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SCIENTIFIC HERITAGE OF ACADEMICIAN KURCHATOV

Дата публикации: 14 октября 2021
Автор(ы): Raisa KUZNETSOVA, Viktor POPOV
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Рубрика: ВОПРОСЫ НАУКИ
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №6, 2012, C.70-78
Номер публикации: №1634207424


Raisa KUZNETSOVA, Viktor POPOV, (c)

by Raisa KUZNETSOVA, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Viktor POPOV, Cand. Sc. (Chem.), National Research Center "Kurchatov Institute" (Moscow)

 

Akademizdatcenter "Nauka", RAS, is completing publication of 6-volume Collection of Scientific Works of Acad. Igor Kurchatov in 2012. The edition, reflecting the width and depth of his scientific interests and achievements in the sphere of physics of solid, nuclear physics and technology, an interdisciplinary approach to research, large-scale organizational work to implement major state scientific-technical problems, is carried out in compliance with the joint decision of RAS, RF Federal Agency for Nuclear Energy (today the state corporation Rosatom) and Russian Scientific Center "Kurchatov Institute" (today the National Research Center "Kurchatov Institute") of August 13/23, 2004. The materials for publication were prepared by the Kurchatov Institute and Rosatom. The editorial board is headed by RAS president Acad. Yuri Osipov, his deputies became Acad. Boris Myasoedov and RAS Corresponding Member Nikolai Chemoplekov (from 2008--RAS Corresponding Member Viktor Sidorenko).

 

Kurchatov near the proton generator. Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute. 1934.

 
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For a long time many of his works from the vast scientific heritage of Igor Kurchatov remained inaccessible for routine reasons, and by the moment of taking decision on their publication, they were not collected, declassified and systematized. The 3-volume Selected Works of the scientist, published in 1983 by Nauka Publishing House, consisting mainly of his prewar works, as well as about twenty of his works of the 1940s-1950s (some reports of Laboratory No. 2, USSR AS, the reports, which he made at the English Center of Nuclear Research, speeches at the sessions of the USSR Supreme Soviet and CPSU congresses, articles published in scientific journals) did not sufficiently show his contribution to the solution of problems of nuclear project.

 

In 2004, there started collection and preparation of Kurchatov's works in scientific journals and collections, the published articles, the most important scientific-technical accounts, reports made at different meetings, speeches at public and political forums, documentary materials. The large-scale work was implemented for expert consideration and declassification of the materials kept in secret funds of the archives, search for and selection of his documents, kept in open archives and known only to a small number of specialists. So, many of Kurchatov's works are first published in the present collection.

 

The first volume Early Works. Semi-Conductors. Dielectrics. Segnetoelectrics (editor-in-chief--RAS Corresponding Member Nikolai Chemoplekov), published in 2005, includes the works written before his coming to the Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute (LFTI).

 

His first work in radioactivity Kurchatov published in 1925. He carried out measurements of radioactivity of snow according to his method at the Main Geophysical Laboratory in Slutsk (today Pavlovsk, Leningrad region).

 

The first section of the volume also contains two works in studies of slow variations of the average level of water of the Black and Azov seas, implemented by Kurchatov at the Central Hydrometeorological Station in Feodosiya (July-October 1924), articles "About Aluminum Anode Electrolysis" and "About Electrolysis of the Solid", Kurchatov was engaged in 1924-1925 at the chair of physics of the Azerbaijani Polytechnical Institute, as well as articles about passing slow electrons through fine metallic foils in compliance with the results of the first studies at LFTI (November 1925) in cooperation with Kirill Sinelnikov.

 

The biggest section of the first volume "Physics of Solid Dielectrics and Semi-Conductors" presents works of Kurchatov at the Physico-Technical Institute in studies of high-voltage (1927-1928), unipolar (1927-1933) polarization, segnetoelectrics (1929-1933), physics and technology of varistors (semi-conductor resistors, 1933-1935).

