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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Sergei Policknov, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Sergei Policknov was a Soviet physicist who worked on the nuclear program under Igor Kurchatov beginning in the late 1940s. In the interview he traces the early years (1920s and 1930s) of Soviet nuclear research. Soviet scientists, he says, believed a bomb was possible as soon as fission was discovered in the late 1930s. With the German invasion, physics research was interrupted but soon restarted despite the difficulties of wartime conditions. Dr. Policknov describes key moments and attitudes within the field in those days, and speculates on Stalin’s interest in the possibility of an atomic bomb. He recalls Soviet thinking about nuclear developments in the post-war period and why Moscow pursued a weapon so intently. The personal views of Soviet scientists about working on bomb-related programs are discussed and compared to those of their Western counterparts. Dr. Policknov notes the complexity of assessing concepts such as pacifism during the Stalin era. He then turns to some personal recollections of the war and how he came to work in this field.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
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Interview with Sergei Policknov, 1986 [1]

Series Description

The first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, changed the world forever. This series chronicles these changes and the history of a new era. It traces the development of nuclear weapons, the evolution of nuclear strategy, and the politics of a world with the power to destroy itself.

In thirteen one-hour programs that combine historic footage and recent interviews with key American, Soviet, and European participants, the nuclear age unfolds: the origin and evolution of nuclear weapons; the people of the past who have shaped the events of the present; the ideas and issues that political leaders, scientists, and the public at large must confront, and the prospects for the future. Nuclear Age highlights the profound changes in contemporary thinking imposed by the advent of nuclear weapons. Series release date: 1/1989

Program Description

Amid the violence, fear and desperation of World War II, nuclear weapons are created and used for the first time.

“Dawn” traces the development of the first atomic bomb, from 1932 with the ominous rumblings that led to World War II and the ground-breaking scientific experiments that led to the bomb. Atomic physicist Victor Weisskopf explains, “we did not think at all that this business would have any direct connection with politics, or with humanity.” The frantic rush by American scientists who feared the Nazis were ahead of them and the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945 are described by eyewitnesses. Physicist Philip Morrison was ten miles away from the blast and will never forget the heat on his face. “Dawn” concludes with the failure of the first attempts to reach agreement on international control of atomic weapons after the war.



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Stalin, Joseph, 1879-1953
Nuclear fission
Flerov, G. N. (Georgii Nikolaevich), 1913-
World War II
Nuclear weapons
Great Britain
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Kurchatov, I. V. (Igor Vasil'evich), 1903-1960
Soviet Union
United States
Potsdam Conference (1945 : Potsdam, Germany)
Paris, France
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Policknov, Sergei (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Sergei Policknov, 1986 [1],” 03/16/1986, GBH Archives, accessed June 19, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Sergei Policknov, 1986 [1].” 03/16/1986. GBH Archives. Web. June 19, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Sergei Policknov, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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