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Prominent nuclear physicist Yuli Khariton dies at 92

December 19, 1996 GMT

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) _ Yuli Khariton, a scientist who helped build the first Soviet atomic bomb and played a leading role in nuclear weapons research, died today at age 92.

Khariton died at Sarov, previously known as Arzamas-16, a nuclear weapons research center near Nizhny Novgorod on the Volga River, which he established 45 years ago and had led ever since.

The ITAR-Tass news agency, which reported his death, gave no cause or other details.

Khariton earned a doctorate for his work under Ernest Rutherford, a Nobel laureate and pioneer in atomic physics, at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in Britain in 1926-28.

He joined a physics institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1931 and in 1939 together with Yakov Zeldovich, another prominent Soviet nuclear scientist, made the first Soviet calculation for nuclear fission.

In 1943, he joined a team of scientists led by Igor Kurchatov who were ordered to develop nuclear weapons. The group developed the first Soviet atomic bomb, which was tested on Aug. 29, 1949.

Khariton was three times awarded the highest Soviet medal _ the Hero of Socialist Labor _ as well as the prestigious Lenin prize and numerous other honors.

``Physics is my life,″ Khariton said once, according to ITAR-Tass.

His work _ and even his name _ were a state secret during Soviet times and Khariton didn’t like to discuss his studies, friends said.

Soviet secret police chief Lavrenty Beria, who oversaw the nuclear project in the 1940s, felt Khariton was so essential to the program that he forbade him to fly in planes out of fear one might crash. Beria also gave the scientist the former czar’s personal railway car, Russia’s ORT television said.

But Beria’s appreciation of Khariton didn’t save his father, who died in Stalin’s prison camps in 1943, the television station reported.

Khariton will be buried next to his wife in Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery on Monday.