 

In late 1929, together with Pavel Kobeko and his brother Boris, he started studies of anomalously high dielectric permeability of segnetic salt and revealed new nature of the phenomenon. This salt turned out to be an electric analog of ferromagnetics, the first in the new group of dielectrics, called segnetoelectrics by the scientist. The section under such title includes articles, reflecting the results of Kurchatov's works in the new sphere of science and, the first in the world monograph in segnetoelectrics, published by the author in 1933 in Russian and in 1936 in French with a foreword by Acad. Abram Ioffe.

 
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The second volume, published in October 2007 (editor-in-chief Acad. Spartak Belyaev), includes works in physics of an atomic nucleus of the pre-war period (1934-1941, LFTI and Radium Institute), enclosing three directions: interaction of neutrons with nuclei, artificial radioactivity and physics of fission. Here Kurchatov managed to receive world class results, which played an important role in forming a correct picture of the process of nuclear reactions and in creating preconditions for important discoveries in future--isomery of artificially radioactive nuclei and spontaneous fission of uranium nuclei.

 

Special attention deserves his small monograph Fission of the Atomic Nucleus (1935), presenting a review of the state of nuclear physics of that time and its level, the author himself began with. The majority of original works on this subject were published later on.

 

In 1932, after discovery of neutron by James Chedwick (England), Kurchatov became engrossed in the studies of neutrons. In the beginning of this cycle of works, he and his colleagues discovered an amazing phenomenon for that time--"branching" of nuclear reactions, which later on resulted in the discovery of nuclear isomery.

 

A new impulse to nuclear-physical studies was given by the famous Italo-American physicist Enrico Fermi: in Rome he and his colleagues discovered that slow neutrons are very strongly absorbed in some substances, e.g. in lithium, boron, yttrium, iridium, and rodium, which made it possible to carry out experiments with them. Some works of Kurchatov's laboratory were devoted to studies of the Fermi effect, and the search ended in finding the so-called selective absorption of neutrons, while the interpretation of the phenomenon allowed the scientist to make a conclusion about its resonance character. Physicists in different laboratories of the world made the same generalization at the same time.

 

Kurchatov's experiments explained many problems of neutron physics of that time. He attracted into the sphere of his interests all available forces and means, and he himself made a lot. In particular, he headed adjustment and starting of the first in the USSR cyclotron at the Radium Institute (1939). Soon due to neutrons, received on it, he carried out works partly described in the second volume.

 

The events of late 1938-early 1939--the discovery of fission of uranium nuclei under the action of slow neutrons by Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann (Germany) and Lise Meitner (Austria), radically changed the situation in the sphere of nuclear physics. And though this problem is little discussed in the second volume (Kurchatov has not many works on this subject), his laboratory acted rather actively, studying the process of fission and problems of chain reaction. Experiments, initiated by the scientist and involving his students Konstantin Petrzhak and Georgi Flerov, in which he himself took part during development of methods of implementation and discussion of results, were completed by discovery of the phenomenon of spontaneous uranium fission in 1940.

 

From mid-1939 scientific contacts with foreign countries began to be curtailed, the number of publications

 
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on the fission of uranium and thorium nuclei in the USA and England reduced. In November 1940, at the fifth and last before the Great Patriotic War All-Union Conference on physics of atomic nuclei in Moscow, where the problem was discussed openly, Kurchatov made a report "Fission of Heavy Nuclei" (published in the collection), which demonstrated a necessity to enrich uranium with isotope 235U for implementation of chain reaction in a mixture with water, a possibility of its realization in the mixture of natural uranium with heavy water and impossibility in pure natural uranium on rapid neutrons. In fact, this was a document, fixing pre-war state of physics of fission and chain reaction.

 

The second volume presents for the first time the results of Kurchatov's experiments to determine an ability to activate gold by moderate and resonance neutrons, carried out in 1943 at Laboratory No. 2 of the USSR AS--the scientific center of the national nuclear project, functioning in February-April 1943 with Kurchatov as its head. As a kind of continuation of the cycle of his studies of the second half of the 1930s, they had a practical aim to get neutron-physical characteristics for uranium-graphite mixtures, used in reactors.

