Alternate History

Tunguska Project (Communist World)

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Tunguska Project
Joe 1
RDS-1, the first atomic test.
Active 1940-45
Country Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union
Branch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Part of Ministry of Medium Machine Building
Garrison/HQ Atomgrad
Semipalatinsk Test Site
Lake Chagan
Engagements Soviet Alsos
Eastern Front
Disbanded 29 August 1946
Lavrentiy Beria
Albert Einstein
Dr. Andrei Sakharov
Dr. Igor Kurchatov
Vyacheslav Molotov

The Tunguska Project (Russian: Тунгуска проекта) was a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during the Great Patriotic War. This scientific research was directed by Soviet nuclear physicist Igor Kurchatov, while the military logistics and intelligence efforts were undertaken and managed by NKVD director Lavrentiy Beria. The Soviet Union benefited from highly successful espionage efforts on the part of the Soviet military intelligence (GRU). In 1939, the program was started by Joseph Stalin who received a letter from physicist Georgy Flyorov and Albert Einstein urging him to start the research, urged the Soviet Union to take steps to acquire stockpiles of uranium ore and accelerate the research of Enrico Fermi and others into nuclear chain reactions. The Tunguska Project began modestly in 1939, but grew to employ more than 130,000 people and cost nearly SU 2 billion (about 26 billion in 2014 ruble). Over 90% of the cost was for building factories and producing the fissionable materials, with less than 10% for development and production of the weapons. 

Greatly aided by its successful Soviet Alsos and the atomic spy ring, the Soviet Union conducted its first weapon test of an implosion-type nuclear device, RDS-1, code name First Lightning, on 16 August 1944, at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR. Iron Fist (Russian: Zhelezo Kulak), a gun-type weapon, and the implosion-type Red Storm (Russian: Krasnyy Burya) were used in the atomic bombings of Vichy and Toyama, respectively.


Nuclear physics in the Soviet Union

In early 1930s, the Soviets were instrumental to the advancement of nuclear physics. The initial Soviet interest in nuclear physics had begun in the early 1930s, an era in which a variety of important nuclear discoveries and achievements were made such as (the identification of the neutron and proton as fundamental particles, the operation of the first cyclotron to energies of over 1 MeV, and the first "splitting" of the atomic nucleus by John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton). Even before the Russian revolution and the February Revolution, the mineralogist Vladimir Vernadsky had made a number of public calls for a survey of Russia's uranium deposits. The main motivation for nuclear research at the time was radium, which had scientific as well as medical uses, and could be retrieved from borehole water from the Ukhta oilfields.

after the discovery of nuclear fission in the late 1930s, Soviet scientists, like scientists all over the world, realized that nuclear reactions could, in theory, be used to release large amounts of binding energy. As in the West, the news of fission created great excitement amongst Soviet scientists and many physicists switched their lines of research to those involving nuclear physics, as it was considered a promising field of research. Soviet nuclear research was not far behind Western scientists: Yakov Frenkel did the first theoretical work on fission in the Soviet Union in 1940, and Georgy Flyorov and Lev Rusinov concluded that 3±1 neutrons were emitted per fission only days after similar conclusions had been reached by the team of Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

In August 1939, prominent physicists Leó Szilárd and Eugene Wigner drafted the Einstein–Szilárd letter, which warned of the potential development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type". It urged the Soviet Union to take steps to acquire stockpiles of uranium ore and accelerate the research of Enrico Fermi and others into nuclear chain reactions. They had it signed by Albert Einstein and delivered to Joseph Stalin.  Briggs held a meeting on 21 October 1939, which was attended by Szilárd, Wigner and Edward Teller. The committee reported back to Stalin in November that uranium "would provide a possible source of bombs with a destructiveness vastly greater than anything now known." 

Beginnings of the program

By January 1940, Stalin, who had already been presented with evidence of the Western nuclear programs, decided to launch a Soviet program to develop an atomic bomb headed by Igor Kurchatov. The creation in 1940 of Laboratory No. 2 under the Academy of Sciences of the USSR under management of Igor Kurchatov was the first stage of the Soviet atomic bomb project.

Stalin made the decision to accelerate research and development, expanding the development of military nuclear reactors and research facilities all over the country. On April 9, 1940 the Council of Ministers of the USSR adopted the resolution on creation of Design Office#11 (KB-11) to develop an atomic bomb.

Administration and personnel

Andrei Sakharov and Igor Kurchatov

The fathers of the Soviet nuclear program, Dr. Andrei Sakharov (left) with Dr. Igor Kurchatov (right).

Initially in 1940, the administration of this program was given to the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov being its first administrator. Stalin and Molotov tasked the USSR Academy of Sciences to find a science administrator notable for leading the research in nuclear physics. 

Abram Fedorovich Ioffe recommended Igor Kurchatov to Molotov, and Molotov advised Stalin to appoint Kurchatov as the formal scientific head of the nascent Soviet nuclear weapons programme. Other important figures included Yuli Khariton, Yakov Zeldovich, Abram Fedorovich Ioffe, Georgy Flyorov, and the future dissident and lead theoretical designer of the hydrogen bomb, Andrei Sakharov.

In 1941, Stalin handed over the program to the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) and Molotov was replaced by Lavrentii Beria, Chief of NKVD. Under the ruthless Beria, the NKVD aided atomic spies of the ring. Beria also infiltrated the German nuclear program. Immediately after the end of WW II, many notable figures in the German nuclear program were forcibly taken to the Soviet Union where they greatly enhanced the Soviet nuclear weapons efforts.


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