75 years of nuclear industry

75 years of nuclear industry


Russian nuclear physics predates World War II by decades. In 1921, the State Academic Board of the People's Commissariat for Education (Narkompros) established a Radium laboratory (later known as the Radium Institute) under the National Academy of Sciences, headed by Vitaly Khlopin.

In 1933, Leningrad hosted the first All-Union conference on nuclear physics, which gave a boost to further scientific research. Two years later, Europe's first cyclotron become operative, and scientists at the Radium Institute generated the first beam of accelerated protons. In 1939 Y. B. Zeldovich, Y. B. Khariton, A. I. Leypunsky analyzed the theoretical possibility of a nuclear chain reaction of uranium. In September 1940, the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR adopted the work programme to study the disintegration of uranium.


In the 1940s, with World War II, much of the research switched to potential military applications. The top secret USSR State Defense Committee Order No. 2352ss «Organization of the Works on Uranium» was signed on September 28, 1942. The order instructed the USSR Academy of Sciences to resume research on obtaining atomic energy and prepare a report about the possibility of creating a uranium bomb or uranium fuel in six months.

Laboratory No. 2 of the USSR Academy of Sciences (now National Research Centre «Kurchatov Institute») was founded on April 12, 1943. Later, it was transferred to Moscow, where it was headed by professor Igor Kurchatov. However, the work in wartime conditions was not intensive enough – the priority was given to the war effort. The process has accelerated dramatically since July 1945, when the United States successfully tested its own atomic bomb.

The State Defense Committee of the USSR (GKO) set up a Special Committee – a special management body that has been involved in the development of research on uranium, consisting of senior statesmen and physicists. By the same order of the GKO dated August 20, 1945, the First Chief Directorate (PGU) of the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union was established, headed by Boris Lvovich Vannikov (1887-1962), who in fact has become the first head of the industry. Today we consider this date to be a starting point in the history of the development of the Russian nuclear industry.


Since that moment, things have moved forward pretty quickly – still it was necessary to outrun foreign rivals and be the first to build a super powerful nuclear weapon. Of course, this has been made possible only by the great efforts of scientists and ones engaged in production. We were the first in Eurasia to generate kilograms of pure uranium in 1944, and in 1946, Kurchatov and his colleagues built F-1, the first nuclear reactor in Europe to achieve a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

Two years later, these efforts resulted in launching of the first uranium-graphite industrial reactor «A». The reactor was operating at the plant No. 817 (now – the Mayak Production Association in Ozersk, Chelyabinsk region). Finally, the country's first A-bomb (RDS-1) was successfully tested on 29 August 1949, at Semipalatinsk. This atomic bomb set the start for the development of the country’s nuclear shield.

The second atomic bomb was tested in 1951, and the first Soviet hydrogen bomb (RDS-6s) was tested in 1953. Four years later, the first nuclear-powered submarine (K-3 project) was built under scientific supervision of the Kurchatov Institute, and each next submarine was more powerful than the previous one. Thanks to the efforts of the nuclear complexes in Sarov and Snezhinsk, and this ultimate weapon is still a work in progress.


At the same time, since the late 1940s, the civil nuclear industry has been developing. Back in April 1949, Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics (ITEP) launched the first heavy water research reactor (HWRR) in the USSR and in Europe. There has since been made a number of major discoveries. And in may 1950, the government of the USSR issued an order «On the scientific research, design and experimental activities concerning the utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purpose». Its main impact is, of course, the launch of the world's first nuclear power plant with a total capacity of 5MW at Obninskoe station (now Obninsk, Kaluga Region). The NPP went into operation on June 26, 1954. It had a graphite-moderated reactor with a water coolant, called AM (Atom Mirny, Russian for «Peaceful Atom») with a power output of only 5MW. Along with S.M. Feinberg, Igor Kurchatov offered the idea of the reactor core construction for this atomic power station. N.A. Dollezhal was the project’s chief engineer.


The program of nuclear energy development in the USSR provided for widespread use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In 1955, the world's first fast-neutron reactor BR-1 fast with zero power was put into operation, and followed a year later by the BR-2 reactor with an output of 100 kW. In 1964, the first VVER-1 reactor with a capacity of 210MW was launched at the Novovoronezh Nuclear Power Plant. In 1973, the world's first fast-neutron energy reactor, BN-350, was put into operation (Shevchenko, now-Aktau, Kazakhstan). In 1974, the first 1000 MW RBMK reactor with a capacity of 1000 MW (Leningrad NPP) was launched. The construction of nuclear power plants abroad began.


The USSR built 25 nuclear installations including 10 nuclear power plants, 7 accelerators, and 8 isotope physics laboratories during the decade 1957-1967.

National science also continued to develop. For instance, in 1958, the Second Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy was attended by 44 Soviet academicians and corresponding members, 33 professors and habilitated doctors, and more than 200 reports were presented. In 1967, at that time the largest accelerator of protons, the U-70, with the power of 70 billion eV was launched at the Institute of High Energy Physics. Its creation has made the country a leader in research in high energy physics.


