]]]]]]]]]]]]]]     VICTIMS OF STALIN'S A-BOMB     [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                      By Mikhail Klochko               (10/31/88)
    (Abridged from New Scientist, 23 June 1983, pp. 845-849)
              [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

Joseph Stalin's drive to build a Soviet atomic bomb may have cost
more lives than those lost at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.  A
scientist who worked on the  Soviet "Manhattan Project" tells the
story of the forgotten victims.

[The following appears as an insert on p. 847 of the article:
Dr Mikhail Antonovich Klochko was  born in the Ukraine, then part
of the  Russian Empire, in  1902.  After graduating  in 1925 from
the Kiev Polytechnical  Institute, he took  part in research work
there,  and from  1930,  at the  Soviet  Acadamey of  Sciences in
Leningrad (1930-34) and Moscow (1935-1961). ...
   The Canadian  government granted  Klochko political  asylum in
August 1961, and  five years later he  became a Canadian citizen.
He  has worked  as  a scientific  consultant  in Canada,  and has
published scientific  papers as  well as  magazine articles about
his life in the Soviet Union.]

[Note by OP: I think  Klochko unsoundly attributes every untimely
death  to  the   effects  of  radiation  (some   may  be  due  to
heavy-metals poisoning or poisoning by  some other of the various
agents used in the  extraction and preparation of radioisotopes).
He does  not provide  an estimate of  expected deaths  by age for
such  a  sub-population,  and  is   a  little  too  free  in  his
assumptions and those  assertions prefaced with 'unquestionably'.
I do not doubt that a  number of people died because of radiation
poisoning, but I think  it likely that many  also died because of
exposure  to poisonous  chemicals.   The important  point  of the
article is  that many  died so that  Stalin could  have his bomb.
Note: New  Scientist is a  potentially good magazine  marred by a
pronouncedly Left viewpoint (these days, what isn't?).]

   On 29 December 1962, many scientists, engineers and workers in
the Soviet  Union read with  cynicism an article  in Pravda about
the  toll  of  radiation-induced  diseases  among  the  people of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   Nearly 20 years  after the atomic bombs
dropped, Japanese  people were still  dying.  But  the people who
had worked on Joseph Stalin's atom  bomb project in the 1940s and
1950s already  knew well the  perils of radiation  -- despite the
heavy  veil of  secrecy surrounding  the  issue.  "Why  point the
finger at Japan," many readers  of the article must have thought,
"when in  the USSR itself  countless people suffer  from the same
diseases and thousands have died from them."
   In the  West, however, little  was known about  the hazards of
the  Soviet nuclear  programme until  the dissident  scientist Dr
Zhores Medvedev  published in  New Scientist  (vol 72,  p 264) an
article about a nuclear disaster in the Urals in 1958.  At a time
when concern is mounting about  the effects of the early American
atomic tests, it is  essential to bring the  Soviet toll into the
picture.  This article  is based upon my  own observations of the
work on  the Soviet  atomic bomb  project, on  conversations with
friends and  colleagues working on  the project,  and on material
from the Soviet scientific literature.
   The literature not only  gives some idea of  the time when the
Soviet  Union began  to  take measures  against radiation-induced
illnesses,  but  also  reveals  some  interesting  facts  in  the
biographies  of scientists  and  some administrative  workers who
took part in the  nuclear programme.  Although Soviet biographies
and  obituaries  never  openly  mention  radiation  sickness, the
juxtaposition of certain facts, such as work on nuclear topics, a
short life-span, a long, serious  (unnamed) illness, may point to
death by some disease associated with radiation.
   One problem with  writing the story of  the Soviet atomic bomb
project is the practice by successive Soviet regimes of rewriting
history.  From  1946, the Soviet  news media,  together with both
the general  and scientific  literature, tried  in vain  to prove
that  Russian  atomic  science   was  indigenous,  and  that  the
government  had  encouraged  it  before  the  Second  World  War.
However, it  was common  knowledge in  Leningrad that  during the
1930s,  the  authorities  looked  with  disdain  upon  scientists
engaged in studying the atomic spectrum at the Optical Institute.
