Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant

Sandy Smith
March 9, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant: View from the South. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The world had never seen a nuclear power plant before 1954, but Obninsk, Russia became the first cite in history. The plant was under construction for three years and operated for a solid 48 years until it was shut down in 2002. [1] Through those decades, the plant was used for grid connections and production of electricity, but most extensively for research and isotope production. [2] In fact, it is presently one of the largest research centers for nuclear science and technology in all of Russia. Studies range from radiation chemistry, nuclear fission, nuclear reactors and protection, and more.


Although this nuclear power plant was at the forefront during the Cold War, it was not meant to give an advantage to the Soviets. In fact, the importance of this power plant shifted from the use of nuclear power in the military to civilians now being able to use it, as it powered businesses and residences; it showed economic and scientific "prowess". [3] This first plant produced about 5000 kW(e) or 5 megawatts which is enough to run about 2,000 homes.

Action and Achievements

For the bulk of 50 years, many projects were carried out at Obninsk. Initially, physicists developed breeder reactors, liquid metal submarine propulsion reactors for the Navy, and a 5000-kilowatt channel graphite-reactor. [4] When it was being built, a whole city pretty much came into existence out of a destroyed metropolitan that occurred from the war. Three different types of "zones" existed in the terrain Obninsk was to be built: German specialists, Soviet specialists, and Soviet Prisoners. In order to have this plant run smoothly, the authorities had to get rid of the prisoners and the specialists, and build kindergartens, homes, schools, libraries, sports facilities, factories, and more; many leading scientists made themselves at home there and began going to work on these nuclear projects. [4] Primarily, the plant was used to create weapons grade plutonium and electricity.


Overall, the successes to this power plant for generating electricity gave way to many other power plants popping up around the country; it really contributed to the potential success of the future of nuclear power worldwide. Following the successful launch of "The World's First Nuclear Power Plant", Russian physicist Igor Kurchatov put into action a plan of construction for four more nuclear plants, furthermore showing the impact that this demonstration and development had on Russian science but as well as policies and economics, as it became a central focus of the decade. [5] The momentum from this power plant was immense for Russian nuclear physicists, and it is still a staple today.

© Sandy Smith. 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] J. Morrissey, "Obinsk Nuclear Power Plant," Physics 241,Stanford University, Winter 2015.

[2] V. K. Ivanov et al., "Cancer 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] E. A. Cohen, "Review: Red Atom: Russia's Nuclear Power Program From Stalin To Today By Paul R. Josephson," Foreign Affairs 79, 163 (2000)

[4] P. R. Josephson, Red Atom: Russia's Nuclear Power Program from Stalin to Today (W. H. Freeman, 1999).

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