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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Arzamas-16 / Sarov
"The Installation"
Russian Federal Nuclear Center
All-Russian Scientific and Research Institute of Experimental Physics (VNIIEF)
N 5449' E 4322'

Arzamas-16, currently Sarov, was established on April 13, 1946 as a home to the Design Bureau No. 11 (KB-11), currently the Russian Federal Nuclear Center - the All-Russian Scientific and Research Institute of Experimental Physics (VNIIEF, also known as Arzamas-16), Russia first nuclear weapons design center. It is the unnamed "Installation" of Nobel Peace Laureate Andre Sakharov's biography, responsible for the design of the first Soviet atomic and hydrogen bombs. It was inititally given several provisional names, such as Base 112, Site 550 or simply the "Site".

The KB-11 Design Bureau (now the world-renowned RFYaTs-VNIIEF) was organized in the Gorky (now Nizhni Novgorod) Region. KB-11, headed by its first director Pavel Zernov and Yuly Khariton who was its chief designer and scientific supervisor for many years, made a decisive contribution to the elimination of US nuclear armament monopoly. This center developed and manufactured the first Soviet atomic bomb RDS-1 detonated in 1949 and the first Soviet thermonuclear charge RDS-6S (academician Sakharov's brainchild) successfully tested in 1953.

Arzamas-16 is often referred to as the Russian Los Alamos. Some of its residents even refer to its alboratory as Los Arzamas in recognition of its close similarity to Los Alamos. In December, 1993, the Los Alamos County Council agreed to invite Sarov to be a Sister City.

The construction of KB-11's facilities began in May 1946 and its first phase was completed in the fall of 1946. General Pavel M. Zernov was appointed as the director of KB-11, and Yuli B. Khariton was the first Chief Designer. Research and design activities began in the spring of 1947. The KB-11's principal mission was to design and produce a nuclear explosive device for testing and to develop a deliverable nuclear bomb. In the summer of 1947, the security forces began to build a perimeter and access control facilities around the closed area. The isolation of Arzamas-16 from the outside world was completed by 1948.

Arzamas-16 is located on the lands of the former Sarov Monastery, 75 km south-west of Arzamas in the Nizhegorod region, approximately 400 km from Moscow. The old town of Sarova was known for its monastery built in 1654 on the site of a Tatar fortress abandoned in the 15th century. The monastery's most famous resident was St. Seraphin Serovsky, one of three principal saints in the Russian Orthodox church who lived from 1759 to 1833. Historically, the monastery town was called Sarov for St. Seraphim Serovsky. When the Soviet nuclear weapons program started, the town name was changed to Arzamas-60, a postal code designation to show that it was 60 km from the city of Arzamas. But the "60" was considered too sensitive, and the number was changed to "16." In 1947 the entire city of Sarov (Arzamas-16) disappeared from all official Russian maps and statistical documents. The facility has also been known Moscow-300, the town of Kremlev, and Arzamas-75. The existence of the closed administrative-territorial unit (ZATO) of Arzamas-16 had not been made public until 1994.

At present, Arzamas-16 is a home to two nuclear weapons facilities: the VNIIEF design institute and the Avangard serial warhead assembly/disassembly facility. The population of Arzamas-16 is approximately 83,000. Of them 20,000 work at the institute and 10,000 at the Avangard plant.

VNIIEF is the oldest of Russia's two principal warhead design institutes. (The second warhead design facility is the Institute of Technical Physics in Chelyabinsk-70.) The Institute is responsible for designing nuclear weapons and providing scientific support throughout nuclear weapons life-cycle. VNIIEF has an extensive theoretical and experimental capabilities, including multiple sites for conducting experiments with chemical high-explosives.

The Institute includes two pilot production facilities. The Plant No. 2 produces high-explosive components of nuclear warheads. The Plant Kommunist assembles experimental and pilot warheads and devices. These two VNIIEF's plants were the only Soviet warhead assembly facilities until 1951, when the first serial production plant Avangard was built and went into operation at Arzamas-16.

The Arzamas-16 city and research and production facilities are located within a hexagonal restricted area of 232 km2. Arzamas-16 is surrounded by an outer defensive ring 25 miles out that is carefully monitored. The city inside that ring is surrounded by a double, barbed-wire fence that is patrolled by the Russian army. Uniformed troops from the Russian Ministry of the Interior patrol the inner city. Areas that house nuclear materials are surrounded by multiple fences and walls, and the spaces between the fences are plowed and patrolled. Sensors are in place to detect unauthorized intruders.

