Analysis & Opinions - The Conversation

How the Soviets Stole Nuclear Secrets and Targeted Oppenheimer, the 'Father of the Atomic Bomb'

| July 24, 2023

"Oppenheimer," the epic new movie directed by Christopher Nolan, takes audiences into the mind and moral decisions of J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the team of brilliant scientists in Los Alamos, New Mexico, who built the world’s first atomic bomb. It’s not a documentary, but it gets the big historical moments and subjects right.

The issues that Nolan depicts are not relics of a distant past. The new world that Oppenheimer helped to create, and the nuclear nightmare he feared, still exists today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening to use nuclear weapons in his war in Ukraine. Iran is doing everything it can to develop nuclear weapons. China is expanding its nuclear arsenal. Hostile governments like China are stealing U.S. defense technologies, including from Los Alamos.

Charges that Oppenheimer was a Soviet spy and a security risk — a major focus of the movie — have been disproved. In December 2022, the Biden administration posthumously voided the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's 1954 decision to revoke Oppenheimer's security clearance, calling that process biased and unfair. Declassified records reveal that Soviet spying on the U.S. atomic bomb effort advanced Moscow's bomb program, but Oppenheimer was no spy.

Oppenheimer's perspective

Oppenheimer joined the Manhattan Project, a nationwide effort to build an atomic bomb before the Nazis developed one, in 1942. The scientists he led at the Los Alamos site were probably the most talented group of minds ever assembled in a single laboratory, including 12 eventual Nobel laureates....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walton, Calder.“How the Soviets Stole Nuclear Secrets and Targeted Oppenheimer, the 'Father of the Atomic Bomb'.” The Conversation, July 24, 2023.