Kurchatov nuclear reactor: still going strong after 60 years

Sixty years ago, on December 25, 1946, Russian scientists achieved a nuclear reaction that made a breakthrough in the field of atomic energy. For the first time on the Eurasian continent, uranium depletion was controlled.

Thus the  nuclear reactor created at the Kurchatov Institute became the prototype for modern nuclear power plants.

The nuclear centre that appeared right after the end of the World War II was a secret – where scientists were trying – as fast as they could – to find a way to harness nuclear power. They were in a hurry  as the USA – their allies during the Second World War, but enemies in the Cold War which followed – already had it.

Scientists and engineers managed to build the reactor very quickly. It was constructed from sketches within months. Despite its 62 safety layers of lead, starting the reactor was considered at the time to be a high-risk operation. Still the F1 reactor has been functioning up to now and is known as one of the safest power sources in the world.

“Layers of lead as they are heated by uranium literally make F1 a self-controlling nuclear reactor. And the process inside is called – the safe-developing chain reaction of uranium depletion. If the temperature rises to 70 degrees Celsius, it slows down by its own! So it simply won’t let itself get out of control,” Oleg Vorontsov, Deputy Chief of nuclear security department explained.

The this reactor was a prologue to creating an atomic bomb in 1949, setting the stage for strategic “nuclear parity” between the USSR and the USA. With vast research opportunities the institute gave birth to the whole atomic industry for peaceful and military purposes.

 “F1 is so simple and such a work of genius that it is good for research even now, 60 years after it was launched. It is not a high-capacity reactor, its output is just 24 kilowatts but it is really useful for modern research,” Head of the Nuclear Department, Vadim Dikarev, remarked.

The only problem with F1 revealed itself, when its long-living operation was put forward for the Guinness Book of  Records.

“We had to collect all the documentation, which was not easy since it was a states secret for years. Now they’ve got almost everything to apply for a place in the Guinness Book. Hopefully it will be mentioned in next year’s edition, as the oldest ever working nuclear reactor,” Chief Editor of the Russian Book of Records, Aleksey Svistunov, said.