When America and the Soviet Union consistently tested a nuclear bomb in the 1940s, both superpowers decided that the future belonged to the atom. Various large-scale projects using the half-life of uranium isotopes and other elements with similar properties have been developed by almost dozens.
One of these ideas was to create "atomic bullets" whose power would be as destructive as that of a nuclear bomb. But the information about these developments is negligible, and this whole story has overgrown with so many fables that today it is a half-myth, in the veracity of which few people believe.
Atomic bullets are found in a number of science fiction specimens. But at some point, Soviet military engineers seriously thought about the possibility of creating ammunition, which would include a radioactive element. In fairness, it should be pointed out that in some way these dreams were realized and are actively used today. We are talking about armor-piercing sub-caliber projectiles, which actually contain uranium. But in these ammunition it is depleted and is not used at all as a "small nuclear bomb".
As for the project of "atomic bullets" itself, according to a number of sources that began to appear in the media already in the 1990s, Soviet scientists managed to create 14.3 mm and 12.7 mm ammunition for heavy machine guns. In addition, there is information about the 7.62 mm bullet. The weapons used in this case differ: some sources indicate that bullets of this caliber were made for a Kalashnikov assault rifle, while others - that for his heavy machine gun.
According to the plans of the developers, such unusual ammunition was supposed to have tremendous power: one bullet "baked" an armored tank, and several - wiped off the whole building from the face of the earth. According to the published documents, not only were prototypes made, but also successful tests were carried out. However, physics stood in the way of these statements.
At first, it was the concept of critical mass, which did not allow the use of uranium 235 or plutonium 239, traditional in the manufacture of nuclear bombs, for atomic bullets.
Then Soviet scientists decided to use the recently discovered transuranic element californium in these ammunition. Its critical mass is only 1.8 grams. It would seem that it is enough to "squeeze" the required amount of California into a bullet, and you get a miniature nuclear explosion.
But here a new problem arises - excessive heat release during the decay of an element. A bullet with california could give off about 5 watts of heat. This would make it dangerous for both the weapon and the shooter - the ammunition could get stuck in the chamber or in the barrel, or it could explode spontaneously during the shot. They tried to find a solution to this problem in the creation of special coolers for bullets, but their design and operating features were quickly considered impractical.
The main problem with the use of californium in atomic bullets was its depletion as a resource: the element was quickly ending, especially after the introduction of a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing. In addition, by the end of the 1970s, it became obvious that both enemy armored vehicles and structures can be successfully destroyed using more traditional methods. Therefore, according to sources, the project was finally closed in the early 1980s.
Despite a number of publications about the "atomic bullet" project, there are many skeptics who strongly reject the information that such ammunition ever existed.Literally everything lends itself to criticism: from the choice of California for the manufacture of bullets to their caliber and the use of Kalashnikov weapons.
To date, the history of these developments has turned into a cross between a scientific myth and a sensation, information about which is too little to draw unambiguous conclusions. But one thing can be stated with certainty: no matter how much truth there is in the published sources, such an ambitious idea itself undoubtedly existed in the ranks of not only Soviet, but also American scientists.