In the 50s of the last century the active exploration of the North began, there was a need to create ships that could withstand a long autonomous voyage. The engineering experience of the first nuclear submarine was used for their construction. As for diesel-powered icebreakers, which burned up to three tons of oil in an hour, the fuel was about a third of its weight and had enough only for a month, their atomic brother spends only 45 grams of nuclear fuel per day and has a size of a matchbox.


Construction of the first nuclear powered icebreaker «Lenin» was aided by the mockup of the engine room, made of wood. The mockup provided for any changes or modifications, that can be easily installed. Then the most effective solutions were adopted, when constructing a ship.

Russia possesses the world's only nuclear icebreaker fleet. Currently Rosatomflot operates seven ships, that provide permanent sea traffic along the northern sea route.


The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 slowed down the development of domestic nuclear power. In the 1990s the Russian nuclear industry went through a period of stagnation. In 1992 the Ministry of Atomic Energy and Industry of the USSR (the successor of Minsredmash) was transformed into the Ministry of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation. The new ministry received about 80% of enterprises of the Minsredmash including nine nuclear power plants with 28 power. The process of recovery has begun, and the industry has been able to preserve much of its accumulated capacity and human resources.


Physical startup of the Rostov NPP Unit 1 was completed in February 2001, and the Kalinin NPP Unit 3 was connected to the grid in December 2004. In March, 2004, the Federal Agency on Atomic Energy was established in accordance to presidential decree. Alexander Rumyantsev was appointed as the CEO. On November 15, 2005, under the decree of the President of the Russian Federation, he was replaced by Sergey Kiriyenko.

In December 2007, in accordance with a presidential decree, the Federal Atomic Energy Agency was abolished and its powers transferred to the State Atomic Energy Corporation «Rosatom». New conditions have been created for the development of nuclear energy, and our country's competitive advantages in the world market of nuclear technologies have been strengthened.


Russia's energy independence and sustainable economic growth directly depend on the dynamic development of the nuclear industry. The country begins creating its own bright chapter right now, right now.

In recent years Rosatom has been actively building new power units both in the Russian Federation and abroad. Since 2008, the Novovoronezh NPP-2 and Leningradskaya NPP-2 have been under construction under the new project «NPP-2006» (with VVER-1200 reactors). In March 2010, Unit 2 of the Rostov NPP was completed (construction resumed in 2002). In December 2014 there was a physical start-up of the Rostov NPP Unit 3, physical start-up of Beloyarskaya NPP Unit 4, BN-800 a fast neutron reactor. The commissioning of this unit has significantly expanded the fuel base of nuclear energy, and it also promises to reduce radioactive waste thanks to a closed nuclear fuel cycle. In 2018, the fourth unit of the Rostov NPP and the first unit of Leningradskaya NPP-2 were put into commercial operation. A floating nuclear power station was launched. The total installed capacity of all power units in 2019 reached 30.25 GW.


Today, the Russian nuclear industry is a powerful complex, that includes over 350 enterprises and organizations employing a total of about 250,00 people. Rosatom is the largest generating company in Russia. Electric power generation at NPPs in 2019 was 208.784 billion kWh (for comparison, in 2018 it was 204.275 billion kWh). This is a new record in the history of the Russian nuclear industry, the share of NPPs in power generation in Russia has grown to 19.04%, and in the European part of the country it now exceeds 40%.

Under current conditions, nuclear power is one of the most important sectors of Russia's economy that is actively developing. Currently, six power units in Russia are at the active stage of construction. The high quality of products and services offered is also confirmed by the success in international tenders for NPP construction outside the country. The portfolio of Rosatom's foreign orders in 2017 exceeded $ 130 billion.

Today Russia is the world leader in terms of the number of units built abroad: the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom has signed contracts for the construction of 36 nuclear power units abroad. Which includes the Akkuyu NPP (Turkey), the Belarusian NPP (Belarus), the Kudankulam NPP (India), the Ruppur NPP (Bangladesh), the second stage of the Tianwan NPP (China), the Hankhikivi-1 NPP (Finland) and the Paks NPP (Hungary), that are currently under construction.

  • 350 companies

    The nuclear complex includes more than 350 enterprises

  • 208.784 billion kWh

    Power generation at nuclear power plants in 2019

  • 36 power units

    Number of units at various implementation stages abroad

  • $130 billion

    Portfolio of foreign projects in 2017

Dynamic development of the nuclear industry is one of the main conditions for ensuring Russia's energy independence and sustainable economic growth. Rosatom's strategy for the period until 2030 assumes that the development of nuclear energy will be based on a long-term policy with the development of new-generation nuclear power technologies, including fast reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle technologies, as well as an increase in the export potential of Russian nuclear technologies (construction of nuclear power plants, uranium enrichment services, nuclear fuel, etc.). The nuclear industry a driver for the development of other industries. It places orders and thus provides the resource for the development of mechanical engineering, metallurgic engineering, materials science, geology, construction industry, etc.


In 2020, Russia's nuclear industry is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The main festive events will take place from May to December.

It is planned to unveil memorial monuments dedicated to the leaders of the nuclear industry (E. P. Slavsky, M. G. Pervukhin, A. P. Zavenyagin, and others). Several books on the history of the industry are being prepared for publication. Premiere screenings of feature and documentary films on federal TV channels will take place.