 

A separate section is devoted to letters, notes, plans of works in the sphere of physics of the atomic nucleus, mainly of the prewar period. At the beginning of the war Kurchatov turned to nuclear-physical problems only episodically, in particular, in connection with preparation of works in spontaneous fission to be nominated for the Stalin Prize (1942), but soon, after the order of the State Defense Committee of September 28, 1942 had been issued, he started works "related to studies of feasibility of using nuclear energy by means of fission of the uranium nucleus" with scientific knowledge, "preserved" back in the prewar period.

 

The third volume The Nuclear Project. Nuclear Reactors (editor-in-chief Acad. Nikolai Ponomarev-Step-noi), published in 2009, includes scientific reports and some very important documents prepared by Kurchatov himself, enclosing the period from 1943, when he headed works related to the uranium problem, till the mid-1950s, when there appeared a possibility to pay more attention to peaceful aspects of the use of atomic energy.

 

The materials of this volume reflect the most difficult stage of preparation of scientific, engineering and organizational grounds for achieving of the main goal--studies of atomic energy and creation of nuclear weaponry. Besides, the possibility of its realization itself required confirmation, while the project strategy was only forming and specified.

 

Due to this fact, the works of Kurchatov and his colleagues related to creation of a scientific-technical base for national nuclear reactor-building, which had been included in the third volume, can be conditionally divided into 4 phases (sometimes coinciding in time): 1942-1945--comprehension, working out, organization and formation of the strategy of nuclear project; 1944-1946--research and development, connected with the creation and starting of the first national nuclear reactor F-1; 1947-1948--experiments on F-1 and scientific management of the project, construction and starting of the first in the USSR industrial reactor "A"; 1949-mid-1950s--continuation of experiments on F-1, exploitation of reactor "A", beginning and development of works in various types of facilities of military and peaceful application.

 

The interesting part of the initial period is characterized by official notes and reports of Laboratory No. 2, made up at that time by Kurchatov himself, as well as his reports and comments on materials of scientific-technical intelligence service with the highest seal of secrecy,

 
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which played an essential role. They all were written, as a rule, in a single copy, by the project manager, responsible for objectivity and accuracy of the information and assessments contained in them. Moreover, they were taken into consideration when preparing the most important public decisions, secret data received by the intelligence service, their authenticity and significance, were assessed on their basis, though sometimes they could contain misinformation. Besides, these documents most accurately reflect the situation related to the uranium problem in the phase of its formation and clear up sources of the most important strategic decisions, adopted at that time practically personally by Kurchatov.

 

By the late 1943, the scientist almost completely formulated the strategy of development of the nuclear project and undertook a responsibility for the major direction--creation of boilers burning natural uranium--and began its realization.

 

Kurchatov's scientific team first carried out a series of experiments to determine the length of diffusion of thermal neutrons with gradually increasing volumes of graphite prisms, and then exponential experiments with uranium-graphite grids to assess the coefficient of multiplication and optimization of its parameters, which allowed to gradually approach the boiler's critical volume. This cycle of works, permitting to compare peculiarities of the subcritical uranium-graphite system with its theoretical model, which includes more than 20 reports, not published before, is presented in the third volume.

 

On December 24, 1946, reactor F-1 reached a critical point and began to work in a self-supporting mode. Thus Kurchatov, first in the USSR and in Eurasia, implemented the chain reaction on natural uranium and from early 1947 he passed from the scientific experiment to an industrial phase of the project--construction and starting of the first in the Soviet Union reactor to process plutonium at Combine No. 817 (today Production Association Mayak, Ozersk, Chelyabinsk Region).

 

On June 22, 1948, the industrial reactor, each phase of whose start-up was carried out by Kurchatov himself, working as a physicist-experimenter, reached its project capacity of 100,000 kW. This meant a successful completion--moreover, in a very short period of time (in a year and a half!)--of the consequent important phase of the Soviet nuclear program, which is registered in the published report on the state of works at Combine No. 817, hand written by the scientist in August 1948.

