Institute of Nuclear Physics

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Last Updated: October 1, 2009
Location: Alatau village (about 25km from Almaty)
Subordinate To: National Nuclear Center
Size: The Institute of Nuclear Physics includes a branch in Western Kazakhstan Oblast, the Azgir Radioecology Expedition in Atyrau Oblast, and the Kurchatov Laboratory at the former Semipalatinsk Test Site.
Facility Status: Operational

Background

The Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Republic of Kazakhstan was established in 1957 to conduct research in the field of nuclear and solid-state physics. [2]

Primary Function

Nuclear technology development; reactor safety research; radiation materials studies; solid-state radioactive physics research; electron beam research; monitoring of radiation levels in Kazakhstan, including Semipalatinsk and sites in Western Kazakhstan; nuclear physics applications in the fields of geology, industry, agriculture, and medicine; isotope production for medical and industrial use. [3] Physicists at the Institute also analyze radioactive cargo seized by Kazakhstani customs. [4] In addition to the reactor, the facility includes hot cells (for work with highly radioactive substances), a cyclotron, and seven laboratories. [5]

  • Reactors: One
  • Name: VVR-K
  • Type: light water-moderated, water-cooled reactor; [6] enclosed vessel. [7]
  • Power: 6MW [8]
  • Fuel: The VVR-K reactor core loading is 4.46kg of 36% HEU. [9] The Institute of Nuclear Physics (INP) has enough fresh fuel stocks to run the VVR-K reactor until at least 2011. [10] In September 2006, the U.S. DOE reached an agreement with the government of Kazakhstan whereby the HEU at INP will be down-blended at Ulba Metallurgical Plant and INP's VVR-K reactor will be converted to use LEU fuel. [11] The conversion process is not expected to be completed until as late as 2011. [12]
  • Status: Operational
  • MPC&A: The Institute of Nuclear Physics participates in the US Department of Energy MPC&A Program. Material accounting systems installed in collaboration with US experts include electronic scales, a gamma spectroscopy system, computer equipment, and Automated Inventory Accounting System (AIMAS) software, which was customized to match the facility operations. [13] Physical protection upgrades, including metal and nuclear material detectors, hardened portals and access points, and alarm and communications systems, were also implemented. [14] According to the US Department of Energy, MPC&A upgrades at Alatau were completed in October 1998. [15] In the spring of 1999, the DOE transferred responsibilities for long-term support of MPC&A responsibilities at the VVR-K reactor in Alatau to the International Safeguards Office.

Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste

Fresh and spent reactor fuel and other nuclear material in bulk form is stored in cooling ponds in the VVR-K reactor building. [16] The Institute of Nuclear Physics has sufficient storage capacity to accommodate spent fuel likely to be generated until 2011. [17] As of 1996 there were plans to move the spent fuel to dry storage. Deputy Director of the National Nuclear Center Zhenis Zhotabayev felt that sending the spent fuel for reprocessing in Russia was unrealistic because of high expenses and the absence of storage facilities in Kazakhstan for the high level waste which would be received back from Russia. [18]

Comments

During the Soviet era, the VVR-K reactor was part of the Institute of Nuclear Physics. After Kazakhstani independence in 1991, administrative oversight for the reactor was transferred to the Institute of Atomic Energy. On 1 July 2000, the reactor was transferred back to the Institute of Nuclear Physics, to which it originally belonged. [19] Criticality was first reached in 1967. [20] The reactor was shut down in 1988 following the earthquake in Armenia, due to its location in a seismic zone, in order to make improvements in equipment and nuclear safety. Using recommendations from the IAEA and other international groups, reactor safety has been upgraded. The Kazakhstani Atomic Energy Agency granted permission for the reactor to be restarted in December 1997, following the completion of seismic retrofitting. [21] The reactor is now expected to be able to withstand an earthquake of up to 9 points on the Richter scale. Research carried out at this facility has included fundamental physics, cold neutron nuclear physics, nuclear spectroscopy, applied work in nuclear energy, and research work for the medicine and agricultural fields. [22]

