As Cole and Dunlop sought to absorb the information that had been imparted to them, Ivanov briefly glanced at his Rolex. As he did so, Alex Dunlop noticed a familiar tattoo on the defector’s left arm. He squinted his eyes to form a sharper perspective, which caught Ivanov’s attention.
“I see you are intrigued by my old tattoo,” Ivanov interjected.
“I’ve seen that same tattoo on one other man,” Dunlop said. “It was on the arm of Boris Fedorenko.”
“Is there something about that tattoo that’s significant?” asked Cole, intrigued by the link between the defector and the dead Russian nuclear machinist.
With a look of intense pride, Ivanov elaborated on the symbolic significance of the tattoo. “These two Russian letters, tseh and beh, stand for Tsar Bomba.”
“Tsar Bomba?” Cole repeated with an inquisitive grimace on his face.
“Yes, that is Russian for the King of Bombs.”
Both Cole and Dunlop shared expressions of bewilderment, which only prompted Ivanov to smile even wider. “You see, gentlemen,” he said, “the Soviet Union had a bankrupt economy. It produced glue that would not stick, door locks that did not lock and trains that never ran on time. But it also designed and produced the world’s most powerful bomb, and that, my friends did work as planned.”
An even more frightening picture was rapidly forming in Dunlop’s mind, as he mentally filled in the missing dots linking Fedorenko to an extremist Islamic terrorist group determined to build a thermonuclear weapon.
“Tell us more about Tsar Bomba,” Cole inquired with intensity.
“Well, gentlemen, it was really designed as a propaganda weapon,” Ivanov told his guests. “Back in the summer of 1961, the Soviet Union was preparing to build the Berlin Wall. The Kremlin knew this would increase tensions with the West, so to discourage any NATO interference with construction of the wall in East Berlin, the Communist Party Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev, summoned the head of our Institute, Dr. Andrei Sakharov, to meet with him personally. Khrushchev instructed Sakharov to design and build a 100 megaton nuclear device and have it ready for testing within 16 weeks.”
Both Cole and Dunlop were mesmerized. They listened almost hypnotically as Ivanov continued his description of this massive weapon.
“As you can imagine, to design such a weapon from scratch and then build it within a very confined period of time was a challenging undertaking. Both the designers and builders had to function in a spirit of close cooperation, working literally non-stop until the device was ready. In fact, we beat Khrushchev’s deadline by two weeks; we had the device ready for testing in only 14 weeks. It was quite a feat, especially since the largest yield thermonuclear bomb we had built before that project was only three megatons.”
Dunlop asked if the weapon was actually tested.
“That was the whole purpose of building the device, to conduct a demonstration that would intimidate the West. About two weeks after the device, which was code named Tsar Bomba, had been completed, we conducted a test. We were convinced that if the device had uranium fusion tampers installed, the actual yield would be significantly more than what Khrushchev desired, probably in the range of 150 megatons. However, such an enormous blast and release of radioactivity would have caused major collateral damage to populated areas of the USSR, even though the device would be detonated over a remote region. We therefore constructed the fusion tampers out of lead, rather than uranium. We thought that would reduce the yield to 50 megatons. The device was released by parachute from a specially modified TU-95 bomber from an altitude of 10,500 meters over the west coast of Novaya Zemlya Island and detonated at a height of 4,000 meters. What followed was the most massive man-made explosion ever. The fireball from the bomb was visible to a distance in excess of 1,000 kilometers. The blast caused damage over a range of hundreds of kilometers. We later calculated that the yield was far more than we had expected based on the design. The power of the explosion exceeded 58 megatons, or 58 million tons of TNT. It turned out that Boris Fedorenko had constructed the fusion tampers with such skill and precision that its performance exceeded the specifications called for in the original design of the bomb.”
As Ivanov was explaining this awesome weapon and the context of its development, the two intelligence officers were simultaneously reminded of what Dr. Lazar had told them; the terrorists, in order to build a functioning thermonuclear device, assuming they had the materials and personnel required for bomb assembly, still required a proven design.
“Mr. Ivanov, would Boris Fedorenko have had access to the entire design and blueprints of the Tsar Bomba?” inquired Cole nervously, as Dunlop grimaced.