Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant

John Morrissey
March 15, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015


Fig. 1: Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant was commissioned by the Soviet Union on June 27, 1954 and operated successfully for almost five decades, until it was closed on April 29, 2002. [1] Located a little more than a hundred kilometers southwest of Moscow, Obninsk was home to the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering, and as a result it is no surprise that the Soviets chose this spot to build the plant. [2] However what was so incredible about this plant was that Obninsk was the world's first nuclear power plant feed into an existing commercial grid. [3] Astonishingly, during the heat of the cold war this plant was not built with a military goal in mind, but rather the purpose of this plant was the generation of electricity and the facilitation of research.

Commercial Emphasis

With only one 5mWt reactor, this plant was not meant to solve the riddle of Soviet power, nor was it constructed to give the Soviets a leg up in the Cold War. [4] Instead the plant was built as an experiment for commercial electricity. Could a reactor be used to supply the commercial grid with energy? Obninsk proved that it could. The Reactor was a channel-type uranium- graphite design, a Soviet designed model that later gave birth to the powerful RBMK reactors. [5] The success of Obninsk paved the way for the building of many other commercial plants such as the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station in Russia and Sellafield, in England.


The Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant operated without a hitch for 48 years, an incredible feat when we consider the frequency of incidents at many modern-day plants around the world. Undoubtedly the relatively small size of the reactor contributed to this safety. However it is also important to note the mindset in which this facility was built. From the moment of its conception, Obninsk was referred to by the Soviets as Atom Mirnyi, or, Peaceful Atom. [6]


Founded over six decades ago, this plant was an incredible break through that showed the world there was a peaceful place for nuclear power in a future that, in the throws of the Cold War, seemed clouded in military dominance. From the moment of its construction, Obninsk was a quest to transfer the previously horrid and traumatic nature of nuclear energy into a positive resource for the growth and prosperity of humanity. Not only was this quest successful on this note, but the plant also lasted 50 years in operation without a single accident or spill, a model of stability that many of today's plants today could strive emulate.

© John Morrissey. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. V. B. Rao and M. P. Rao, "Nuclear Energy Scenario of Asian Developing Countries," Australian Solar Council, Visvesvaraya Institute of Technology, 28 Nov 08.

[2] V. K. Ivanov et al., "Incidence among Nuclear Workers in Russia Based on Data from the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering: A Preliminary Analysis," Radiat. Res. 155, 801 (2001).

[3] N. Armaroli, V. Balzani "Towards an electricity-powered world," Energy Environ. Sci., 3193, (July 2011).

[4] V. Brindha, "The First Nuclear Power Plant of Earth: June 27, 1954," Discovery 4, No. 12,50 (June 2013).

[5] B. A. Semenov, "Nuclear Power in the Soviet Union," IAEA Bull. 25, No. 2, 47 (1983).

[6] S. D. Schmid, "Organizational Culture and Professional Identities in the Soviet Nuclear Power Industry," Osiris 23, 82 (2008).