IGR Nuclear Reactor Complex

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Last Updated: May 13, 2014
Location: North central portion of the Semipalatinsk Test Site
Subordinate To: National Nuclear Center
Size: 500 by 800 meters
Facility Status: Operational
  • Administration: Operator: Institute of Atomic Energy, National Nuclear Center. Formerly operated by a branch of NPO Luch based in Podolsk, Russia. [1]
  • Fissile Material: 7 kilograms of fresh fuel stored at the IGR Complex. [2]
  • Reactor: IGR (Impulse Graphite Reactor), Type: Pulsed (Tank WWR) [3]
  • Power: The reactor runs at 1GW in steady mode and 10GW in pulsed mode. [4]
  • Fuel: The IGW reactor core contains 10.06258kg of 90% enriched fuel (9.05632kg of U-235). Fuel is made from uranium-graphite blocks. Graphite blocks are placed in a uranium solution, and the uranium is gradually absorbed into the graphite. [5]
  • Status: Operational
  • MPC&A: Under the DOE MPC&A program, U.S. specialists provided the IGR Reactor Complex with AIMAS software and worked with facility software engineers to customize the code to meet facility requirements. This customization supported electronic reporting to the National Nuclear Center and IAEA and facilitated the internal transfer of materials between the IGR and Baykal complexes. According to the US Department of Energy, all MPC&A upgrades were completed. The site was commissioned on 13 September 1997. [6]
  • Spent Fuel: Seven kilograms of spent fuel has been stored since the reactor was modernized in 1966. It is located in a separate building, together with 7kg of fresh fuel. [7]

The complex is about 500 by 800 meters, and is surrounded by a double fenced topped by barbed wire. A guard force from the Ministry of Internal Affairs guards the perimeter and buildings within the complex. As of September 1997, about 100 people are working at the IGR complex, 30 of whom are scientists. The reactor was first brought into operation in 1960 and was initially built to study nuclear reactor accidents. The reactor was designed by the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow and constructed by NIKIET and VNIPIET. The reactor was designed to run for about one year, after which a major accident was to be simulated and the reactor destroyed in the accident. IGR's location was chosen so that the simulated accident would take place far from any populated area. However, during the first year of operation it was noted that in the simulation of minor accidents the characteristics of the reactor were such that even fairly major accidents could be simulated without destroying the reactor. Therefore, it was decided to keep the IGR in operation.

The IGR can be run according to three regimes: regular, irregular, and combined. The reactor will most likely be able to run until the end of its service life on the existing fuel. In addition, 7 kg of fresh fuel is stored at the reactor site. Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the reactor was used for conducting military-related experiments (linked to the rocket engine program), experiments on nuclear accidents, and biological experiments on animals (to examine the effects of high radiation levels). The radiation level in the core can reach 15 megarads. The IGR reactor simulated an accident very similar to that at Chernobyl long before the Chernobyl accident. But because the IGR was a military research reactor, the results of the experiment were secret and were not shared with the civilian power sector. Until 1991, the IGR was put into operation about 120-130 times per year. Since 1991, the number of experiments and tests have significantly decreased. In 1996, the IGR was brought into operation 37 times. In the first eight months of 1997, it was used 20 times. Most experiments now are connected with nuclear reactor safety issues, although some work is conducted under the ITER project. IAEA inspections have been conducted on a regular basis since 1995. For more information, see the National Nuclear Center's description of the IGR reactor. [8]

[1] Emily Ewell, "International Conference on Nonproliferation Problems," NISNP trip report, September 1997, KAZ970900, pp. 10-12.
[2] Emily Ewell, "International Conference on Nonproliferation Problems," NISNP trip report, September 1997, KAZ970900, p. 13.
[3] Report done for NISNP by the Kazakhstan Atomic Energy Agency, 7 July 1995; Vincent Kiernan, "Americans Shop for Technology at Semipalatinsk," Space News, 30 November - 6 December 1992, pp. 24, 29.
[4] NNC official, Presentation on the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan, CNS Seminar for Journalists, Almaty, Kazakhstan, 8-9 June 2001.
[5] Emily Ewell, "International Conference on Nonproliferation Problems," NISNP trip report, September 1997, KAZ970900, p. 13.
[6] US General Accounting Office, "Nuclear Nonproliferation: Limited Progress in Improving Nuclear Material Security in Russia and the Newly Independent States," GAO/RCED/NSIAD-00-82, GAO, www.gao.gov, 6 March 2000, p. 28.
[7] Emily Ewell, "International Conference on Nonproliferation Problems," NISNP trip report, September 1997, KAZ970900, p. 13.
[8] Emily Ewell, "International Conference on Nonproliferation Problems," NISNP trip report, September 1997, KAZ970900, pp. 13-14.

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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 2019.