19. Soviet Breakthrough in Fusion

Journalist Ernest Volkman, using U.S. intelligence sources, reports that U.S. officials have put strict security wraps over a lecture by a leading Russian physicist -- including seizure of the blackboard on which he wrote equations -- given to an audience of American in top-secret fusion research. The Russian physicist, Leonid I. Rudakov, spoke last July at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California, and astonished his scientific audience with indications that the Soviets are nearing a breakthrough in developing thermonuclear weapons 100 times more powerful than the largest current weapon. One possibility, Pentagon experts said, is a Soviet attempt to build a "gigaton" hydrogen bomb, whose explosive power would be equal to one billion tons of TNT (the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima equaled 15,000 tons). Immediately after his talk, sources said, security officials advised the Americans in the audience that the talk was classified, including Rudakov's blackboard notations, and seized the blackboard. Subsequently, the sources said, security officials sent telegrams to Livermore and three other U.S. nuclear research laboratories advising them to "play dumb" if asked about Rudakov's talk. "I don't know who made the decision (to classify the talk)," said one U.S. intelligence official) - "But it seems to have a kind of Alice in Wonderland atmosphere about it. The idea is to keep our secrets from the Russians, not the other way around." U.S. officials believe the Russian's disclosure was deliberate, since Rudakov, as an administrator at the Kurchatov Laboratory, near Moscow, a major center for nuclear weapons design, was perfectly aware of the significance of his remarks. The Soviets, the officials believe, probably wanted to warn the Americans of what weapons they were prepared to develop if the U.S. failed to reach a strategic arms limitation agreement with Moscow. But even now, as SALT talks are in the press again, the American public is not aware of the Soviet warning. The crude, but apparently effective, censoring of this by U.S. officials qualifies this for consideration as one of the "best censored" stories of 1976.

SOURCE:

Ernest Volkman, Newsday, "Soviet Physicist reveals breakthroughs in fusion," Madison, Wisconsin

Capitol Times, March 16, 1977.