This set of Friday Images comes from an obscure Soviet publication I tracked down on a trip to the Library of Congress a few weeks ago. I had been searching for this for awhile, since I knew that the Army had paid to translate it quite some time ago, but the Army translation was itself a bit hard to track down. I really just wanted it for the images — it’s one of the few Soviet books that I’ve seen which purports to explain how nuclear weapons are designed, and I’m always curious how they went about that sort of thing.
The book is titled Termoyadernoye Oruzhiye (Thermonuclear Weapons) and is by M.B. Neiman and K.M. Sadilenko. Neiman (or Neyman, depending on your transliteration preferences) is listed on the frontispiece as a doctor/professor of chemical science, and Sadilenko is listed as some kind of “research associate” (научный сотрудник) of the Soviet Academy of Science. The volume was published by the Ministry of Defense for the USSR, in Moscow, 1958.
The two bomb drawings I’m most interested in are their depictions of implosion and the hydrogen bomb. The basics of the implosion design had been declassified in the United States as early as 1951, and by 1958 there were lots of depictions of its more-or-less correct operation (using chemical explosives to compress a solid or hollow core). In the Soviet Union, though, they usually drew implosion differently. Here’s the Neiman and Sadilenko version, which is more or less the only way I’ve seen it depicted in the Soviet literature:
It’s a curious design — almost implosion, but not quite. It depicts shooting a plutonium core together into a spherical configuration, not compression through explosive lenses. It’s actually quite similar to the “pre-implosion” design depicted in the Los Alamos Primer (second from the top here).
The hydrogen bomb diagram is even more amusing:
Now this isn’t the world’s worst H-bomb drawing for the time. The Teller-Ulam design wasn’t known publicly until 1979, so for 1958, this is pretty good. The key feature that sticks out as wrong is the fact that there are at least seven fission primaries here, which is a bit excessive (the real Teller-Ulam design uses one). But other than that, not too bad — it has the final “dirty” U-238 fission stage, and seems to get that external compression (rather than internal compression, as most H-bomb designs from the period show) is a key thing.1
But this drawing isn’t Soviet at all in origin — it’s a complete rip-off of a drawing that appeared in a 1955 issue of Life magazine:
This drawing derives, I believe, from Ralph E. Lapp, who was really the first to popularize the idea that the fallout from the Castle Bravo accident (1954) implied that about 50% of the yield of hydrogen bombs was from a final, “dirty” uranium-238 fission stage.
This underscores an interesting dynamic throughout the Neiman and Sadilenko book: most of the drawings they have are ripped off of American sources… because the United States has long been the major producer of extensive speculation about how atomic bombs work!
There are also lots of charming Civil Defense drawings in this volume, which I’ll post more of at a later time. But for the moment, I’ll leave you with this wonderful little drawing of a Soviet street-washer decontaminating a bombed-out, post-apocalyptic city:
The little sign in the picture with “УБЕЖИЩЕ” written on it can be translated as refuge or shelter, but it can also be translated as asylum. Fitting, that.
- I’m using the terms “external” and “internal” a little idiosyncratically here, but what I mean is that the fission primary here is distinct and “outside” of the fission fuel. Contrast this with versions where the fission primary is surrounded by fusion fuel, or has “shells” of fusion fuel around it. The latter is like the Teller “Alarm Clock” model and the Soviet “Sloika” design, and was much more commonly depicted when people were speculating as to how H-bombs might work in this period. Before someone gets too picky, I’m aware that this lacks physical separation of the primary and secondary, that there is neutron shield for the secondary, that there isn’t an interstage, and that, of course, there’s no mention of radiation implosion in any of this. There’s still more wrong than right here. [↩]