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Zababakhin All-Russian Scientific Research Institute for Technical Physics (VNIITF)

  • Location
    Snezhinsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast
  • Type
    Missile-Production
  • Facility Status
    Operational

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Founded in 1955 in the area that later became Russia‘s closed city of Chelyabinsk-70, VNIITF designed and fabricated experimental and prototype nuclear warheads for the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Though much of its work was carried out in competition with VNIIEF (the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute for Experimental Physics), VNIITF primarily developed warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and artillery shells. 1 VNIITF’s work focused on miniaturization of systems, an increase in their effectiveness, and the improvement of their technical characteristics. 2 The institute also actively participated in the Soviet Union’s extensive “peaceful nuclear explosions” program. 3

Today, VNIITF designs nuclear warheads, provides stockpile support, and engages in fundamental and applied research. Researchers at VNIITF simulate various aspects of nuclear explosions, including using pulsed reactors, lasers, and shock wave generators. The site also manages projects related to eco-friendly power facilities, nuclear energy safety and spent fuel management, spent fuel transportation and storage, conventional warhead dismantlement, nuclear medicine, and Materials Protection, Control, & Accounting (MPC&A). 4 The Institute also has a critical assembly and four operational research reactors, all of which are pulsed reactors used in weapons research and powered by highly-enriched uranium (HEU). 5 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 a long history of international cooperation. VNIITF personnel advised on U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms control talks and coordinated with U.S. counterparts in the 1988 U.S.-Soviet Joint Verification Experiment. 6 Beginning in 1995, VNIITF participated in the U.S. Department of Energy MPC&A program. 7 It also took part in International Science & Technology Center Programs and the Nuclear Cities Initiative. Today, VNIITF cooperates with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and China, and also has projects with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Organization for Nuclear Research. 8

Glossary

Submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)
SLBM: A ballistic missile that is carried on and launched from a submarine.
Cruise missile
An unmanned self-propelled guided vehicle that sustains flight through aerodynamic lift for most of its flight path. There are subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles currently deployed in conventional and nuclear arsenals, while conventional hypersonic cruise missiles are currently in development. These can be launched from the air, submarines, or the ground. Although they carry smaller payloads, travel at slower speeds, and cover lesser ranges than ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can be programmed to travel along customized flight paths and to evade missile defense systems.
Pulsed reactor
A type of research reactor with which repeated short, intense surges of power and radiation can be produced. The neutron flux during each surge is much higher than could be tolerated during steady-state operation. Pulsed reactors generally use large quantities of HEU fuel to achieve this high level of neutron flux, and could be difficult to convert from HEU to LEU fuel. However, these reactors are generally used for defense, not civilian, purposes and would thus not be covered by a civilian ban. 
Nuclear energy
Nuclear energy: The energy liberated by a nuclear reaction (fission or fusion), or by radioactive decay.
Spent nuclear fuel
Spent nuclear fuel: Irradiated nuclear fuel. Once irradiated, nuclear fuel is highly radioactive and extremely physically hot, necessitating special remote handling. Fuel is considered “self protecting” if it is sufficiently radioactive that those who might seek to divert it would not be able to handle it directly without suffering acute radiation exposure.
Dismantlement
Dismantlement: Taking apart a weapon, facility, or other item so that it is no longer functional.
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.
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.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.

Sources

  1. “Знаменательные даты в истории ФГУП РФЯЦ-ВНИИТФ” Notable dates in the history of FGUP RFNTs-VNIITF, РФЯЦ – ВНИИТФ RFIaTs – VNIITF, www.vniitf.ru.
  2. “Сделано в Снежинске” Made in Snezhinsk, РФЯЦ – ВНИИТФ RFIaTs – VNIITF, www.vniitf.ru.
  3. “Мирные взрывы” Peaceful explosions, РФЯЦ – ВНИИТФ RFIaTs – VNIITF, www.vniitf.ru.
  4. “Технологии” Technologies, РФЯЦ – ВНИИТФ RFIaTs – VNIITF, www.vniitf.ru.
  5. “Research Reactors: Russia,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, www.fissilematerials.org.
  6. “Международное сотрудничество” International cooperation, РФЯЦ – ВНИИТФ RFIaTs – VNIITF, www.vniitf.ru.
  7. Matthew Bunn, Oleg Bukharin, and Kenneth N. Luongo, Renewing the Partnership: Recommendations for Accelerated Action to Secure Nuclear Material in the Former Soviet Union, Princeton, NJ: Report for Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, August 2000, p. 76.
  8. “Международное сотрудничество” International cooperation, РФЯЦ – ВНИИТФ RFIaTs – VNIITF, www.vniitf.ru.

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