Celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of Russia’s nuclear industry kicked off on August 20 with various events dedicated the history of the industry and to honour veterans, as well as by unveiling of monuments and memorial plaques to commemorate famous Soviet atomic scientists. Among others, a monument to the legendary Minister of Medium Machine Building, Efim Slavsky, was unveiled near the headquarters in Moscow of the Russian atomic energy corporation Rosatom.
Rosatom will hold more than 100 events across the nation over a period of 75 days dedicated to the country’s nuclear industry under the theme “75 years: ahead of the times”. On August 20, 1945, a Special Committee under the USSR State Defense Committee and the First Main Directorate under the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR were created to manage the work on the atomic project. All the events are divided into three major categories: “Past”, “Present” and “Future.”
In an inaugural speech, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev outlined the history of the rapid development of civilian nuclear power in Russia following the April 1947 proposal for using nuclear energy for power plants, ships and aircraft. Thereafter, the first nuclear power plant was launched in Obninsk in 1954.
“In 1964, the first pressurized water (PWR) VVER reactor was launched at the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant (NPP). It was quite low-powered by modern standards, only 210 MW, but its importance for the nuclear power industry is enormous. Currently, there are six models of reactors of different capacity within the VVER family, including VVER-1200. It is a Gen 3+ reactor and the main Rosatom export product,” Likhachev said. “In 1973, the world’s first fast breeder reactor BN-350 was commissioned in Kazakhstan. In 1974, the RBMK reactor was launched at the Leningrad NPP. By the mid-1980s, the total capacity of Soviet nuclear power plants reached a record of 37 GW”, he added.
The Director General elaborated on how, at the same time, Russia began promoting its nuclear technologies abroad. “The USSR generously shared its achievements with friends and partners. In all, 31 power units were built abroad during the Soviet era, including Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany and Finland,” he said. “The experience of creating the first Soviet nuclear submarine was helpful in the construction of nuclear icebreakers. They extended the navigation and increased the volume of cargo transported along the Northern Sea Route. This opened a new stage in the development of the Arctic,” he added.
He also touched on their worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, which became a huge test for the USSR, and its nuclear scientists. The DG said that “in order to eliminate the consequences of the accident, a huge construction base was created at the power plant in the shortest possible time, and up to 10,000 cubic meters of concrete were laid on certain days. A protective sarcophagus was erected in a record seven months”. Russia has “learned well” the lessons from the accident, he said. “Within the next 20 years, our scientists, designers, engineers have created safety systems that exclude human factor. Today, Russian nuclear power units with a unique combination of active and passive safety systems are the most demanded in the world, as evidenced by the batch of agreements for the construction of 36 power units in 12 countries,” he added.
Since 2007, Rosatom has built 16 new nuclear power units in Russia and abroad. Besides the new Generation 3+ units at the Leningrad and Novovoronezh NPPs, an innovative power unit with a fast breeder reactor BN-800, is currently testing the “technology of the future” – closed fuel cycle. The closed nuclear fuel cycle will allow the creation of “twin-component” nuclear energy with the simultaneous operation of fast and thermal neutron reactors, which will expand the fuel base of nuclear energy many times over, involving the uranium-238 isotope, ensuring the reuse of used nuclear fuel and minimising radioactive waste.
Russia has diversified into uranium mining by expanding its presence in uranium projects in other countries. It now produces around 8,000 tons of uranium annually. The country is developing cooperation with old partners – China, India, France, Hungary, Finland – and has also acquired new ones – Turkey, Bangladesh, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Egypt. “We have taken back the Eastern European nuclear fuel market, which was partially lost in the early 2000s. Currently, we supply 75 power units both in Russia and in 15 countries with fuel, which constitutes every sixth power reactor in the world, and cooperate with more than 50 countries,” Likhachev said.
Speaking of the future, he said the priorities include providing year-round navigation in the Arctic, solving accumulated environmental problems, organizing work to create new materials. “We are engaged in digitalization, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. Our priorities in the medium term are two-component nuclear power, closed fuel cycle, small and medium-sized nuclear power plants, plasma technologies, and thermonuclear fusion” he said.
One of the central events of the celebrations in the “Present” part will be a big festive concert at the Kremlin Palace, which will be broadcast on television on September 27. On September 28, the Day of the Nuclear Industry Worker, will become an official day off in atomic cities, and a teleconference – “Nuclear cities calling”- a five-hour broadcast will take place on the website atom75.ru.
The main event of the “Future” part will be the opening of an all-Russian science festival Nauka 0+ “Physics of the Future”, slated for October 9-18. The festival will host open lectures by famous scientists, discussions about the future, unique scientific and educational films. According to a Rosatom statement, the Next75 youth conference, on October 31 in Sochi, will be one of the closing events of the anniversary campaign. World-renowned scientists, including Konstantin Novoselov, Nobel Prize winner in physics for the discovery of graphene, Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, Thomas Frey, noted lecturer on the future according to Google, and Peter Westerback, one of the creators of Angry Birds, among others, will discuss the future with talented young people.
Rosatom also announced that it has switched to using a united brand, or “umbrella branding”, in line with top global corporations. While preserving their names and unique identity, organisations of the Russian nuclear industry will get unified logos based on the Rosatom trademark – the Mobius strip. “Rosatom has created a strong and respected international brand, and the use of a name with a long history, in particular, in promoting new products in the non-nuclear sphere (digital products, development of the Arctic, environmental projects, mechanical engineering, etc.) opens up wide opportunities for Rosatom enterprises in promising markets,” it said.