The township of Sarov occupies 29 km2 and is located in the northern part of the restricted area, south of the airport. VNIIEF's main administration building is located near the Sarov Monastery, the symbol of Arzamas-16. There are several protected areas within the city, which are probably associated with VNIIEF. The Avangard plant is located in the western part of the restricted area. The southern part of Arzamas-16 is covered with woods and contains multiple experimental facilities and storage areas.

The town, still fenced off to the outside world, is almost totally dependent on the Russian government. The economic situation of the city continues to deteriorate. Scientists who are dependent on the struggling Russian government for financial support find that essentially all consumer goods are now priced out of their reach. For several years, there have been warnings that nuclear materials might be smuggled out of the former Soviet Union. Declining living standards combined with instances of lax security provided motives and opportunities for criminal sales of nuclear materials. For example, the Russian press reported in March 1993 that eleven kilograms of uranium 238 were stolen from the Arzamas-16 nuclear research and development centre and that local law enforcement authorities were investigating "dozens" of similar cases.

The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction bill, passed in 1991, initiated collaborations between the US and the newly independent states (NIS), principally Russia. Arzamas-16 and its counterpart Los Alamos National Laboratory have begun working together extensively on scientific collaboration. LANL has also been working with other Russian labs, including Chelyabinsk-70 and the Kurchatov Institute. The idea of Los Alamos -Russian collaboration was proposed as early as 1989. Westerners first visited Arzamas-16 in October of 1990, though there were few developments prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in December, 1991. The first of a series of visits to began in November 1991, and the directors of Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories first visited Arzamas-16 and Chelyabinsk-70 in Feburary of 1992. During the week of November 11, 1992 members of the nuclear weapons program at Los Alamos met with their Russian counterparts to work on collaborations. By the end of that week, an agreement was signed to allow for joint Los Alamos-Russian ventures.

Some of the joint experimentation with Arzamas and Los Alamos deals with the production of intense pulses of electrical current and ultrahigh magnetic fields. The results of this experiment can be used in fields such as plasma physics, high-pressure chemistry, microwave generation, astrophysics, and advanced electronics, as well as applied to help accomplish the goal of fusion power.

As one of the principal MINATOM nuclear weapon and scientific research laboratories, Arzamas-16 is a leader in Russian efforts to strengthen nuclear materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) in the MINATOM nuclear complex. The pilot project at Arzamas-16 centered on the demonstration of MPC&A methods and technologies that could be applied at sensitive nuclear facilities in the MINATOM defense complex. Nuclear experts from the U.S. laboratories and several Russian nuclear institutes will demonstrate a new system at the Russian nuclear weapons design laboratory at Arzamas-16 that will help ensure the security of weapons materials at Arzamas and other Russian nuclear facilities. Similar demonstrations are planned at other Russian institutes.

There are at least five American supercomputers in two of Russia's nuclear weapons labs: Chelyabinsk-70 and Arzamas-16. Minister Mikhailov of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy said in a speech in January 1997 that they will be used to simulate nuclear explosions, and that the computers are "10 times faster than any previously available in Russia." Four of the five supercomputers in Russia's nuclear weapons labs came from Silicon Graphics.

Regional Context

With more than 1.42 million residents, Nizhny Novgorod [formerly known as Gorky] is the third-largest city in Russia. It is located at the junction of the Oka and Volga rivers approximately 500 km northeast of Moscow. The machine-building, automotive, chemical, petrochemical, woodworking, pulp and paper, radioelectronics, shipbuilding, aerospace, pharmaceutical and construction industries represent the regional economic potential.

Until 1990, Nizhny Novgorod was a closed city, both to foreigners and to most Russians. This occurred primarily because of the city's concentration of armaments factories, as well as the presence of highly sensitive scientific and technical research and production facilities for the defense industry. Due to such a concentration, a sense of heightened local security exists in Nizhny Novgorod.

When Nizhny Novgorod was a closed city, it was designated for some of the most intense scientific and defense industry research and production in the country. As a result, the production facilities and the quality of the labor force located in this city are among some of the best in Russia. The decreasing demand for defense industry products has not only lead the way for successful defense conversion efforts, but has also opened the doors for foreign investment opportunities in the region. Some of the main sectors of activity here are aircraft production, automobile manufacture, chemical processing and manufacture, radio-electronics, shipbuilding, and wood, pulp, and paper processing.

The Nizhny Novgorod Oblast was one of the first regions to implement the Privatization Program adopted by the Russian Government. Soon the Oblast took leadership in reforms thanks to the local progressive and reform-minded administration and legislature.

Imagery Evaluation Report

As of 07 October 2000, the Space Imaging Carterra Archive had seven images of this area acquired in early 2000, of which all were unusably cloudy.


Larger Images [150-300kb]

Sources and Methods




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