- One of Avronin's passions was designing the tiniest weapons with the largest capabilities.
- The RDS-6C testing didn't go according to plan.
- The testing could have been a world disaster in the future.
Russian theoretical physicist Yevgeny Avronin kept notes that were released pertaining his lifelong work in nuclear weapons. Avronin was a theoretical physicist, nuclear engineer and Scientific Director at the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre (RFNC). He was a co-developer of the RDS-37, the first Soviet two-stage thermonuclear bomb. He died in 2018.
Within the Center, Avronin had been working at the Zababachin Technical Physics Research Institute, in Snezhynsk, Russia since its inception in 1955. It was known that one of his passions was designing the tiniest weapons with the largest capabilities. Additionally, Avronin enthusiastically worked on laser thermonuclear synthesis (In 2017, an Australian scientist doing leading work on high-intensity lasers announced what was once thought impossible: the ability to create fusion energy based on hydrogen-boron reactions).
The Zabachin Institute is one of the largest research facilities related to nuclear weapons. It is known for creating the tiniest ammunition with the diameter 152 mm kiloton power. TNT equivalent is a convention for expressing energy, typically used to describe the energy released in an explosion. The “ton of TNT” is a unit of energy defined by that convention to be 4.184 gigajoules, which is the approximate energy released in the detonation of a metric ton (1,000 kilograms or one megagram) of TNT. In other words, for each gram of TNT exploded, 4,184 joules (or one large Calorie = 1,000 calories) of energy are released.
Avronin at the age of 25 was already in charge of the 1957 experiment on the Soviet central polygon that became pivotal in the future of thermonuclear weapons. Also called a fusion weapon, this was a second-generation nuclear weapon design. Its greater sophistication affords its vastly greater destructive power than first-generation atomic bombs, a more compact size, a lower mass or a combination of these benefits.
Lev Feoktisov, who was a leading Soviet nuclear weapons designer, created a thermonuclear bomb design in the 1950s. The thermonuclear bomb was known as RDS- 37. Also called a hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb, this weapon’s enormous explosive power results from an uncontrolled, self-sustaining chain reaction in which isotopes of hydrogen combine under extremely high temperatures to form helium in a process known as nuclear fusion.
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RDS-37 was the Soviet Union’s first two-stage hydrogen bomb, first tested on November 22, 1955. Interestingly, during testing the explosion happened one microsecond earlier than the scheduled time, according to Averin’s notes. Also, it was actually at 1.7 megatons, not 1.6 megatons as reported previously.
The Soviet physicist did not release this information because of his grave concern that they couldn’t explain the difference in the microsecond, and that not fully understanding how these substances were reacting under high temperatures during testing could bring global disaster.
That is why this information is so unique, as the West never knew this information and the potential danger it might have represented. Currently, the actual measurements of the explosion and the substance reactions continue to be classified and Russia said it is not releasing this information in this century.
The RDS-6C thermonuclear bomb was tested in 1953 in Semipalatinsk at 400 kt (kilotonnes). It is also known as the Sakharov puff. Andrei Sakharov was a Soviet nuclear physicist and one of the creators of the hydrogen bomb and became a Nobel Prize Laureate in the 1975.
A failed test occurred with KB-11 in Sarov, Russia under the supervision of Yakov Zeldovich. The explosion occurred however the systems measuring and controlling the explosion during the act failed. The Soviets got lucky and this information played a huge role in avoiding the same issues during RDS-6C testing.
One of the most interesting experiments for Avronin was combustion from a deuterium-tritium mixture, and even pure deuterium. Deuterium is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. The nucleus of a deuterium atom, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one neutron, whereas the far more common protium has no neutron in the nucleus. Deuterium has a natural abundance in Earth’s oceans of about one atom in 6420 of hydrogen. The fusion of deuterium (D) and tritium (T) atoms has been proven in the laboratory to produce the highest energy gain at the ”lowest” temperatures. This experiment produced findings that led to a new methodology for the thermonuclear detonation.
Overall, the Soviets did 120 tests with explosions by Zabachin Institute alone. Also many of them were done underground, damaging the Earth’s core, which continue to have ramifications, including earthquakes in the areas of testing.