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Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant

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The Obninsk reactor, built near Moscow and commissioned on June 27, 1954, was the world’s first nuclear power plant to supply electricity for civilian homes and businesses. It generated five megawatts, enough power to support two thousand homes, and established Obninsk as a center for Russian research in nuclear physics similar to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Soviet research into nuclear power began with a secret order in 1942 to conduct uranium research and accelerated after the success of the Manhattan Project in the United States. Espionage and heavy investment allowed the Soviets to catch up to American research in the field, and, by 1946, nuclear physicist Igor Kurchatov produced the country’s first sustained nuclear reaction. Two years later, the Soviets launched their first plutonium production reactor, and in August 1949, they conducted their first test of a nuclear device.

Although named Atom Mirny (“Peaceful Atom”), Obninsk was a product of the Cold War. The military rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union played out in the development of nuclear weapons, but also in the creation of nuclear energy. In just three years, Russian scientists and engineers moved the project from conception to operation. Although its capacity was small compared to modern power plants, Obninsk was a showcase for Soviet advancements in this technology and spearheaded the development of its nuclear power industry, which eventually would provide about eighteen percent of its total power output. The plant had a single water-cooled uranium-graphite channel-type reaction. It operated for forty-eight years, until it was decommissioned in 2002.