Libmonster ID: RU-17238
Author(s) of the publication: Yuri SIVINTSEV

by Yuri SIVINTSEV, Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.), National Research Center "Kurchatov Institute" (Moscow)

The fate draw us together with Kurchatov in 1948. That short period of time till his death in 1960 left a mark on my attitude to life. I still remember his intent and close look, strong handshake, entirely irresistible smile and, as one would say now, aura of a fervent and successful man. Thinking today about Kurchatov's life, I believe that this image was, to some extent, a mask at that time-after all, an atomic bomb, creation of which attracted practically all efforts (we used to say at that time that should pigeon's milk be needed in the evening, a whole tank of such milk would be delivered next morning), was not set off yet... It is no mere chance that the recollections of the head of the USSR State Committee for Use of Atomic Energy, corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences Vasily Yemelyanov published in the Yunost journal in due time included a confession, which is clear today--after the bomb was set off Kurchatov burst into tears...

Kurchatov in the environs near Moscow. The first half of the 1950s.

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That was a torrid summer in the distant year 1948, or very long ago. On graduation from the physics department of the Moscow State University I received an appointment to Laboratory No. 2 of the USSR Academy of Sciences. I had detailed instructions of how to get there: to go by subway to the last station (it was "Sokol" at that time) and then by tram to the Pokrovskoye-Streshnevo stop. From there I had to go along a path through the forest and ravine to dwelling houses, find a bath house (!) and pull a doorbell. Not without adventures and questions to a few passers-by I got to that door and pulled the bell. A staff member of the personnel department came out, took my job assignment, handed over an application form on 16 pages (in two copies) and warned that no corrections were admissible in that form. Not a single word was said about my work or meetings with my future chiefs...

On the way back I went along a board fence, which was in a rather poor state, got to a railroad blind alley (today it is Academician Kurchatov Square) and returned to the tram-line with difficulties.

While I was being registered officially (which took about one and a half months), I phoned regularly to the personnel department and sometimes got instructions to meet someone from the laboratory staff. I was greatly impressed by my acquaintance with Georgy Flyorov, whose name I knew from the history of nuclear physics. My future became a little clear after my talk with Leonid Groshev, who had delivered lectures in spectroscopy in my final semester. Others, equally young and energetic, were unknown to me... As a rule, every such meeting started with the question: What would you like to devote yourself to and why? After completion my graduation paper on a lateral spread of cosmic rays, I "sang the praises" to this physics and, as I see it now, seemed useful to a very few of them in their work on reactor physics. This painful period of uncertainty ended with the fact that I got a permit to work and was appointed to Flyorov in Sector No. 7. At that time his team carried on research on uranium fission by cosmic rays.

Here, two or three months later my first chance meeting with Kurchatov took place.

Our team made preparations for a high-altitude expedition to Pamir (mountain system in the south of Central Asia in the territory of Tajikistan) and occupied the so-called aquarium, a glass partition between rooms on the third floor of the Laboratory main building. It was nigh at hand to the staircase, which facilitated the so-called occupational work (i.e. physical) connected with carrying of heavy equipment to cars. One day Kurchatov dropped in to see Flyorov. As he knew everybody by name, he asked Flyorov on seeing an unfamiliar face: "A new staff-member?" That was how I was introduced to Kurchatov for the first time.

When I read the order that I, a Moscow State University graduate, was employed just as a senior laboratory assistant, I was annoyed. It made no sense to me to study at the university to get such a job, instead of the expected position of a junior research fellow.

Offended by the words "laboratory assistant" (although "senior"!), I learned only later on that already at that time Kurchatov had a system of practical checking of a

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young specialist, which was lost later at our institute. A person could deserve a title of junior research fellow by taking part in a research work, had to defend a thesis, and only then get the position. One and a half years later I (senior laboratory assistant!) was given the floor at the Academic Council for such report on the research results obtained during the Pamir expedition. Frankly speaking, my excitement was so great that I remember nothing from the details of that day. I was not so nervous even when defending my Ph.D. and later doctoral theses at the same Academic Council...

