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National Research Center Kurchatov Institute

  • Location
    Kurchatov, Kursk Oblast
  • Type
    Nuclear-Research and Development
  • Facility Status
    Operational

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Established in 1943 as Laboratory No. 2 of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Kurchatov was tasked with the development of nuclear weapons. Since the 1950s, the Institute also has worked on peaceful nuclear energy technologies. It has designed reactors for military and civilian naval and space applications, developed microelectronics, and also created Russia’s internet. 1 Designated a national research center in 1991, the Institute is also one of the four organizations comprising the pilot cooperation project at the National Research Center Kurchatov Institute, established in 2009. 2

The Institute is focused on the study of thermonuclear fusion, plasma physics, solid state physics, and superconductivity. One of its newest projects is nanotechnology; the Kurchatov Institute is designated as the lead implementing research organization for Russia’s national research and development strategy in this area. 3

There are 5 operational research reactors and 9 critical assemblies on site at Kurchatov, all of which are powered by highly-enriched uranium fuel (HEU). 4 For an overview of Russia’s HEU policy and the full list of Russia’s facilities using HEU, see the Russia Civilian HEU profile.

The Institute has participated in materials protection, control, and accounting programs focused primarily on physical security. 5 Conversion to low-enriched uranium of some of these facilities is anticipated.

Glossary

Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon: A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving fission, or fission and fusion, of atomic nuclei. Such weapons are also sometimes referred to as atomic bombs (a fission-based weapon); or boosted fission weapons (a fission-based weapon deriving a slightly higher yield from a small fusion reaction); or hydrogen bombs/thermonuclear weapons (a weapon deriving a significant portion of its energy from fusion reactions).
Thermonuclear weapon
Thermonuclear weapon: A nuclear weapon in which the fusion of light nuclei, such as deuterium and tritium, leads to a significantly higher explosive yield than in a regular fission weapon. Thermonuclear weapons are sometimes referred to as staged weapons, because the initial fission reaction (the first stage) creates the condition under which the thermonuclear reaction can occur (the second stage). Also archaically referred to as a hydrogen bomb.
Research reactor
Research reactor: Small fission reactors designed to produce neutrons for a variety of purposes, including scientific research, training, and medical isotope production. Unlike commercial power reactors, they are not designed to generate power.
Critical
Critical: A state where the number of neutrons in each period of time, or generation, remains constant. When a nuclear reactor is “steady-state,” or operating at normal power levels for extended periods of time, it is in this state.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
Low enriched uranium (LEU)
Low enriched uranium (LEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of the isotope U-235 that is higher than that found in natural uranium but lower than 20% LEU (usually 3 to 5%). LEU is used as fuel for many nuclear reactor designs.

Sources

  1. “О Центре - Курчатовский институт” About the Center – Kurchatov Center, Национальный исследовательский центр “Курчатовский институт” National Research Center “Kurchatov Institute,” www.nrcki.ru.
  2. “О Центре - Курчатовский институт” About the Center – Kurchatov Center, Национальный исследовательский центр “Курчатовский институт” National Research Center “Kurchatov Institute,” www.nrcki.ru.
  3. “О Центре - Курчатовский институт” About the Center – Kurchatov Center, Национальный исследовательский центр “Курчатовский институт” National Research Center “Kurchatov Institute,” www.nrcki.ru.
  4. “Research Reactors: Russia,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, www.fissilematerials.org.
  5. “Protection, Control and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs-Workshop Summary,” National Research Council of the National Academies, 2006, p. 46.

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