The scientists were  deprived of ration  cards because their work
had "no practical value." ...
   There  can be  no doubt  that  the large-scale  development of
Soviet  atomic science  and technology  started only  when Stalin
heard  about  the atomic  bombing  of Hiroshima  and  Nagasaki in
August  1945.   After that,  work  on  the Soviet  bomb  began in
frantic  haste.  Hundreds  of research  institutes, universities,
technical colleges and industrial  enterprises were involved, and
the  government began  building  special research  institutes and
pilot plants for the Soviet "Manhattan Project."
   One  visible  sign  of this  feverish  activity  was  when the
salaries of senior  research workers trebled  in April 1946.  For
example, my monthly  salary as doctor  of sciences and  head of a
laboratory in an academic institute  sprang suddenly from 2000 to
6000 (old) roubles.   To conceal the reason  for the increase, it
applied to all  senior scientists, not just  those working on the
bomb.   But the  atomic  scientists received  secret  bonuses and
special  privileges, such  as cars  and dachas  (country houses).
The scientists,  however, derided  these bonuses  as the "carrot"
that  coexisted with  the  "stick" --  in  the shape  of Stalin's
secret police.  Thousands of scientists went to the concentration
camps in the  years between 1918 and  1945.  Hundreds died there.
   IONKH is  the Russian  acronym for  the Kurnakov  Institute of
General  and  Inorganic  Chemistry   of  the  Soviet  Academy  of
Sciences.  I worked  there as head  of a laboratory  from 1934 to
1961.    The   institute  was   among   hundreds   of  scientific
establishments that were dragged into  the nuclear field in 1945.
We  studied compounds  of uranium,  its isotopes  and transuranic
   When   transferred,   together   with   many   other  academic
institutions, from Leningrad to Moscow  in 1934, IONKH was placed
in the premises of  a small institute which  was closed down.  In
time,  the  premises  became overcrowded  and  the  sewage system
became overloaded.   Ventilation was  also inadequate.   When the
work  with  the  nuclear  materials  started,  we  introduced  no
precautionary measures  such as  screens or  glove-boxes.  Liquid
radioactive wastes  were poured  into the  general sewage system,
which often overflowed and spilled on the floor, evaporating into
the  air.   The  faces  and bodies  of  workers  were  exposed to
radiation  inhaled  with  the  dust  of  nuclear  materials.  The
results  of  such  a  blatant  disregard  for  elementary  safety
measures  were  not  long in  appearing.   An  elderly  woman who
cleaned a hood where radioactive  materials had been spilled died
a few months after  the start of nuclear  research at IONKH.  She
was  soon followed  by the  electrician,  Mochalov, who  had been
repairing the  hood ventilation.   He had  only recently returned
from  four  years  of war  at  the  front lines  only  to  die of
radiation sickness.
   Meanwhile, the personnel of the  First Department, the cell of
the secret police in the institute, began to spread false rumours
about  how the  two victims  died.  The  agents claimed  that the
cleaner has  died of a  "woman's disease" and  the electrician of
sarcoma.  However, the friends and relatives of the deceased knew
very well the true reason.
   In  addition  to  radiation-induced  diseases,  another plague
affected our  workers in  the guise  of a  band of  secret police
officers.  Brought into every institution or enterprise connected
with the nuclear  business to control the  passes of every person
entering or  leaving, the guards  spied on  workers and denounced
anyone  who  mentioned  the harsh  conditions  of  life  or other
heretical topics.  As a result of such infamous activities of the
guards,  helped  in  their   denunciations  by  the  local  First
Department, two people were arrested  at IONKH.  One of them died
in jail, the  other disappeared without a  trace.  If an accident
such  as  a fire  took  place  in an  institute,  firefighters or
medical helpers were not allowed into the building on the pretext
that  they did  not  have the  proper  passes.  Such  an occasion
occurred at our  neighbour, the Institute  of Physical Chemistry.
A young female worker was  struck down by a high-tension current.
Emergency first  aid was  called for,  but the  guards refused to
allow the  doctor to enter  the building.  While  the guards were
telephoning  their superiors  for  the necessary  permission, the
girl died.
