Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Chelyabinsk-70 / Snezhinsk
Russian Federal Nuclear Center
All-Russian Institute of Technical Physics (VNIITF)
N 56°04' E 60°44'

Chelyabinsk-70, currently Snezhinsk, is a home to the Russian Federal Nuclear Center - the All-Russian Institute of Technical Physics (VNIITF), Russia's one of two principal warhead design centers. (The Institute of Experimental Physics, VNIIEF, in Arzamas-16 is the other principal warhead design center.) The need for a second weapons center emerged in the early 1950s due to the rapid expansion of the Soviet nuclear weapons development program.

Chelyabinsk-70 was established on April 5, 1955 near the lake Sinara, 80 km south of Sverdlovsk (and 20 km north of Kasli). Approximately one third of Arzamas-16's personnel was moved to Chelyabinsk-70, which was initially known as Scientific Research Institute 1011 [NII-1011]. First specialists started arriving to the site in August 1955, and, already in 1957, a thermonuclear device, which was designed with participation of experts from Chelyabinsk-70, was successfully tested. The existence of the Institute and the city had not been made public until 1992.

The primary mission of VNIITF is designing nuclear weapons and providing scientific support to nuclear weapons throughout their life-cycle. The Institute is responsible for all gravity bombs and SLBM warheads as well as for numerous other types of strategic and tactical weapons. It also was the primary designer of peaceful nuclear explosive devices.

The Research Institute of Technical Physics, was founded in 1955 in Snezhinsk, Chelyabinsk Region, in the Urals to provide a redundant nuclear facility in case of war, and to create a competitive environment and accelerate nuclear arms development. It was in October 1961, when the first «product» developed and manufactured by the new institute was tested. Later it was used in nuclear aviation bombs which were in service with the Soviet Air Force for a long time. In the 1960s, the Center launched R&D to miniaturize and improve reliability of the systems. The Air Force tactical units began receiving new, smaller nuclear bombs, which could be carried by supersonic fighters and attack aircraft. Nuclear depth charges were also developed for use against submarines, including those operating under the ice cap. VNIITF was mainly involved in developing strategic systems for the Navy; cruise missiles, aviation bombs and artillery projectiles. This Institute developed and manufactured the smallest nuclear charge for the 152mm artillery projectile, the lightest ICBM warhead; and the most economical (in terms of the weight of fissile material) nuclear charge. In the field of non-nuclear munitions, over 20 R&D projects were completed to produce warheads for SAMs, ASMs and antimissile missiles. A series of special-purpose variable-yield nuclear charges were developed. They were compact and left a small quantity of residual tritium after detonation. These charges were used for extinguishing fires at oil and gas deposits, producing underground cavities and gathering mains, as well as for deep geological survey.

The Institute has extensive theoretical and experimental capabilities for designing and non-nuclear testing of nuclear weapons. The State Plants No. 1 and No. 2 are capable of manufacturing experimental and pilot units of nuclear warheads.

In 1998, the population of Chelyabinsk-70 was 48,000. Of them, approximately 11,000 work in the Institute, a 25-percent reduction from the Cold War level. Additional reductions are expected in the future. During the Soviet period, VNIITF didn't proactively attract people from outside. Much of its workforce was drawn from the local "secret city" educational stream. To round out its talent pool, the lab would send a list of skills it required to a central planning bureau, which would in turn see to it that the slots were filled by the cream of the crop from the nation's technical schools.

The Chelyabinsk-70 restricted area is a rectangular area measuring 6 by 10 km. The fence encloses both the Snezhinsk township and most of VNIITF's facilities, including Site 20 6 km west of the town. The VNIITF main site is approximately 2 km south of Snezhinsk. The Institute's headquarters are located in Snezhinsk. There are extensive facilities for conducting high-explosives experiments.

Reports in the Russian media claimed in 1997 that a presidential decree had been drafted under which Arzamas-16 would take over a test site on Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic where Soviet nuclear tests used to be carried out, and Chelyabinsk-70 would be closed down. However in February 1998 Russian Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhaylov denounced plans to merge Arzamas-16 and Chelyabinsk-70. Mikhaylov was reported as saying the move "would be a momentous stupidity harming the country's defence potential".

VNIITF joined the Russian-American Laboratory-to- Laboratory program early in 1995, and has subsequently become one of the principal Russian institutes working in the program. The main initial focus of the laboratory-to-laboratory cooperation has been to design and implement nuclear materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) enhancements at a physics research site known as the Pulsed Reactor Research Facility. It has several critical assemblies that use highly enriched uranium, in various forms. Plans for MPC&A improvements had been developed by VNIITF specialists starting several years ago, but implementation was slow because of budgetary constraints. One of the first concrete results from the Laboratory-to-Laboratory cooperation was the installation of pedestrian monitors at the entrance to the site in June 1995. A vehicle monitor was installed in the Fall. Operating experience with this equipment has been favorable, and additional portal monitors will now be deployed this year across several other VNIITF sites. Also to be completed in 1996 are MPC&A enhancements at the Pulsed Reactor Research Facility.

In early 1997 Chelyabinsk-70 boasted about its import of a U.S.-made supercomputer, thus setting off a U.S. criminal investigation and attempts in Congress to reverse Clinton administration decisions that relaxed computer export controls. 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. Silicon Graphics sold supercomputers to the Russian nuclear weapons laboratory Chelyabinsk-70 without bothering to apply for a Commerce Department export license. Silicon Graphics said it thought the end user, the Chelyabinsk-70 physics research laboratory, wanted to use the devices for environmental research.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has listed Chelyabinsk-70 as engaging in weapons proliferation and has required U.S. companies to inquire about whether to submit license applications for all exports to these destinations. This addition to what Commerce calls the Entity List were published June 30, 1997 in a Federal Register notice.

The Russian Federal Nuclear Center is marketing to qualified recipients a range of technical products and services related to nuclear engineering, nuclear isotope production, explosives, supercomputing, high temperature processes, computer modeling, and advanced research in physics. Barter arrangements relating to environmental cleanup are also of interest.

Regional Context

Chelyabinsk Oblast is a highly-industrialized region that was almost entirely closed to foreigners for fifty years. The oblast has three major population centers -- the capital, Chelyabinsk (pop. 1.2million), Magnitogorsk (pop. 1 million), and Miass (pop. 300,000). The oblast is located one thousand miles east of Moscow in the heart of the Ural mountain chain. Chelyabinsk and Miass are on the main line of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

The Makeyev Rocketry Center in Miass was the principle supplier of strategic ballistic missiles to the Russian submarine forces. The firm operates unique test facilities for hydraulic, acceleration, sonic boom, and vacuum testing.

Magnitogorsk is situated amidst one of the largest and richest deposits of iron ore in the world. : Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Kombinat (MMK) is believed to be the largest steel plant in the world. It consists of four major production lines with a fifth line under construction (a 600 million dollar investment). The firm was a showplace during the Stalin era and is now systematically modernizing its production facilities.

Imagery Evaluation Report

As of 07 October 2000, the Space Imaging Carterra Archive had five images of this area, of which two were cloud free.


Sources and Methods




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