 

The fourth volume Nuclear Weapons (editor-in-chief Lev Ryabev), published in 2012, is devoted to the solution of armory problems by Kurchatov. It consists of letters, notes, plans of works, accounts, related to research, designer works, preparation and tests of nuclear and thermonuclear charges, written in 1942-1955 by the scientist or prepared with his participation and declassified in early 1990s and in 1998-2009.

 

The first section of the fourth volume "The Initial Period. Development of the concept of creation of nuclear weapons" presents letters, reports, accounts, addressed

 
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to the management of the State Defense Committee and the government (November 1942-August 1945).

 

It opens with a report to the Vice-Chairman of the SDC, curator of the nuclear project Molotov of November 27, 1942--the first document, sent by Kurchatov to the government after the issue of SDC resolution of September 28, 1942, "On the Organization of Works Related to Uranium". In it the scientist, on the basis of the analysis of materials of the intelligence service, gave an assessment of the state of works dealing with the atomic problem abroad, pointed out a number of priority tasks, indicated the names of outstanding scientists to be attracted, first of all, to their implementation, and emphasized the questions to be answered after amplification through intelligence organs.

 

By the late 1942, scientists from the USA and Great Britain were already aware that under the action of neutrons, not only nuclei 235U are devided, but also nuclei of isotopes, opened in 1940, of a new man-made element No. 94, called plutonium in March 1942.

 

Kurchatov knew this, at least already in March 1943, from information of the intelligence service about the start-up of Enrico Fermi reactor in the USA and implementation first in the world controlled chain nuclear reaction on it. He planned to carry out thorough studies of the properties of element No. 94, which is evident from the published review of the "List of American Works in Uranium Problem" in the first section.

 

Kurchatov set forth data on the ways of technical implementation of an atomic bomb, characterized the state of affairs in this sphere in the USSR and abroad, in a note to the curator of the nuclear project from the USSR Council of People's Commissars (from 1946--Council of Ministers) Mikhail Pervukhin of May 18, 1944.

 

The first section of the volume is completed with a note "About the State and Results of Scientific Research Works", prepared in August 1945, for the Supreme Commander of the USSR Armed Forces Stalin. It contains results of the works, carried out by that time by scientists and specialists of Laboratory No. 2, as well as by other scientific research, project, design organizations and industrial enterprises, engaged in the uranium project.

 

The documents of the second section "The A-Bomb" are dated back to 1946-1953. The events of August 1949 at the Semipalatinsk proving ground became a culmination point of that period.

 

With the expansion of experiments, it became more and more evident that for their acceleration and better organization in the system, which already included a huge number of organizations and productions of various types, it was necessary to create a special link--a specialized design bureau under Laboratory No. 2 with first-class specialists, experimental farms and proving grounds.

 

Thus, not far from the village of Sarov, on the border of Gorky Region and Mordovian ASSR (today town of Sarov, Nizhni Novgorod Region), there will emerge a new site with a conventional name KB-11 (known before also as Arzamas-16), created on the basis of Resolution of the USSR Council of Ministers of April 8, 1946. It was headed by Pavel Zernov, former deputy minister of the Tank Industry and the chief designer--

 
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Yuli Khariton. In addition, Kurchatov remained in charge of all problems connected with KB-11.

 

Documentary materials of this section comprise reports on the progress and results of works and most important events, connected with the development and tests of different types of nuclear weapons, plans and suggestions concerning this or that research, construction of experimental facilities, organization of production or attraction of new groups and specialists, which helps understand the diversity and scale of problems to be solved by Kurchatov and his colleagues.

 

The test of the first Soviet A-bomb RDS-1 took place on August 29, 1949, at the nuclear proving ground in the Irtysh steppe, approximately 70 km to the west from Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR. The following day Beriya and Kurchatov signed and sent a hand-written report to Stalin (published in the second section) with preliminary results of the experiment. On November 16, they together with top officials of the First Main Directorate and KB-11 handed over two reports to the Supreme Commander: on the results of tests of improved atomic bombs RDS-2 and RDS-3 and works on the creation of RDS-4 with reduced total weight and parameters and RDS-5 with the reduced nuclear charge.