  • Critical Assemblies: One.
  • Type: Critical assembly or a low power reactor, pool type, water-moderated
  • Power: 100W
  • Fuel: Uranium (UAl4 alloy) enriched to 36% U-235
  • Comments: Designed to investigate the characteristics of VVER reactor cores. [23]

Sources
[1] "Institut yadernoy fiziki," undated brochure received by CNS in June 2001.
[2] "Institut yadernoy fiziki," undated brochure received by CNS in June 2001.
[3] "Institut yadernoy fiziki," undated brochure received by CNS in June 2001.
[4] Kenley Butler, "Almaty, Astana, Alatau," NISNP Trip Report, June 2001, KAZ010600, pp. 6-12.
[5] Boris Kuznetsov et al., "Implementation of Material Control and Accounting at the Nuclear Facilities in Kazakhstan," Partnership for Nuclear Security: United States/Former Soviet Union Program of Cooperation on Nuclear Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (Washington, DC: Department of Energy, September 1998), pp. 1-2.
[6] "Research Reactors," The Nuclear Review, April 1996, pp. 5, 17.
[7] NISNP Correspondence with Kazakhstani government official, 12 May 1997.
[8] NNC official, "Activities of the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan," Presentation at CNS Seminar for Journalists, Almaty, Kazakhstan, 8-9 June 2001.
[9] NNC official, "Activities of the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan," Presentation at CNS Seminar for Journalists, 8-9 June 2001.
[10] CNS Interview with Institute of Nuclear Physics Official, 29 August 2001, KAZ010829.
[11] "U.S. Department of Energy and NTI Announce Key Nonproliferation Project with Kazakhstan," DOE press release, 29 September 2006, www.energy.gov.
[12] Jon Fox, "Kazakhstan Signs on to Downblending Program," Global Security Newswire, 6 October 2006.
[13] Boris Kuznetsov et al., "Implementation of Material Control and Accounting at the Nuclear Facilities in Kazakhstan," Partnership for Nuclear Security: United States/Former Soviet Union Program of Cooperation on Nuclear Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (Washington, DC: Department of Energy, September 1998), pp. 1-2.
[14] Emily Ewell, "Trip Report: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine," May 1996.
[15] CNS Interview with Institute of Nuclear Physics Official, 29 August 2001, KAZ010829.
[16] "Institut yadernoy fiziki," undated brochure received by CNS in June 2001.
[17] Boris Kuznetsov et al., "Implementation of Material Control and Accounting at the Nuclear Facilities in Kazakhstan," Partnership for Nuclear Security: United States/Former Soviet Union Program of Cooperation on Nuclear Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (Washington, DC: Department of Energy, September 1998), pp. 1-2.
[18] Kenley Butler, NISNP Trip Report, "Almaty, Astana, Alatau," June 2001, KAZ010600, pp. 6-12.
[19] NISNP Interview with NNC official, 18 July 2000, KAZ000718.
[20] "Nuclear Research Reactors in The World," Reference Data Series No. 3, 5/91, IAEA: Vienna, 1991, p. 43.
[21]"Agenstvo po atomnoy energii Kazakhsatana razreshilo pusk issledovatelskogo yadernogo reaktora v 30 km ot Almaty," Panorama, 5 December 1997, p. 10.
[22] Emily Ewell, "Trip Report - Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine," 21 June 1995, p. 18.
[23] "Invitation for Cooperation," undated National Nuclear Center marketing brochure.

ARCHIVED DEVELOPMENTS

2/11/2003: FIRST TECHNOPARK TO BE BUILT IN ALATAU
On 11 February 2003, the Kazakhstani government announced plans to build an information technology park in Alatau. The new park, which will feature an industrial laboratory, office building, and modern computer and telephone networks, will be given tax breaks and customs privileges. According to Kazakhstani Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Vladimir Shkolnik, Alatau was chosen because of its potential to attract capital and new technologies. Alatau has a large scientific community and is located near the former Kazakhstani capital, Almaty, which has numerous scientific and design institutes.
Sources
[1] Interfax, 11 February 2003; in "Kazakhstan to set up first technopark near former capital," FBIS Document CEP20030212000184.
[2] Boris Kuzmenko, "Silikonovaya dolina v Alatau," Parlamentskaya gazeta, 20 March 2003, p. 7; in Integrum Techno, www.integrum.ru.

