The Tsar Bomba, also known as the "King of Bombs," was the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. Developed and tested by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, this colossal hydrogen bomb had a yield of 50 megatons, equivalent to 50 million tons of TNT. However, one question still lingers among history enthusiasts and military analysts. What was the financial cost of producing such a massive and devastating weapon?

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    How do you put a price on the information that their spies stole from the U.S.? Research is a lot cheaper when someone else is paying for it.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 6:42
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    This is a very non-Soviet way of thinking Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 7:55
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    I suspect that the bomb itself was not particularly expensive, being just another product of the USSR's nuclear weapons program. (Though you could argue that it wasted expensive manpower better spent on other projects.) The very large weight suggests that they had not done a great deal to optimize the bomb -- had there actually been a practical use for something that powerful, it would have been a long and probably expensive process to bring its weight down to the point it could be lobbed around the world.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 11:50
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    How do you measure costs in the Soviet economy? None of the numbers can be correlated to anything in a market economy. And the notion that we would include the fee paid to the spies is ... difficult to comprehend. I assume it was offered in jest
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 13:26
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    You may want to read Cosma Shalizi's review of Red PlentyIn Soviet Union, optimization problem solves you (2012) Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 16:58

1 Answer 1


There is no way to calculate this. It is difficult to separate what "counts" for the Bomb itself, or for the scientific-military system that made the Bomb possible, or for the government-funded support network necessary for that system to function.

For instance, NII-1011 and its supporting town Chelyabinsk-70 was created only a year before being dedicated to the development of this bomb (as project RDS-202); an argument could be made that the Institute and the town were created for the development of the bomb. Keep in mind that this was happening during the post-war recovery, where resources were often expropriated from Eastern Bloc satellites without real compensation, or extracted from the population via additional unpaid labor.

Then the project was suspended for a number of years, before being picked up as AN-602 by KB-11, which was the nucleus of the Closed City Arzamas-16. As with all Closed Cities, it had no economic basis and existed solely for the support of the nuclear institute. As such, the entire cost of the City's upkeep could be added to the bill, including transportation of food and materiel to such a remote location, because without these expenditures the Bomb could not have been made.

A new plane Tu-95-202 had to be designed to deliver the bomb, because no existing bomber was suitable for carrying such a large payload.

Finally, the bomb inadvertently flattened the hamlet of Matochkin Schar 50km away, which was thankfully evacuated before the test. Presumably the damage to property should also be counted in the cost.

Any number produced by looking up the official cost of these things (or making an estimate) and then adding them up would be meaningless.

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