 

The third section "The Hydrogen Bomb" includes documents (June 1947-December 1955), related to the creation of thermonuclear weapons, based on the use of the process of coalescence of hydrogen isotope nuclei, accompanied by discharge of colossal quantity of energy--"superbomb".

 

One of the first documentary sources is a conclusion, presented on May 5, 1948, by Beriya, on materials received through intelligence service channels in March 1948 from Klaus Fuks (England), prepared by Kurchatov and Boris Vannikov, head of the First Main Directorate under the USSR Council of Ministers. The authors emphasized that they would help accelerate scientific research works, already in progress in the USSR, concerning the "superbomb", and even presented a concrete plan with the terms of their carrying out and solution of "the most pressing theoretical problems" of the institutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Thus, the heads of the Soviet nuclear project, still working on the first national atomic bomb, rapidly turned to the problem of thermonuclear weapons.

 

Priority among the works was attached to RDS-6s construction--the so-called "puff-pastry", physical scheme of which using alternating layers from chemical compounds of deuterium (heavy water or heavy ethane) and uranium-238 was suggested by Andrei Sakharov. Tests were conducted on August 12, 1953, under guidance of Kurchatov: 400 kt explosion of the first hydrogen bomb

 
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rang out at the Semipalatinsk proving ground. Soviet specialists passed the distance from the first atomic bomb (1949) to the first hydrogen (1953) bomb in 4 years.

 

Let's point out that Americans covered the same distance in approximately 7 years.

 

After successful experiments with RDS-6s, there emerged a new task--to realize a megaton class energy discharge in thermonuclear facility.

 

A year and a half after formation of fundamental ideas, the efforts of a big group of physicists-theoreticians, mathematicians, designers and technologists helped solve all scientific and technical problems, which resulted in working out of an experimental sample of the thermonuclear bomb of a new generation. The megaton class charge (RDS-37) was successfully tested under guidance of Kurchatov on November 22, 1955, confirming the principle of creation of thermonuclear weapons.

 

After solving the key problems of creating nuclear weapons, Kurchatov focused his attention on peaceful directions of atomic science and technology. In early 1950s one of them was a controlled thermonuclear synthesis (CTS). In 2012, the fifth volume of the Collection of Scientific Works (editor-in-chief Acad. Yevgeny Velikhov) was published under this title. It includes materials, which show Kurchatov as an initiator and organizer of research in the sphere of CTS in our country, founder of scientific teams at Laboratory No. 2, which work in this sphere, attracting other institutes and industrial enterprises of the Soviet Union to it, uniting on this path scientists of all countries.

 

Kurchatov's articles, speeches at scientific and public forums, in mass media setting forth scientific-technical fundamentals of a new direction, as well as results of first experimental and theoretical studies in the sphere of physics of plasma and CTS, recently declassified documentary materials on this subject (letters, notes, accounts, addressed to top officials of the country and atomic industry, work plans), which embrace the period from 1951 to 1960. A considerable part of them (first of all, from the archives of Rosatom, Kurchatov Institute and Memorial House-Museum of Kurchatov) are published for the first time.

 
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In early 1951, the scientist, though he was very busy, devoted much time to the problem of a magnetic thermonuclear reactor (MTR) and prepared a special resolution of the government, which was signed by Stalin in May 1951. This attached an official status to the direction.

 

At the Laboratory of measuring instruments of the USSR AS (LIPAN-from 1949 the name of Laboratory No. 2), where basic experimental and theoretical studies in CTS were under way, the scientist founded a new department headed by Lev Artsimovich (theoretical works were headed by Mikhail Leontovich).

