Site: RRC Kurchatov Institute
Kurchatov Square, 46
Moscow 123182

Date Visited: May 19, 1993

Report Author: D. Walsh



B. Mooney
D. Walsh


Dr. George Alekseievitch Gladkov ;Chief of Department
Dr. John Iakubovitch Nafikov; Chief of Experimental Installation
Dr. Eugene Petrovitch Kaplar; Scientific Advisor of Project "Helena"
Dr. Viatcheslav Petrovitch Kuznetsov ;Chief of Laboratory, Executive Secretary of ROSSHELF Company


The Kurchatov Institute, located in Moscow, is one of two Russian institutes that design, construct, and operate nuclear power reactors. There are seven reactors currently operating at this site. The institute employs about 10,000 people on a campus-like area consisting of 153 buildings. The WTEC team was at the institute for about three hours.

One of the hosts, Dr. George Gladkov, is a recipient of the Order of Lenin, the USSR's highest personal award. The award, which designates him "A Hero of the Soviet Union," was presented to him for his efforts in designing the icebreaker Lenin.

The hosts proposed that two topics be addressed during the visit:

In addition, the panel hoped to get more information about the reactors Kurchatov was developing (or proposed to develop) for the submarines/submersible concepts proposed by the Lazurit Central Design Bureau. However, only thermoelectric power sources were discussed during the visit.


Kurchatov's scientists and engineers had developed one small thermoelectric power source and had completed the preliminary design for a larger unit. The general specifications for these units follow.

Gamma 6 kWe Power Source

Development of the Gamma 6 kWe power source began in 1970, and the unit became operational in 1982. The reactor was constructed by Izot in St. Petersburg. Although the design is rated for unattended operations at 6,000 m depth for ten years, this prototype unit has been operating at the institute in a test cell (see Figure Kurch.1). At full power, the life expectancy of the Gamma 6 kWe power source is about ten years. Consequently, this unit will probably be retired in the next two to three years.

This thermoelectric power source produces 6 kWe of electricity and 200 kW of heat energy. It has no moving parts, is self-regulating, and uses natural circulation. There are 24 thermionic (heat to electricity conversion) elements in this unit. The radioactive source is UO2 with less than 20 percent enrichment (and thus is not weapons grade material).

The primary construction material is titanium. There is no problem with operations at depths greater than 6,000 m if ambient seawater circulation is used for cooling (rather than the present internal freshwater cooling loop). Gamma will fit into a cylindrical space of 2.5 m diameter and 6 m height. The weight would be 10 to 12 tons.

Helena 100 kWe Power Source

This is a proposed power source; none has been built to date. It works on the same principles and basic design as Gamma, but has 300 electrical generating elements. It also has the same 6,000 m depth rating. The price would be from $6 to 8 million per unit (see Figure Kurch.2).

In addition to the 100 kWe electrical power output, the unit also produces 3,000 kW of thermal energy. For on-land applications, Helena would be made of stainless steel. Its weight would be 200 tons (100 tons of which is cooling water) and it would require a space 4.5 m in diameter and 12 m high. Use of more expensive titanium would reduce the structural weight by about 40 percent (4.5 grams per cubic centimeter). BAC is used as the moderator. The temperatures are as follows: Phase I about 320C, Phase II about 100C, and Phase III about 90C. However, with stainless steel, there is no single component heavier than 20 tons. Thus the unit could be taken to remote sites by a heavy lift helicopter.

The Kurchatov Institute staff has estimated that this type of unit could support a Russian settlement (village) of 1,050 people, and that there are 15,000 settlements in the country that could use them. These power sources would be particularly useful in colder areas. The design life of Helena is 25 years. It is estimated that Helena could provide energy for a desalinization plant with a capacity of 60 tons per hour. Several operating Helenas at various geographic locations could be monitored at one central monitoring location by having each individual site transmit monitoring data to the central monitor via satellite. Should trouble arise, the central station could shut down any individual reactor.

Disposal of Units at End of Life

Team members were told that the decay of radiation from high to safe levels would take 1.5 years for titanium and 10 years for stainless steel. Therefore, the preferred disposal method would require leaving the unit in place for this period of time before recovery and scrapping would take place.


Clearly these units, and their relatively low power levels, are too large in size and weight for use in submarines or submersibles. The team did ask about Kurchatov's development of reactors for the Lazurit Central Design Bureau (as was suggested to us by Lazurit), but the Kurchatov representatives were not aware of these developments. They did state that Mr. Stanislav Lavkovsky, Chief Designer of Lazurit, was a frequent visitor to Kurchatov, and that he was there the day of the team's visit. Apparently the submarine/submersible reactor work is done by another group at the institute.

Although Dr. Viatcheslav Petrovitch Kuznetsov was present as the Executive Secretary of the Russian Shelf-Developing (ROSSHELF) Company, there were no discussions of this project during this site visit. Since this project will use several small reactors, both fixed and in a submarine, the WTEC panel members thought it unusual that Dr. Kuznetsov did not offer to answer questions regarding cooperation between Lazurit and Kurchatov.

Figure Kurch.1. Gamma

Figure Kurch.2. Helena

Published: June 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian