Internment and the Development of the Isotope Separation Process
After the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, von Ardenne and other leading German scientists , including Nobel Prize winner Gustav Hertz, the physicist Max Steenbeck and the nuclear chemist Nikolaus Riehl, became caught up in the network of Soviet nuclear armaments. Whereas the Soviet specialists perceived Manfred von Ardenne as a specialist in electron optics and the construction of electron microscopes first and foremost, political events determined research work from then on, and he was brought in to collaborate on the Soviet atomic program. The Soviet side was obsessed with closing the gap and being able to compete with the USA. The head of the Soviet secret service Beria tried to entrust the project to von Ardenne during a meeting. Von Ardenne himself on the aforesaid meeting:
"I had about ten seconds to think it over. My answer was as follows: I regard the proposal just made as a great honor for me, as it is an expression of an unusually great trust in my abilities altogether. But the solution to the problem we have here has two different areas: 1. the development of the atom bomb itself and, 2. the development of the isotope separation process for obtaining nuclear explosives such as Uran-235 to industrial standards. Isotope separation is the real and very difficult bottleneck for development. Therefore I propose that isotope separation alone should be the main task of our institute and the German specialists, and that the leading nuclear scientists of the Soviet Union that are sitting in front of me should bring about the development of the atom bomb as a great deed for their own motherland."
Beria accepted this recommendation. Years later, when Manfred von Ardenne was introduced to the Soviet Prime Minister Khrushchev at a state reception, the latter reacted spontaneously, "Ah, you’re the Ardenne who got his head out of the noose so cleverly!"
In the end, industrial isotope separation became the main task of the research institute for Manfred von Ardenne and his colleagues. The processes developed by them for the production of uran-235 for bombs turned out to be too complicated, and the gas centrifuge developed by Steenbeck eventually contributed to the building of the first Soviet atomic bomb. Later von Ardenne saw his contribution to the acceleration of the nuclear arms race as "the most important deed that fortune and post war events had led me to."