1/2003: NEW ANNOUNCEMENTS ON TOKAMAK
On 20 January 2003, the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) informed RIA Novosti that Kazakhstan and Russia plan to jointly build a Tokamak thermonuclear experimental research complex in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan to be put into operation by the end of 2006. Plans for collaborative work on the Tokamak complex were spelled out in a protocol signed in Moscow on 17 January 2003 during a Russian-Kazakhstani nuclear working group meeting. According to RIA Novosti, Minatom officials emphasized that the construction will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [1] On 21 January 2003, however, Yuriy Sokolov, the head of Minatom's Nuclear Science and Engineering Department, told ITAR TASS that there is no agreement between Kazakhstan and Russia to build a Tokamak complex, only a request from Kazakhstan to Russia's Kurchatov Institute to assist with certain technical issues related to Tokamak. According to Sokolov, Tokamak facilities do not fall under the purview of Gosatomnadzor and there will be no need for IAEA monitoring.Russian legislation does not prohibit the transfer of technical documentation for this type of construction as fissile material is not involved. The total cost of the Tokamak complex is estimated at $15.2 million. [2]
Sources
[1] "Rossiya i Kazakhstan planiruyut sozdat termoyadernyy issledovatelskiy kompleks 'Tokamak',"RIA Novosti, 20 January 2003; Integrum Techno, www.integrum.ru.
"Rossiya i Kazakhstan zaplanirovali vvesti v ekspluatatsiyu do kontsa 2006 goda termoyadernyy kompleks Tokamak," Finmarket novosti, 17 January 2003; Integrum Techno, www.integrum.ru.
[2] "Kazakhstan nameren postroit termoyadernyy kompleks 'Tokamak' na Semipalatinskom poligone," ITAR TASS, 21 January 2003; Integrum Techno, www.integrum.ru.

9/16/2002: KAZAKHSTANI NUCLEAR SCIENTISTS TO SUPPLY US WITH DIAGNOSTIC RADIOPHARMACEUTICALS
At a 16 September 2002 conference in Almaty, officials from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Kazakhstani Institute of Nuclear Physics (INP) signed an agreement that aims to increase potentially scarce supplies of medical isotopes in the United States. Under the agreement, the Los Alamos National Laboratory will provide INP with equipment to produce medical isotopes (germanium-68, technetium, and thallium), which later will be sold to the US contractor Technology Commercialization International for use in the US medical market. According to an article in Government Executive Magazine, the project will receive $1.1 million over three years from the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, along with matching funds from Technology Commercialization International. [1] According to an article in Ekspress K, the project is intended to last for eight years, and will cost the US side $8-10 million. INP Director Kayrat Kadyrzhanov noted that the project is in the interest of both countries, as Kazakhstan lacks equipment to produce medical isotopes, while the United States lacks raw materials. [2] According to a US Energy Department official, the project will create long-term peaceful employment for former weapons scientists in Kazakhstan. The official also noted that the demand for radiopharmaceuticals in the United States is growing quickly, as health care institutions are increasingly using them in diagnostic technologies. [3]
Sources
[1] Anne Marie Pecha, "DOE lab signs pact with Kazakh nuke scientists to aid U.S. medicine," Global Security Newswire; in Government Executive Magazine online edition, 24 September 2002, www.govexec.com.
[2] Asel Tulegenova, "Radioaktivnyy biznes," Ekspress K online addition, No. 176 (15089), 18 September 2002, www.express-k.kz..
[3] Anne Marie Pecha, "DOE lab signs pact with Kazakh nuke scientists to aid U.S. medicine," Global Security Newswire; in Government Executive Magazine online edition, 24 September 2002, www.govexec.com.

