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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Sverdlovsk-44 / Novouralsk
Combine 813 / Urals Electrochemistry Combine
N 5717' E 6005'

Sverdlovsk-44, currently Novouralsk, was established in 1945 to produce highly-enriched uranium for the nuclear weapons program. The Urals Electrochemistry Combine (originally the Combine 813) is the oldest and largest uranium enrichment facility in Russia.

Uranium hexafluoride production technology began to be developed in the USSR in 1947. The first, relatively ineffective, fluorination processes involved uranium oxide dissolution in sulfuric acid, electrolytic uranium sulfate reduction, and hydrofluorination. In 1965, the technology of fluorination in a vertical plasma reactor was created and is still in use today. Conversional plants in Russia are located at the same sites as uranium concentration mills: in Verkhniy-Vyansk (close to Yekaterinburg) and Angarsk (30 km northwest of Irkutsk). The productivity of conversion enterprises matches that of concentration mills, and the uranium enrichment on average is 2.18%. Uranium hexafluoride is then transported to concentration mills located at Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Angarsk, and Verkhniy-Vyansk.

The enrichment facility was sited near Verkh Neivinsk, also known as Verkhniy-Vyansk, to take advantage of the existing nearby rail- and power lines, two large artificial lakes (Demidov Ponds) to provide cooling water, and a large, unfinished building of a proposed aviation plant.

The construction of the gaseous diffusion plant, D-1, began in January 1946. Its first phase was brought into operation in 1948. Because of technical difficulties, however, the production 90-percent uranium did not begin at the D-1 plant until 1950. The plant operated until 1955 when it was shut down and dismantled because of low efficiency. Three newer and larger gaseous diffusion plants - D-3, D-4 and D-5 - were brought into operation by 1953.

Sverdlovsk-44 also was USSR's pioneer of the centrifuge enrichment technology. The development of the gas diffusion concentration technology ran into serious technical difficulties, and eventually the industry management decided to attach a higher priority to the development of centrifuge technologies. A pilot-scale centrifuge plant was commissioned on 4 October 1957. The first industrial-scale centrifuge plant was built in 3 phases from 1962 to 1964. During the 1960s and 1970s, all gaseous diffusion machines were replaced by centrifuges (installed in the existing buildings). The industry has designed and put into operation five generations of centrifuge plants. Currently, machines of the sixth generation are being built and prepared for launch.

At present, uranium is enriched in four buildings (modules). The Building 0 (the original D-1 plant) is no longer used for enrichment. The Buildings 1, 2, 3 and 4 have a combined capacity of 10 million SWU/y and account for approximately 50 percent of Russia's enrichment capacity. The combine is involved in downblending HEU from weapons under the U.S.-Russian HEU agreement. Sverdlovsk-44 has a gas-operated power plant supplying energy to both the production facilities and the city. The Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Plant (located near Yekaterinburg) is another major source of electricity for the production facilities.

Sverdlovsk-44 is located in the Sverdlovsk region, approximately 40 km north-west of Yekaterinburg. Its population is 96,000. As of the early 1990s, approximately 15,000 (including support personnel and farmers) were employed at the enrichment complex.

In 1994 the US and Russia signed a 20-year $12-billion covering the purchase of 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) recovered from Russian weapons. The uranium will be blended down to low-enriched uranium (LEU) and shipped to the US for use in commercial power reactor fuel. The transparency protocols for the HEU purchase are intended to confirm for the US that the shipped material is derived from Russian weapons material, and to confirm for Russia that the LEU is not used the US weapons program. This requires access to the uranium processing facilities of both sides. US monitors are allowed access to the three principal Russian plants involved in the conversion of HEU to LEU. At the plant in Seversk, HEU metal is processed into an HEU oxide before being shipped to the electrochemical plants in Novouralsk or Zelenogorsk. In these facilities, the oxide is fluorinated and combined with a slightly enriched blending material to turn it into LEU suitable for civilian power reactor fuel. Monitoring at Seversk and Zelenogorsk is confined to periodic visits, but monitors have continuous access to the Novouralsk plant through the US Permanent Presence Office there, which Lawrence Livermore manages for DOE. At all three plants, US monitors have access to relevant documentation and accountability records.

Regional Context

Yekaterinburg, with a population of about 1.5 million people, is the capital of the Sverdlosk Region [Oblast]. In many ways the city, formerly known as Sverdlovsk, also acts as the capital of the entire Urals region. For the past century, Yekaterinburg has been a major stop on the famed Trans-Siberian Railway.

Yekaterinburg is the heir to an industrial tradition that originated in the early 1700s and continues today. The city of Yekaterinburg has a long association with military activities. During the 1720s Peter the Great developed the region as a source of raw materials for weapons production. The Tsar subsequently named the city after his wife Catherine. The city of Yekaterinburg was created to produce cannons and other heavy industrial products needed for the Tsar's military build-up. The invasion of Russia by the Germans during the second World War led to the decision to evacuate much of the Soviet Union's industrial capacity from Ukraine and western Russia to safer locations east of the Ural Mountains. This transfer of industry to cities west of the Urals caused Yekaterinburg to grow exponentially.

Yekaterinburg was a closed city until December 1991. As the first city in the Urals to "open", Yekaterinburg has taken the lead in reforming its economy and opening communications links to the outside world.

Imagery Evaluation Report

As of 07 October 2000, the Space Imaging Carterra Archive had three images of this area, all of which were rather cloudy.


Large Format Images [~250kb]



Sources and Methods




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