In compliance with the results of discussion, I was given a typed copy of the Academic Council resolution signed by its chairman Igor Kurchatov and the academic secretary Sergei Baranov, which contained a statement on conferment an academic title of junior research fellow on me. This second and also fleeting meeting with Kurchatov is of interest only as an evidence of Kurchatov's attention to young specialists. He attended their reports and asked questions trying to feel a depth of their knowledge and ability to work. Several years later we were allowed to select diploma students and college graduates using the same multi-step scheme when we set up our laboratories, sectors and departments.

Completion of studies in physics of uranium fission by cosmic rays was accompanied by my transfer to Sector No. 1 headed by Igor Panasyuk and start of works on the first research reactor in our country and the Eurasian continent, which was called later F-1*. First as operator and then physicist on duty I met Kurchatov here more often. Probably, he longed for experimental work and dropped frequently into the so-called "assembly shop", an assembly and test site in an immense, empty and almost treeless territory of the institute, to take part in a regular start-up. It were either reactivity measurements during uranium loading and thus its quality assessment or tracer induced activity analysis in sample irradiation. During this short time of measurements Kurchatov was taciturn, thoughtful and did not notice anybody around. One could visibly feel a load of his enormous responsibility.

New meetings with Kurchatov were associated with the research work in Chelyabinsk-40** in Ural in late 1940s and early 1950s. At that time Kurchatov started to train Yevgeny Vorobyov, a skilled physicist who accumulated his knowledge in Flyorov's sector, for a post of research supervisor of the industrial reactor base. As I understand now, Kurchatov tried to "untie his hands" for switching entirely to work on creation of nuclear weaponry. To his frequent joint travels with Kurchatov to Ural, he invited the promising theorist Georgy Batya and me as experimenter, who passed by that time two obligatory stages of the reactor F-1 work as its operator and physicist on duty and used us as his assistants. On arrival to Chelyabinsk-40, we used to stay in a cottage almost on the shore of the lake in the Shkolnaya Street next to Kurchatov's cottage. We were given passes with two stamps " Everywhere" and "Any time" which afforded an opportunity of work in a specially protected zone.

By the way, regulations for data confidentiality were indeed highly effective at that time. I can cite two examples as a proof of this assertion. One of them is related to the time when we were in Kurchatov's cottage, and his regular meeting with Vorobyov was interrupted by his personal assistant with an express H F message (cable transmitted by high-frequency communication). It should be explained to the readers who were not familiar with regulations for data privacy protection that at that time provision was made for everything so that even theft of a confidential document would not be of a catastrophic nature. The transmitted messages included imaginary addresses such as Chelyabinsk-40, ciphers of main terms, and addressees were called by code names. In particular, Kurchatov in messages was referred to as Academician Borodin, reactors as crystallizers, plutonium as product Z, etc. Besides, every research facility had its set of conventional signs in internal documents (!).

In the above case, the message was sent to "Academician Borodin" mistakenly with internal ciphers. Kurchatov tried to read it a long while, then passed it to Vorobyov and later to me asking: "Have you understood anything?". After our common perplexity, he expressed admiration for the skill of the message author and, according to the accepted practice, wrote on the message: "I have read it but understood nothing". And he asked to return it to its author.

Another example from my personal practice. Having worked for more than a year with Flyorov, where I dealt with bringing of powdery uranium on plates of fission ionization chambers (by rubbing powder into porous aluminum) I arrived at a sudden idea of a possible quantitative determination of the deposited uranium. To do so it suffices to irradiate uranium in a field of thermal neutrons of the reactor together with activation indicator. But where can we get such a reactor?! I asked Vorobyov who headed experiments in Flyorov's sector at that time and was told that... such reactor F-1 worked in our territory, somewhere beyond the forest! But it is known only by those who really need it...

But back to our work. It was carried out mostly in a small laboratory building located two or three kilometers away from the commercial reactors, where we prepared experimental or starting equipment. Experiments were conducted on working or prepared for start-up reactors.