5/10/2001: TOKAMAK TO BE BUILT IN KAZAKHSTAN
At an international forum on nuclear fusion held 10-12 May 2001 in Astana, Kazakhstani Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Vladimir Shkolnik discussed a joint Kazakhstani-Russian project to construct a tokamak in Kurchatov, Kazakhstan known as the Kazakhstan Tokamak for Material Testing (KTM). [1] The KTM in Kazakhstan is designed to model the interaction of plasma and materials under conditions expected in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project. [2] ITER is a collaboration between the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), Japan, and Russia. Kazakhstan and Canada are also involved through Russia and Euratom, respectively. [3] KazNIPIEnergoprom will be the general designer of the KTM, which will be constructed from 2001-2004 at an estimated cost of $12-14 million. [4]
Sources
[1] "V Kazakhstane proydet soveshchaniye uchenykh-atomshchikov," Interfax, 6 May 2001, www.interfax.ru.
[2] E.A. Azizov et al., "KTM project (Kazakhstan Tokamak for Material Testing)," International Atomic Energy Agency, www.iaea.or.at.
[3] "Nuclear Fusion Power," World Nuclear Association, September 2001, www.world-nuclear.org.
[4] "V Kazakhstane budet sozdan yadernyy reaktor," KazAAG, 10 May 2001; Integrum Techno, www.integrum.ru.

12/13/2000: NATIONAL NUCLEAR CENTER (NNC) STARTS COMPUTER PRODUCTION
The Kazakhstani National Nuclear Center (NNC) has begun to produce personal computers at the Institute of Nuclear Physics facility in Alatau. A quarter of the electronic components for these computers is produced in Kurchatov, where the US government provided almost $4 million to set up a joint venture, called KK Interconnect, between the NNC and the US-based KRAS Corporation under the CTR Industrial Partnerships program and the Defense Enterprise Fund.
Sources
Express-K, 13 December 2000; in "Kazakh former nuclear town starts to make computers," FBIS Document CEP20001213000109.

10/99: REACTOR SAFETY, Y2K READINESS QUESTIONED
In October 1999 the staff at the Institute of Nuclear Physics VVR-K research reactor analyzed the reactor's Y2K readiness, and noted that they needed assistance in order to make some corrections. Further information was not given. [1] Reactor safety was questioned further in a 27 October article in Vremya Po which detailed difficulties in staffing the Institute of Atomic Energy, as well as several safety violations at the research reactor: in the fall of 1998 a tank used to transport liquid radioactive waste was discovered missing; soon after, equipment for monitoring cracks in the reactor's pipes was ruined when it was thrown on top of a waste site; and in 1999 several people fell into radioactive ash [sic] and were seriously burned. [2] (The source does not specify the composition of the "ash," nor whether the cause of the burns was thermal or radioactive in nature.)
Sources
[1] Said Uspanov, "'Mirnyy atom," Delovaya nedelya, No. 39, 8 October 1999, p. 9.
[2] Bakhytzhan Zhumaliyeva, "Yadernyy reaktor v 17 km ot Almaty. Yest osnovaniya dlya opaseniy,"Vremya Po, No. 83, 27 October 1999, p. 1.

6/99: RADWASTE TANK STOLEN, DISCOVERED IN DISTILLERY
On 23 June 1999 the Institute of Nuclear Physics discovered that a 2MT tank used to transport liquid radioactive waste was missing. [1] On 24 June Khabar television reported that the tank had been found on Institute territory. [2] However, on 30 June Interfax-Kazakhstan reported that the tank was found on the grounds of the Kauser (Kausat) distillery (or winery) near Almaty. Distillery management had acquired the tank from a private individual two months previously. According to some estimates, background radiation around the tank's surface exceeded permissible levels by a factor of 20. [3] (For more information on this case, please see the 24 June 1999 entry in the NIS Nuclear Trafficking Database.
Sources
[1] Khabar television, 23 June 1999; "Video Selection List: CAU 99-026," FBIS Document FTS19990709000270.
Interfax-Kazakhstan, 30 June 1999; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 30 June 1999; in "Kazakhstan Nuclear Institute's Lost Tank Turns Up at Distillery," Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, www.web.lexis-nexis.com.
[2] Khabar television, 24 June 1999; "Video Selection List: CAU 99-027," FBIS Document FTS19990707000330.
[3] Interfax-Kazakhstan, 30 June 1999; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 30 June 1999; in "Kazakhstan Nuclear Institute's Lost Tank Turns Up at Distillery," Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, www.web.lexis-nexis.com.

