a free society that the freedom of science is a platitude, often overemphasized. But for most scientists in the Soviet Union, even after Stalin's death, it was not a platitude at all; it was, for them, a matter of life or death. Holloway's book illuminates this point quite vividly.

Holloway goes on to argue that some people like Sakharov tried to extend this sort of autonomy from physics to civil life, taking science as the "model for politics"; but I will not continue any further. One thing is certain, however. Scientists' activities on the international scale were an indispensable factor for the Detente in recent years, and Holloway's book shows how the Soviet scientists contributed to this.

Our Activities in 2002


4月 研究室オリエンテーション、新入生歓迎会

6月15日 文学研究科フォーラム「京都から世界へ」(京都会館第二ホール)内井教授が(ピンチヒッター)パネリストで参加。伊藤助教授は裏方で活躍。

7月 Newsletter 46

9月 伊勢田講師集中講義。21世紀COEプログラム、PaSTA (Plurality and Science, Technology, Art) 研究会発足、当研究室も参加。

11月 Newsletter 47

12月 Newsletter 48

2月 卒論・修論試問、Newsletter 49

3月11日 Newsletter 50、10th Anniversary Special Issue

3月16日 10周年記念講演とシンポジウム「アインシュタインの思考をたどる」芝蘭会館





「ダーウィンとアインシュタインはどこが似ているか? ──関西人のための科学哲学入門──」PHS Newsletter 46、7月11日




「ダーウィンのデモン」PHS Newsletter 48、12月5日





「ガリレオの数学的運動論、要旨」PHS Newsletter 47、11月1日

「科学史はいずこへ?」PHS Newsletter 50、3月11日

研究発表 「ガリレオの数学的運動論−「中間速度定理」をめぐって」、日本科学史学会京都支 部例会(同志社大学今出川校舎)、2002年10月12日



澤井 直 (D3)

研究発表 「フォルヘー・コイターの解剖学:研究対象の措定をめぐって」、第103回日本 医史学会(日本歯科大学新潟歯学部) 2002年9月28日-29日


論文等 「なぜ移入種は排除されなければならないのか?─紹介:ポーリー「アメリカの生態学的独立をめぐる対立」―」『生物学史研究』69号(2002):41-51(研究ノート) 、2002年6月20日

「科学史研究は何のために?─―科学史と科学論の狭間で」PHS Newsletter 50、3月11日

「殺虫剤と化学兵器─日本の場合、1918-1945─」『化学史研究』30巻1号(2003) :1-10、2003年3月20日

研究発表 「戦前期アメリカにおける応用昆虫学の展開―L.O.ハワードと農務省昆虫局を中 心に」日本科学史学会第49回年会(金沢大学)、2002年5月26日

「殺虫剤と化学兵器―日本の場合, 1918-1945」2002年度化学史研究発表会一般 講演(福岡女学院大学)、2002年6月23日

「『自然の支配』と応用昆虫学―戦前期アメリカにおける害虫防除技術の展開」 日本科学史学会生物学史分科会月例会(東京大学)、2002年10月5日

「『純粋種』を守る―タイワンザル/移入種の排除をめぐる合意形成について」 科学技術社会論学会第1回年次研究大会(東京大学)、2002年11月17日



論文 「E・マイヤーの生物学的種概念」『科学基礎論研究』、29巻2号(2002):23-28、 2002年3月25日

「カール・ポパーの進化の図式」PHS Newsletter 50、2003年3月11日

研究発表 「進化生物学における機能概念」、21世紀COEプログラムPaSTA研究会(京都大学)、 2003年2月28日


研究発表 「真理の改訂理論による真理の病理性の説明」、日本科学哲学会 第35回(平成14年度)大会、新潟大学、2002年11月9日

「真理の改訂理論と真理解釈の複数性」PHS Newsletter 50、2003年3月11日



「文科系学生が論理学を学ぶにあたって」PHS Newsletter 50、2003年3月11日




「ピッツバーグ便り」PHS Newsletter 50、2003年3月11日


「幾何学と空間の物理学について」PHS Newsletter 50、2003年3月11日


編集後記 2000年の客員教授を務めていただいたWes Salmon の最後の仕事の一つ、Logical Empiricism, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press が出版された。これはイタリアで開催されたシンポジウムの記録に手を加えたもので、Paolo Parrini とMerrilee Salmon が編集を引き継いで完成させたもの。欧米では論理的経験論についての歴史的研究が結構盛んであり、新しい成果が示されてきている。論理的経験論を生半可にしか消化せず、ついには忘れ去ろうとしている観のある日本の科学哲学界も、これを機会に少しは注意を向けるべきであろう。(内井惣七)

Last modified Dec. 1, 2008. (c) Soshichi Uchii