See: N. Chemoplekov, "Prolog", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2006.--Ed.

** See: M. Khalizeva, "No Hit-or-Miss Chance", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2008.--Ed.

Science in Russia, No.6, 2012

стр. 65

The road from the building to the reactors ran through a beautiful Ural forest and took 30-40 minutes.

At that time Kurchatov walked with difficulty though with permanent jokes. One of such visits to a commercial reactor I will never forget. It was a time of preparation for a start-up of the equipment AI, commercial-research uranium-graphite reactor for which we expected a positive temperature coefficient of reactivity*, which could surely cause special concern. After all, its power had to increase in proportion to heating of uranium loaded into a reactor core. The "father" of reactor theorists Savely Feinberg who kept pace with Kurchatov heading the group explained in detail why such equipment was to have a positive coefficient of reactivity... We carried out experiments especially carefully and were happy to state that the coefficient was negative.

On the way back to our building, Feinberg explained to us the regularity of such behavior of the new reactor. Kurchatov walking side by side with him hemmed but did not interfere. We returned at the dinner time, and sitting at the table Kurchatov proposed to drink champagne to the success of the reactor start-up (by the way, at that time such event was called, for the same reason of confidentiality, "wedding"). The preparation for this event caused some problems. The clumsy laboratory assistant who started to open the bottle managed to besprinkle with champagne almost everybody including Kurchatov. Again a lesson for us--no outburst of indignation or abuse followed from him. Though, social differentiation dividing those present was incredibly wide: the patriarch of the atomic problem and a laboratory assistant. In such trivial matters Kurchatov proved to be a man of wonderful moral qualities, he never allowed himself to make reprimands to his subordinates in the presence of unauthorized persons. He shook off the splashes and brushed aside excuses, and then raised a glass and proposed a toast to the advances of modern science, which explained equally well both the positive and negative values of the temperature coefficient of reactivity and even its absence. How could he miss an opportunity to tease his assistant!

This habit of him did not escape the author of this lines, and due to my excessive enthusiasm, loud voice and self-assurance (especially when I was young) Kurchatov called me a "gloomy, quiet and modest chap" and used this synonym for many years putting brakes on my outbursts. I remember that in response to my obstinate and repeated "pressing" on Kurchatov--I was convinced that he gave little attention to security matters-he even called me a demagogue and added: "Only after we resolve problem number one, we shall turn to safety". Could I foresee then that this problem would become a new phase of my meetings with Kurchatov?

In the early 1950s, after I completed works in one of my business trips to the testing ground, I got an unusual instruction from Kurchatov "to look around and find a work to my liking" in Moscow. I was acquainted successes and problems in a number of laboratory sectors headed by Voitovetsky, Groshev, Nemenov, Pravdyuk, Spivak and Flyorov. I remember a darkened room, Voitovetsky's and my heads over polished naphthalene crystals, pressed to a gamma-quantum source, hardly visible scintillation flashes, outbursts of delight and demonstration of that miracle to the Beard. (That is how Kurchatov was called in absence. It was customary among heads of sectors at that time to ask a question: "Who are you going to: Beard or Moustaches?", as Kurchatov's first deputy Igor Golovin had magnificent moustaches.)

The period of a two-week search for work was interrupted by a sudden telephone call of Kurchatov's secretary Tatyana Alexandrova: "Igor Vasilyevich would like to see you". When I entered his office I saw the heads of the sectors, whom I had met earlier. Kurchatov informed me that he had made a decision and signed an official order for my appointment to the post of the dosimetry and safety department head. It was a downfall of all my hopes as instead of a challenging research I was to deal with dosimetry and safety which we regarded at that time, to put it mildly, with irony. I tried to object: "I am not an expert either in one field or another!" But Kurchatov was tough in his decision: "You will learn! But if you fail, we shall replace you with somebody else..."