   The first casualties among  research workers at IONKH occurred
among scientists  working on uranium  compounds under Academician
Ilya I. Chernyaev.  Neither he,  nor his assistants had worked on
fissile materials before.  This was the case in hundreds of other
scientific  installations, universities,  and  technical colleges
mobilised in 1945-1946 for the bomb project.  Belatedly, in 1947,
IONKH organized a "control station"  where people could check the
degree of contamination of their  bodies and equipment.  The only
visible result  of the  performance of  the station  was that its
manager, the young and likeable  Seryozha Starostin, fell ill and
died in  the academic hospital  two weeks after  he was admitted.
As in the case  of the electrician and  the cleaner, the staff of
the First Department  began to spread  rumours that Starostin had
bled  to death  during  an operation.   The  rumor-mongers almost
guessed right: Starostin died from leukaemia.
   Starostin's untimely death was marked  by a black frame around
his name  in a paper  published posthumously.  As  a rule, junior
scientists  are  seldom  honoured  by  an  obituary  in  a Soviet
scientific magazine.  However, three  doctors of science at IONKH
who died after  exposure to radioactive  materials were given the
posthumous "honour".
   [Accounts of several deaths at ages 40-60 omitted.]
   One  junior  scientist,  Makartseva,  working  under  Dr  I.I.
Kornilow with  white-hot uranium  alloys, went  blind (a possible
effect  of radiation).   She  was refused  an  invalid's pension,
despite the fact  that she was  a member of  the Communist Party,
because her  chief, also  a member of  the Pary,  wanted to clear
himself of  blame.  A  senior scientist,  Anna D. Gelman-Novikova
also  began  to  lose  sight  after  working  with  compounds  of
trans-uranium elements.
   Our trade union, the  head of which is  always a member of the
Party,  did not  pass a  single resolution  of protest  or demand
regarding  the  death   of  people  at   our  institute  and  the
contraction of radiation-induced diseases by others.  Eventually,
the  matter  assumed  scandalous  proportions  and  in  1947  the
institute opened a medical post with one nurse.  A doctor visited
twice a week.   All of those  working at the  institute had their
blood analysed for signs of radiation.
   It turned  out that more  than half of  the institute's staff,
about 250 people, suffered from some degree of disease associated
with radiation.   Among them, more  than 100  were serious cases.
Even  some  workers not  engaged  in nuclear  research  were ill,
because the entire institute was contaminated.
   [Accounts of several deaths at ages 40-62 omitted.]
   The journal  Uspekhi Fizicheskikh  Nauk (Advances  in Physics)
between  1951  and  1981 published  obituaries  of  more  than 20
nuclear  physicists, most  of  whom died  before  the age  of 60.
Those who  managed to  live a  little longer  died "after  a long
serious  illness".  [Accounts  of  several deaths  at  ages 40-62
   Five  years earlier,  Academician Pyotr  I. Lukirsky,  who was
working in  the Radium  Institute, died  at the  age of  60.  The
obituaries  give  the  names  of   more  than  10  other  nuclear
physicists who died between  40 and 60 years  of age.  Others are
remembered only by a black frame  around their names in the title
of  a  posthumous  scientific paper.   But  most  of  the younger
scientists, who  did not  live long  enough to  obtain a doctor's
degree,  died of  radiation-induced  diseases without  winning an
   Among the many hundreds of research establishments involved in
the nuclear bomb project from the  end of August 1945 were almost
all of  the Soviet  Union's universities  and technical colleges,
scientific  institutes   and  laboratories.    In  addition,  the
government  built  several special  nuclear  establishments which
were  constructed  between 1946  and  1960.  Among  them  was the
so-called Devyatka (Institute  Number Nine) which  housed work on
the chemistry  of fissionable materials  and headed  from 1946 to
1953 by Orest  Y. Zvyagintsev, one of  our directors of sciences.
Several workers  of the institute  died at  a comparatively young
age.  Some of  their names, such  as that of  Boris N. Sudarikov,
who died  in his  fifties, appear  in the  literature in  a black
frame.  Some  students who  graduated from  Moscow University and
started their work at IONKH, died from acute radiation sickness.
