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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Penza-19 / Zarechny
Production Association "Start"
N 5312' E 4512'

The closed city of Penza-19, currently Zarechny, was established on July 20, 1954 as a site for a serial production facility to manufacture electronic and automatic components of nuclear warheads. The construction began in April 1955 and the plant produced its first output in 1958.

In the 1960s, the plant was renamed the Penza Device-Building Plant. Later, on its basis, the Production Association "Start" was established. In addition to the Device-Building Plant, the "Start" complex includes the Kuznetsk Machine-Building Plant producing specialized equipment for the warhead production complex. Penza-19 is also a home to the Institute of Radio and Electronic Equipment (NIKIRET). NIKIRET is a branch of the Moscow-based Association Eleron, Minatom's leading designer of physical security equipment.

At present, "Start" manufactures detonation systems, permissive-action link devices, and other electro-mechanical and electronic components and subassemblies of nuclear weapons. In addition, the facility produces physical protection equipment and automated instrumentation and control systems.

The town of Penza-19 is located less than 20 kilometers east of Penza. Its population is 64,000. Of them, approximately 10,000 work at the Start complex.

The main production area is located east of the residential area. Approximately 3 km south-west of the main plant area is a complex of blast-resistant, bermed structures. Further to the south is a large fenced area containing what appears to be storage bunkers for chemical high-explosives. The presence of bermed structures and HE bunkers indicate the possibility of Penza-19'a involvement in operations with warheads and their components.

Regional Context

Penza is about ten hours southeast of Moscow by car. It is in the center of a broad, yet poor, farming region, where many farmers still use horse carts for transportation. Penza oblast's 43,000 square kilometers include 10 other smaller cities, and more than 1,500 villages. Penza itself is like a giant rural village, mainly made of old wooden homes, with a few Soviet-era government buildings and factories scattered around it or placed near its center. Sheep and goats owned by city residents sometimes wander onto the broad, modern walkways of the city's central park along the river. On the outskirts of the city, rows of modern style dachas are under construction.

Penza is known for its watches and bicycles, which it exports around the world. Much of the population is employed in machinery building, metal-working, and electric energy production. Penza's leading employer is the ZIF Bicycle Factory.

As of 1995, with the exception of the ZIF Bicycle Factory, most of Penza's old factories were working at far less than full capacity, and many Penza workers had gone unpaid for months. Most of Penza's industrial workers made only 25 dollars per month when they were paid, yet people appeared to be well-nourished, well-dressed, and content. Despite the industrial recession, there is considerable wealth in Penza, demonstrated by the extensive building of new dachas on the outskirts, and the striking success of Tarhany Bank in attracting large deposits from more than 30,000 local customers. This paradox is probably best explained by two factors: the extensive social services provided by Penza's factories and the region's rich farm land. Even when Penza's factories were not paying their workers, the factories extensive social services -- doctors, cafeterias, day care centers, sports centers -- still operated. Most Penza families, even in the city center, own small plots of land, where they raised vegetables and raise farm animals.

Imagery Evaluation Report

As of 07 October 2000, the Space Imaging Carterra Archive had three images of this area, of which one was cloud-free.

Sources and Methods

  • Thomas Cochrane, William Arkin, Robert Norris and Jeffrey Sands, Soviet Nuclear Weapons Nuclear Weapons Databook Volume IV, Natural Resources Defense Council [New York, Harper & Row, 1989].
  • Thomas Cochrane, Robert Norris and Oleg Bukharin, Making the Bomb - From Stalin to Yeltsin [Boulder, Westview Press, 1995]


  • Penza-19 Zarechnyy 2000/06/12 2000061208022420000011607086

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