Since then I, a young 26-year-old department head, had regular meetings with Kurchatov and Golovin, which were frequent, long and instructive. Kurchatov usually studied a young researcher for a while and then entrusted him with some specific task. Moreover, we were trained patiently and thoughtfully--there were many such inexperienced and immature heads of departments--"to do our work," to organize and study the laws of research activity, relations with a research team and higher authorities, etc. It would be wrong to take this process for a clear sky. In reality, punishment, sometimes even very severe, was imposed for every mistake. But it was, first of all, fair and appropriate and, above all, was never accompanied with humiliation. The reprimand was always made tête-à-tête, you were offered advice how to act next time, and nothing affected your previous life. At the Kurchatov institute a staff member was valued according to his attitude to work, not to the powers that be.

I will never forget his reprimand after a night meeting held by Kurchatov (apparently in the summer of 1954)

* Temperature coefficient of reactivity is a value used for assessment of the effect of reactor power on its reactivity. Its negative value has a positive effect on the problem of self-protection of the reactor as it means that power increase or coolant rate decrease will cause its self-suppression.--Ed.

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on launching of mass production of dosimetric instruments developed at our department. They were the first national dosimeters of thermal and fast neutrons based on scintillation detectors. Kurchatov was extremely scrupulous when he made preparations for a business meeting and chose a speaker in good time. Once I heard his aphorism: "The research worker should be tripersonal like God Sabaoth, i.e. a slave, servant and clerk of the works. The slave--at work place, clerk of the works-realizing work results, and servant--on a platform presenting these results."

The same night I made an unsuccessful keynote report... The next morning at 11 a.m. or so Kurchatov sent for me and sealed me: "You made a bad report (by the way, Kurchatov's addressing "you" was a sign of good attitude but not anger.--Auth.). You cannot be a head of the national dosimetric instrument-making! Let that be a lesson to you". Such tough but just conclusion impressed me for long and taught me to behave with assurance at meetings of the Scientific-Technical Council (STC) of the Ministry of Medium Machine-Building (MMMB) and our Academic Council. It is pertinent to note here that in no time Kurchatov included me into the STC section engaged in the radiation safety problem. The section was headed by Deputy Minister of Health Avetik Burnazyan whom I met often later concerning matters of our institute and the Navy. Kurchatov believed it mutually advantageous to maintain contacts of scientists with officials from the Ministry, who work with directive documents and therefore have an all-round approach to the problem.

My failure at that night Kurchatov council meeting had another important after-effect. Concerned with insufficient equipment of the industry, Kurchatov decided to pass the problem of dosimetric instrument-making to another department. It was a newly established Central Design Bureau No.l attached to MMMB (today the Moscow Specialized Research Institute of Instrument-Making) headed by Sergei Mamikonyan at that time. To strengthen its nuclear physics department, a group of researchers inclined to instrument-making was transferred from our laboratory to this department. New young specialists attracted to scientific work replaced them. Thus, Kurchatov again displayed his farsightedness.

The integrated scientific approach to the safety problem is more important than any specific research trend even if extremely topical... At that period of time we managed to feel advantages of the Kurchatov system of competitive selection of personnel from university graduates. The new people, ideas and achievements. A prompt solution of several problems, from the said neutron dosimeters to aerosol spectroscopy, put forward a group of leaders such as Smirnov, Chernilin, Chernyshevich and Chubakov, who came from the Nemenov cyclotron laboratory and made great advances in training of young specialists. Smirnov was the first in our department who presented and defended a Ph. D. thesis and later was followed by others. With the help of Kurchatov we managed to organize, hold and then publish the unclassified proceedings of the first and second Ail-Union Conferences on Ionizing Radiation Dosim-

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etry and to take active participation in a closed conference on radioactive aerosols. We were lucky and carried away!

I remember with great pleasure one of my first incentives. I got to know about it through the most unusual way. At that time those staff members dealing with radiation spent their annual holidays in the Crimea or Caucasus for about a month. In autumn when I was acquiring a tan on the Sochi beach I suddenly noticed nearby a man quite well dressed, i.e. in a suit, tie and

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hat. What a surprise when I identified him as my deputy Lev Markov! He told me proudly that Kurchatov had studied the results of our successful research works decided to publish a number of preprints based on them and submit urgently a set of reports to the conference at the Physics and Technology Institute in Sukhum, Republic of Abkhasia.