 

In December 1955, Kurchatov organized an All-Union Conference on problems of CTS, which clearly demonstrated that initial hopes for rapid solution of problems of creation of thermonuclear power engineering had been overestimated and that the efforts of scientists of only one country were insufficient. Being aware that thermonuclear studies were, first of all, carried out in Great Britain and USA, he concluded that it was necessary to declassify CTS studies and to develop international cooperation. In addition, he managed to convince the country leadership in this too, who included him into the USSR government delegation, planning a visit to England in April 1956, with the party leader Nikita Khrushchev as its head. On April 25, he delivered two reports at the British Center for Nuclear Studies in Harwell. In one of them ("On the Possibility of Creation Thermonuclear Reactions in Gas Discharge", published in the fifth volume), he told about the results of experiments at LI PAN on the so-called pinch discharges*, and emphasized the necessity "to thoroughly study other variants to fulfill the task".

 

Kurchatov's name again appeared on the pages of scientific and socio-political journals and newspapers after the 15-year interval. His reports, articles and lectures of that period bore a character of large-scale generalizations of scientific directions and works, including, of course, CTS, which were carried out not only at the Institute of Atomic Energy (LIPAN's name from 1956), but also in other organizations of the country. The most important of his speeches dealing with the problem of controlled thermonuclear reactions are included in the fifth volume.

 

In 1958, two big facilities for plasma confinement and heating were put into operation: "Ogra" at the Institute of Atomic Energy and "Alpha" at the Scientific Research Institute of Electrophysical Equipment in Leningrad. Their models were presented at the 2nd Geneva Conference on Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy (1958), where thermonuclear studies were for the first time discussed comprehensively and openly due to Kurchatov.

 

His last (alas, unfinished) article (published in the fifth volume) appeared in the journal Successes of Physical Sciences in 1961, after the scientist's death. It is devoted to works on the "Ogra" facility. In fact, this is a part of the report, which he prepared to deliver at the Center of Nuclear Studies in a suburb of Paris (France), where he planned to go in March 1960.

 

The last, sixth volume Nuclear Power Engineering. Nuclear Energy--for the Benefit of Humankind (editor-in-chief Acad. Boris Myasoedov) comprises reports, articles and speeches of Kurchatov on the peaceful use of atom in power engineering, transport, outer space, on the development of nuclear physics and other subjects.

 

It is noteworthy that already in the autumn of 1942, at the time of his promotion to the position of supervisor of studies of the nuclear project, the scientist tried to focus the USSR government's attention on a possibility of use of nuclear energy in the interests of national economy. On the way to the basic goal, his statements became more definite: the task of creating nuclear weapons "is necessary to fulfill in an organic unity with mastering the energy of atom for peaceful purposes". On April 17, 1947, in cooperation with Pervukhin and Zavenyagin, he addressed Beriya with concrete proposals (published in the Collection) to use energy-intensive facilities "in aviation, navy, locomotive-building and as applied to electrostations" and readiness to immediately begin project works.

 

The basic ideas, connected with the creation of the first in the world AEPS and atomic fleet of the country originated and developed at Kurchatov's Laboratory No. 2 (then LI PAN). By the autumn of 1949, the scientist prepared a detailed note "Atomic Energy for Industrial Purposes", which was delivered by Savely Feinberg on his instructions to the First Main Directorate.

 

To nuclear reactor-building was devoted also Kurchatov's report "Some Problems of Development of Atomic Power Engineering in the USSR" in Harwell (is in the process of publication) as well as the article (with coauthors) "Pulse Graphite Reactor IGR", first published in 1964 in the journal "Atomic Energy" after the scientist's death.

 

The sixth volume is remarkable for materials not published earlier, i.e. Kurchatov's notes, speeches at political and public forums, articles and interviews in mass media, letters to top officials of the country and atomic industry dealing with the problems of peaceful use of atomic energy, radiation safety and ban of nuclear tests.

 

Each volume of the Collection is supplemented by photos from the archives of Kurchatov's Memorial House-Museum and other funds (more than 200 photos), which reflect the life and activities of the scientist from his young years to the last working day.

 

See: Ye. Velikhov, "The Pride of Russian Science", in this issue of our magazine.--Ed.

 

 

Опубликовано на Порталусе 14 октября 2021 года

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