9/14-17/98: CONVERSION OF THE VVR-K RESEARCH REACTOR
While discussing conversion of the Institute of Atomic Energy's VVR-K research reactor, the authors of a presentation at the 2nd International Conference on Non-Proliferation Problems held from 14-17 September 1998 noted the need to alleviate budgetary problems and to bolster government support for the project. The government of Japan financed ISTC project K-012, which allowed the reactor to restart after a nine-year shutdown. A number of joint research projects were proposed to support the facility, including a study of reactor safety in seismic areas, design of dry storage vaults for spent fuel in seismic areas, development of procedures for disposal of highly radioactive waste in seismic areas, and development of a continuous seismic monitoring system for the VVR-K reactor. Researchers have attempted to manufacture medical isotopes at the facility but need additional funds for technical changes necessary to do so.
Sources
Zh. Zhotabayev, "Conversion at the Research Reactor WWR-K." Paper presented at the 2nd International Conference on Non-Proliferation Problems, Kurchatov, Kazakhstan, 14-17 September 1998.

2/25/98: JAPAN DONATES EQUIPMENT TO INSTITUTE OF NUCLEAR PHYSICS
The government of Japan has donated scientific and medical research equipment worth $1 million to the Institute of Nuclear Physics as part of a collaboration on denuclearization the two countries initiated in March 1994. The donation included electron spin resonance (ESR) equipment and instruments for measuring radiation in soil and in animals' teeth. At a ceremony to mark the official transfer of equipment held in Almaty on 25 February 1998, Sergey Pivovarov, manager of the Institute's magnetic resonance laboratory, said that the equipment would be useful for studying the full effects of nuclear testing in Kazakhstan.
Sources
Oleg Khye, "Pravitelstvo Yaponii peredalo kazakhstanskomu Institutu yadernoi fiziki oborudovaniye dlya radioekologicheskikh issledovaniy," Panorama, 28 February 1998.

1/98: VVR-K REACTOR AT ALATAU BROUGHT BACK ON LINE
In January 1998, the VVR-K nuclear research reactor began producing energy. Four kilograms of U-235 have been placed in the reactor core. Another three kilograms of fuel will be required to bring the reactor up to its projected operating level. [1] The Kazakhstani Atomic Energy Agency granted permission to resume operations at the VVR-K reactor in Alatau in December 1997. A commission including representatives from the Ministry of Science, the Ministry of Ecology, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Nuclear Center, and other organizations made the final decision. The VVR-K reactor, which is located only about 30km from Almaty, was shut down in 1989 in accordance with seismic safety requirements. After retrofitting and upgrades, the reactor core can now withstand an earthquake of up to 9 or 10 points on the Richter scale without emitting radioactivity, according to Sergey Krechetov, Deputy General Director of the KAEA. [2]
Sources
[1] "Experimental reactor Brought up to 'Energy-Producing Level'," Rossiyskaya gazeta, 17 January, 1998, p. 1; in FBIS-SOV-98-021, 21 January 1998.
[2] "Agenstvo po atomnoy energii Kazakhsatana razreshilo pusk issledovatelskogo yadernogo reaktora v 30 km ot Moskvy," Panorama, 5 December 1997, p. 10.

7/97: NONDESTRUCTIVE ASSAY ENHANCES MPC&A AT ALATAU AND KURCHATOV
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has provided nondestructive assay techniques and systems to upgrade material protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) at the Institute of Atomic Energy facilities at Kurchatov and Alatau. MPC&A equipment has been delivered to Kurchatov and Alatau, and activities at these facilities are essentially complete. However, the United States still needs to provide on-site training for gamma spectroscopy systems at these two sites, and some follow-up is predicted as the sites adjust to new equipment and procedures. The sites require calibration materials, which will be provided by New Brunswick Laboratory after Kazakhstani regulatory approval.
Sources
J.K. Sprinkle et al., "Application of Nondestructive Assay Techniques in Kazakhstan," paper presented at the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management 38th Annual Meeting, Phoenix, Arizona, 20-24 July 1997.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.