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Nuclear industry Historical development of the Russian nuclear industry

Historical development of the Russian nuclear industry

The Russian nuclear industry began with a large-scale atomic bomb project launched in 1942 when the USSR Defence Committee issued a secret order on uranium research. By that time, the Soviet Union had accumulated significant intelligence data on the Manhattan Project, which would later be used by Soviet scientists in their research. Projects focusing on uranium extraction and atomic bomb development started in a small laboratory with the USSR Academy of Sciences (now Kurchatov Institute National Research Centre). Huge scientific and practical efforts ensured rapid progress. In 1946, Igor Kurchatov, a Soviet nuclear physicist, produced his first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Two years later, the Soviet Union launched its first 100 MW reactor for plutonium production. The first test of a Soviet nuclear device was successfully conducted on August 29, 1949 in Semipalatinsk.

Nuclear rivalry between the USSR and the USA continued over the following years. The first Soviet H-bomb was successfully tested in 1953. Four years later the USSR constructed its first atomic submarine.

Soviet research and development projects were also concerned with development of peaceful nuclear technology. In 1954, the world's first nuclear power plant was launched in Obninsk. The plant had one water-cooled uranium-graphite channel-type reactor which successfully functioned for almost 48 years until it was shut down in 2002.

In 1955-56, the Soviet Union launched the world's first fast-neutron zero-power reactor and then a 100 KW fast-neutron reactor. The first ever nuclear-powered icebreaker ‘Lenin’ was launched in the late 1950s. 

The first large scale Soviet nuclear power plant (Beloyarsk NPP) was launched in the Sverdlovsk Region in 1964. It has the world’s only operating power unit with a fast-neutron reactor. Power units with fast-neutron reactors are designed to improve nuclear fuel consumption and thereby minimise waste by introducing a closed nuclear fuel cycle.

Today Russia has 10 operating nuclear power plants (33 power units with 25.2 GW of installed capacity) generating about 18% of the total power output. Nuclear power accounts for 30% of all electrical power generation in European Russia and exceeds 40% in Russia's North-West.

1920s    initial studies of atomic nuclei, Uranium Project launched by the Russian Academy of Sciences, Uranium Committee established

1945    First Chief Directorate with the USSR Council of People's Commissars established to take charge of the nuclear industry; considered to be the birth of the Russian nuclear industry

1949    first Soviet nuclear bomb tested

1953    first Soviet H-bomb tested; Ministry of Medium Machine Building established to run nuclear projects

1954    world's first nuclear power plant commissioned in Obninsk

1957    first Soviet atomic submarine launched

1959    world’s first nuclear icebreaker (the “Lenin”) commissioned

1960–70s    extensive construction of nuclear power plants in the USSR

1986    Chernobyl disaster

1990s    stagnation in the nuclear industry worldwide

1992    Ministry of Medium Machine Building reorganised into the Russian Federation Ministry of Atomic Energy, which inherited about 80% of Soviet nuclear companies

2004    Russian Federation Ministry of Atomic Energy reorganised into the Federal Atomic Energy Agency

Late 1990s    Nuclear renaissance marked by adoption of fresh nuclear development programmes in many countries

2007    Federal Atomic Energy Agency reorganised into ROSATOM

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