   The  number  of  all  the  people  mentioned  by  name  in the
preceding sections and  scores of other  scientists who died from
the  effects  of  radiation  and  whose  names  can  be  found in
literature, represents only  the tip of  the iceberg.  The number
of  technical   personnel  afflicted  is   even  greater.   After
scientists designed the Soviet atomic bomb, hundreds of thousands
of engineers  and workers had  to realise the  project.  The path
from the uranium mines to the test grounds is paved with corpses.
During the  first decade  of the  bomb's development (1946-1955),
inmates of  Soviet concentration  camps did  the lion's  share of
that work.  The  camps neglected even  the most elementary safety
arrangements.  Radiation  sickness was a  complementary mishap to
the many  accidents in  mines and  on the  production line.  Each
test  of  the bomb  threatened  not  only the  engineers  but the
population  of   the  surrounding   areas  as   well.   Alexander
Solzhenitsyn in his  Gulag Archipelago lists  many projects built
and  manned  by  prisoners.   To  this  list  must  be  added the
installation at Norilsk, built by camp inmates.  The inmates were
working on mining  and dressing uranium ores  when I visited that
city with  Academician I.  Chernyaev in  1946.  He  consulted the
administration on methods of  separating uranium in the so-called
"Macaroni factory"  -- a euphemism  for the  uranium ore dressing
   Scientists in the  West detected many  tests and explosions of
the Soviet atomic  bombs.  Fallout was  often observed beyond the
borders of the USSR, for example  in April 1956, when the fallout
reached China.  The numbers of the fallout victims (as well as of
many others)  were kept  a strict secret  in the  USSR.  And only
recently, in  1976, has  Dr Zhores  Medvedev revealed  the tragic
catastrophe  that occurred  in  1958 as  a  result of  a  fire or
explosion at the  site of a  nuclear waste disposal  plant in the
Southern  Urals.   The  fallout covered  a  large  area;  tens of
thousands of people were affected and hundreds of them died.
   Studies of the hazards connected with the atomic bomb and with
the  nuclear industry  in the  Soviet  Union raise  two important
issues: Why did  so many deaths  occur?  And how  did the Soviets
succeed in concealing a major disaster until 1977 when Medvedev's
article appeared?
   At the  beginning of the  atomic bomb project  in August 1945,
Stalin set Soviet  atomic scientists the task  of making the bomb
in  the  shortest  time,  at any  cost.   To  achieve  that goal,
authorities  spared neither  material  expenses nor  human lives.
Our IONKH was not unusual in its total absence of safety measures
at  the start  of  nuclear research.   Other  establishments that
started  that  work  in   1945-1946  shared  the  same  attitude.
Certainly, nobody attempted  to raise his  voice against Stalin's
   According to Medvedev, even in 1951 (two years after the first
Soviet explosion), workers dealing with radioactive isotopes knew
nothing of their  dangerous effects.  During  the first decade of
the bomb project, 1945-1955,  even the words "radiation sickness"
were  taboo.   The  journal  Gigiena  i  Sanitaria  (Hygiene  and
Sanitation) did not  print a single article  about the hazards of
radiation before  1955.  In  November 1955  (more than  two years
after Stalin's death) an article  appeared on a conference on the
problem of ionising radiation, which took place in Moscow in July
1955.   The  author said  the  conference  was the  first  in the
country.  Radiation sickness and its manifestations was mentioned
in  several  reports   of  the  conference,   and  diagnosis  and
prevention were  discussed.  Participants  stressed the  need for
further work  on the  problem of  ionising radiation.   From that
time, articles on the problem  appeared not only in that journal,
but  also  in reference  books.   To  counter the  claim  of some
Western  sources  that the  Soviet  Union showed  no  interest in
radiation-induced diseases, an  article on radiological problems,
written by a  Soviet professor, appeared  in an American journal.
A peculiarity of that article is the absence of references to the
works it mentions. ...
