Soviet-era “Atomgrads,” part 1 – Nuclear Weapon Cities


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During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed a series of “Atomgrads or nuclear cities.   Nearly all of these cities were newly planned and designed to provide housing and community services for the future scientists and their families that would live there. Many, if not most, were built by Gulag prisoners. These cities primarily existed to attend to the nearby nuclear facility. The Atomgrads were separated into two (2) categories:

  • Those meant for nuclear weapons research, testing, and development. (Part 1)
  • Those meant for nuclear energy research, development, and production. (see Part 2)

Part 1 of this series summarizes the Atomgrads that were secretly created and maintained to develop an atomic arsenal for the USSR. The operations that took place in or near these cities were so top secret, that the Soviet Union went to extreme lengths to keep them hidden from their own citizens and their adversaries through a variety of covert methods, including:

  • Not indicating them on maps until the early to mid-1990s when Boris Yeltsin allowed the cities to utilize their real names instead of code names.
  • Giving them each a codename to mislead where they are situated.
  • Using post office boxes with addresses for all civilian mail.
  • Keeping them closed to all outsiders.
  • Not allowing residents to leave, unless they were to never return.
  • Prohibiting residents from communicating with friends and family who resided elsewhere.

The ten (10) closed cities listed below were the heart and soul of Soviet-era nuclear weapon development and still serve as important military production, nuclear research, weapon disassembly Atomgrads under Russian oversight today.

An eleventh city, Kurchatov, Kazakhstan was once the headquarters/location for both underground and above ground atomic bomb testing at the nearby Semipalatinsk Test Site (The Polygon). More details on this Atomgrad are presented in Part 2, as it is now primarily a center for the production of nuclear energy.

Lesnoy, Russia (1947-present):

               

    • The location of Elektrokhimpribor Combine.
    • Was referred to by the code name of Sverdlovsk-45.
    • First appeared on Russian maps in 1992.
    • Functions here include warhead assembly and disassembly.
    • Population estimated at 49,056 in 2018.
    • Both its flag and coats of arms represents its atomic history.

Novouralsk, Russia (1941-present):

                

    • The location of Ural Electrochemical Combine.
    • Was referred to by the code name of Sverdlovsk-44.
    • First appeared on Russian maps in 1994.
    • Highly enriched uranium production takes place here.
    • Population was 85,522 in 2010.
    • Both its flag and coat of arms depicts its atomic history.

Ozersk (or Ozyorsk), Russia (1946-present):

               

    • The location of Mayak Production Association.
    • Site of the development of the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb.
    • Plutonium production and nuclear component manufacturing take place here.
    • Formerly known by code names of both Chelyabinsk- 40 and Chelyabinsk-65 during the Cold War Era.
    • First appeared on Russian maps in 1994.
    • Nicknamed “the graveyard of the Earth” due to high levels of contamination from poor safety standards, environmental pollution, and the 1957 Kyshtym disaster.
    • The city’s estimated population in 2018 was 79,069.
    • The city flag and coat of arms hint at its atomic history in their background.

Ozersk – Source: en.wikipedia.org

Sarov, Russia (1691/1946-present):

    • The location of VNIIEF-Federal Nuclear Center and Avangard Electromechanical Plant.
    • Long history prior to becoming an Atomgrad in 1946.
    • Was home to the former Sarov Monastery that closed after the 1917 Russian Revolution.
    • Russia’s primary nuclear research center for both the atomic and hydrogen bomb.
    • Other functions include nuclear weapons, as well as warhead assembly and disassembly.
    • Was referred to by two (2) code names during the Cold War era – Arzamas-16 and Kremlyov.
    • Russian Nuclear Center and Atomic Bomb Museum opened here in 1992.
    • The estimated population of the city in 2018 was 95,388.
    • Sister city with Los Alamos, New Mexico, site of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Locals have jokingly referred to Sarov as Los Arzamas.
    • The city’s coat of arms depict its atomic history.

Sarov – Source: newsnn.ru

Seversk, Russia (1949-present):

               

    • The location of Siberian Chemical Combine.
    • Functions include plutonium production, highly enriched uranium production, and nuclear component manufacturing..
    • Formerly known as both Pyaty Pochtovy (prior to 1949) and by the code name of Tomsk-7 (1949-1954).
    • Added to Russian maps in 1992.
    • A nuclear accident took place at the Tomsk-7 Reprocessing Complex on April 6, 1993, when a tank exploded during cleaning, releasing a cloud of radioactive gas.
    • Population estimated at 107,494 in 2018, which makes Seversk the largest Atomgrad in terms of population in either category (nuclear weapon or nuclear energy city).
    • Both its flag and coat of arms honor its atomic history.

Snezhinsk, Russia (1957-present):

               

    • The location of VNIITF-Federal Nuclear Center.
    • Was referred to by the code name of as Chelyabinsk-70.
    • Added to Russian maps in 1991.
    • Nuclear weapon production and research take place here.
    • Estimated population of 51,048 in 2018.
    • Sister city with Livermore, California, location of Lawrence Livermore Labs
    • Both its flag and coat of arms honor the city’s atomic history.

Trekhgornyy (or Tryokgorny), Russia (1952-present):

               

    • The location of Instrument (Atomic weapons) Making Plant.
    • Does not appear to have had a code name.
    • Warhead assembly and disassembly takes place here.
    • 2018 population of estimate 32,715.
    • Both its flag and coat of arms depict the city’s atomic history.

Zarechny, Penza Oblast, Russia (1958-present):

               

    • The location of Start Production Association.
    • Was referred to by the code name of Penza-19.
    • Added to Russian maps in 1992.
    • Activities associated with warhead assembly and disassembly.
    • Both the city’s flag and coat of arms depict its atomic history.
    • Its 2018 population estimate was 65,156.

Zelenogorsk, Russia (1956-present):

               

    • The location of Krasnoyarsk-45 Electrochemical Plant.
    • Formerly known by the code name of Krasnoyarsk-45.
    • Added to Russian maps in 1992.
    • Highly enriched uranium production takes place here.
    • Estimated population of 62,245 in 2018.
    • Sister city of Newburyport, Massachusetts.
    • Both its flag and coat of arms honor it atomic history.

Zheleznogorsk, Russia (1950-present):

               

    • The location of Mining and Chemical Combine.
    • Formerly known by the code name of Krasnoyarsk-26.
    • Added to Russian maps in 1992.
    • Plutonium production takes place here.
    • Estimated population of 83,857 in 2018.
    • Both its flag and coat of arms depict its atomic history.

_____

Part 2 of this series will provide details about a separate group of Atomgrads that were planned and built to provided much-needed electricity to the Soviet Union and which were held up as shining examples of success of Soviet Union and its technical achievements.

SOURCES:

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2 Responses to Soviet-era “Atomgrads,” part 1 – Nuclear Weapon Cities

  1. Pingback: Soviet-era “Atomgrads,” part 2 – Nuclear Energy Cities | Panethos

  2. Pingback: American “Atomgrads” of the Cold War era…and beyond | Panethos

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