Again I would like to characterize Kurchatov as a resourceful man in connection with the name of our department. At one of the first planned meetings I was in Kurchatov's office together with the meteorologist Nikolai Serebryakov. At that time we erected a meteorological mast next to the reactor for physical and technical studies in order to calculate in no time (as one would say today, in the on-line mode) and "catch" a zone of peak concentrations of substances. During our discussion, a personnel officer came in and asked Kurchatov to give new names to all departments of the Laboratory of Measuring Instruments far from real ones. Kurchatov swore, then looked at Serebryakov and asked: "Who are you?" The latter answered: "I am a meteorologist." "So, that's what you will be--a meteoservice department."

That was how the first euphemism was born. It was followed by other apt findings: the department of optical instruments instead of the nuclear reactors, the departments of thermal control instruments and electric equipment instead of the departments of gas-diffusion and electromagnetic isotope separation, and others. Nevertheless, nasty tongues used to say that "OMC (DMS) means the Department of Markov and Sivintsev".

Markov gave me Kurchatov's invitation to join our delegation if I decided to break off my leave. My delight with a high assessment of our work was so great that I remained on the beach while my colleagues, according to Sukhum residents, "shined with their reports" at the conference. Those were years when we were becoming strong and mature, and needed less and less assistance of Kurchatov or Golovin.

Let us return to the early period of life of the new department, which at once was granted full-time job vacancies, financial means and premises (breeze block two-storeyed house behind the mechanical workshops of the Nuclear Physics Department, which has been preserved up till now). During one of the first meetings, held in a "nookery" behind Kurchatov's office, he outlined immediate tasks. In this regard, another of his characteristic features cannot be disregarded. Considering our inexperience, he attached top scientific consultants to us--his deputies--academicians Mikhail Millionsh-chikov and Sergei Sobolev, professors Alexander Aglin-tsev and Igor Poroykov, by the way, his schoolmate and namesake, specializing in dosimetry. He phoned each of them and introduced us in our absence, snatching an opportunity for a joke: He said that the new department staff members were very young but in the course of time they would do away with that defect.

Certainly, consultations with scientists of such level were very helpful. The more so as at that time we lacked practically entirely monographs on the subjects we required in Russian, and foreign publications were not available yet. Only later the ???Atomizdat??? (publishing house) launched its activity. An important role in its formation played Vitaly Kulyamin (by the way, he completed his graduation work at our department). On the initiative of Kurchatov the department staff members began to actively work with the publishing house as translators and scientific editors. He also energetically attracted us (along with radiobiologists) to research works on validation of permissible concentrations of radioactive substances and radiation exposure doses of the staff and population, creation of radiation standards and regulations for the industry and the USSR Academy of Sciences. Therefore, relations were established with the Institute of Biophysics of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences with Academician Andrei Lebedinsky at the head, the National Commission for Radiation Protection under the USSR Ministry of Health headed at the start by Academician Avgust Letavet and later by Academician Leonid Ilyin and especially with institutions of the Third Department of the USSR Ministry of Health and the said Burnazyan.

Five years later the matured department and the laboratory (Sector No. 5), acting independently, were entrusted with tasks, not only of the institute but also of the All-Union significance, namely, development of radiation safety systems for the first national nuclear-power submarine Leninsky Komsomol (1958) and the first in the world atomic icebreaker (1959) named after Lenin later. But that is another time and another story.

At that time Kurchatov was often ill, and we could not meet so often...

My last meeting with him was a bitter moment in the guard of honor by his coffin in the Columned Hall of the Palace of Unions just several days after our brief meeting in a corridor of the main building, his friendly smile and as usual strong handshake followed by the words: "My compliments, gloomy chap!"

No matter how many years will pass, this wound will always ache...


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