   Morbidity and mass deaths suffered  by people in the USSR from
radiation-associated  diseases   came  to  be   such  a  frequent
phenomenon in the  1960s that articles about  it appeared even in
the  general press.   An article  by  Professor A.  Lebedinsky, a
member of the  Academy of Medical  Sciences (The Struggle Against
Radiation Sickness, Pravda  18 August 1964)  states directly that
"radiation  sickness  is  a  consequence  of  accidents occurring
during the operation  of an atomic  reactor.  Several such cases,
however, have  unfortunately occurred  in physical laboratories".
To have been completely correct,  the phrase should have included
the  words "tens  of  thousands" immediately  following  the word
"several" and  close with  the words  "atomic factories  and test
   But how  did the Soviet  authorities keep secret  the scale of
the  disaster?   The  answer  is  quite  simple:  because  of the
peculiarities  of Soviet  censorship.  To  have  a clear  idea of
Stalin's censorship one must be  acquainted with a book issued in
the  late 1940s  under the  title  An Enumeration  of Information
Prohibited for Publication in the News Media.
   After the  infamous "secrecy decrees"  of 1947, I  had to read
that  book inside  the premises  of  the First  Department, being
nominated (among  three other  IONKH scientists)  as a  censor of
papers to be published by our workers.
   Among  many hundreds  of items  the  book cited  as prohibited
were:  epidemics;  accidents  in  mines,  factories  and  testing
grounds;  transport crashes  of  various kinds;  and  any natural
disaster  in  the USSR,  earthquakes  included.   Any statistics,
local or central, were prohibited.  So why should the Soviet news
media  publish  the  statistics   (or  even  separate  cases)  of
radiation  fatalities,  even  if   the  number  exceeds  tens  of
thousands?   The  press  allowed  far  greater  catastrophes, for
example,  the famine  caused  by the  forced  collectivisation of
1932-33, when about 5 million people in the Ukraine and more than
one million in  Kazakhstan starved to death,  to pass in silence.
Only comparing the figures of two censuses, of 1926 and 1939, one
can reveal the decrease in  the number of Ukrainians and Kazakhs,
despite  the increase  of the  country's population  during these
   So long as no official data are published about Soviet victims
of radiation, we can make only rough approximations of the number
of  deaths  in  each  of   the  main  three  groups:  scientists;
technicians  and  workers;  and people  living  in  the bomb-test
areas.  There  were 162  500 scientists in  the USSR  in 1950, of
whom  about 60  percent, some  97  000, specialised  in physical,
chemical and technological sciences.  Perhaps half of them, about
48 000, took part  in the nuclear business  in such a manner that
they could have been exposed to dangerous radiation.  If we apply
to  this figure  the casualty  rates  at IONKH,  where out  of 80
scientists, five  died and out  of 20 technicians,  two died, the
rate  would be  between  5 and  10  percent.  Taking  the average
figure of  7.5 percent,  we have  about 3600  scientists who died
during  the first  years of  their  work and  another 44  900 who
suffered from some disease associated with radiation.
    These  are  conservative figures.   Kurchatov's  deputy, I.N.
Colovin, wrote that  "many thousands of  persons were solving the
atomic problem in  those years (1945-1960)  in plants, institutes
and test grounds",  and that fewer and  fewer participants of the
atomic project remain alive.  On the  other hand, one of my close
friends,  a high  ranking scientists,  told me  after one  of his
trips to the atomic plant in the southern trans-Ural region: "You
cannot imagine the  colossal death rate  among the scientists and
technical personnel  there.  Each time  I visit the  plant I find
that the cemetery here [sic] has doubled in size."
   Assuming that  no less  than 1  million workers  and engineers
took part in the whole process of preparing the bomb, from mining
the uranium ore to making the bomb itself, and that between 5 and
10 percent died as a result, we come to an estimate of 50 to
100 000 fatalities.   This gives a number  that compares with the
deaths at Hiroshima.
   As to the tests of the  bomb, besides fatalities on the ground
among those who organized these  tests and studied their results,
there were groups of Soviet people who had the misfortune to live
in areas affected by fallout.  Medvedev has reported that tens of
thousands of people were affected  by an explosion at one nuclear
waste  site.  Also  there is  no doubt  that each  test explosion
caused suffering and death to thousands of people.
   From these figures, I estimate  that the number of deaths from
the  development  of  the Soviet  atomic  bomb  exceeds  those of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

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