Andrei Sakharov: the Life of a Dissident

Maxim Serebriakov
February 27, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: This is an image of one of the earliest hydrogen bomb detonations. (Source: Wikimedia Commons )

The story of Andrei Sakharov's life is fascinating and often overlooked in the western world. It seems as though Sakharov posses paradoxical character traits. From one perspective, he was one of the key individuals responsible for the creation of the first megaton-range hydrogen bomb; from another perspective, he was an activist for peace and nuclear disarmament.

The Making of Andrei Sakharov

Andrei Sakharov was born in Russia, Moscow in 1921. He was born to a very well respected family of intellectuals. Sakharov was home schooled for a large portion of his education, and he started his schooling in the seventh grade. After high school, Andrei Sakharov was accepted into Russia's prestigious Moscow State University, which was renowned for its physics and mathematics courses. After 9 years of schooling, Sakharov received his Ph.D. in 1947. Right after completing his education, Sakharov joined a Soviet research group that worked on the development of thermonuclear weaponry. He worked for this group until 1968. [1,2]

While working for the research group, Sakharov developed the RDS-37, which was the first hydrogen bomb to ever be made (Fig. 1 shows the devastating impacts of a hydrogen bomb). After seeing the unparalleled power and destructiveness of the hydrogen bomb, Sakharov changed his attitudes towards nuclear weaponry. Sakharov voiced his new opinions, which made him a target by the Soviet KGB (Committee for State Security). In fact, by the end of the 1960s, Sakharov experienced many home and workplace searches and much scrutiny by state owned media companies.

Andrei Sakharov the Dissident

By the end of the 1950s, Sakharov conducted many presentations against the testing of nuclear weaponry. Due to his outspokenness and knowledge on the issues, he was one of the largest advisors for the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), which banned the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, under water, and in the atmosphere. [3]

In 1968, Sakharov created an article titled Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom, in which he outlined the threat that nuclear weaponry poses to mankind, the significance of intellectual freedom in society, and the growing atmosphere of violence in the world. [2] This article was published in the New York Times, and consequently, Sakharov was suspended from his position as a researcher, which allowed him to focus more greatly on his life as a dissident. From this moment, Sakharov spent much of his time appealing to the Soviet government for disarmament and intellectual freedom, visiting conferences for nuclear dissidents, and writing literary works. [1]

In 1975, Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as an activist. [1] After 1975, Sakharov expanded his activism to also encompass the death sentence and the entrance of Soviet forces into Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. In response to his criticism of the Soviet rule, Sakharov was sent to exile in 1980, but was later released in 1987. [2]


Sadly, Sakharov passed away in 1989 from a myocardial infarction at the age of 68. Undoubtedly, the legacy of Sakharov will continue to live on and inspire other activists who seek to create a change within their communities. [1]

© Maxim Serebriakov. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] G. E. Gorelik, and A. W. Bouis, The World of Andrei Sakharov: a Russian Physicist's Path to Freedom (Oxford University Press, 2011).

[2] F. X. Clines, "Andrei Sakharov, 68, Soviet 'Conscience,' Dies,"New York Times, 15 Dec 89.

[3] D. Doder, "Soviet Press Lashes Sakharov, Compares Him to the Rosenbergs," Washington Post, 3 July 83.