World’s first nuclear reactor

Print edition : March 30, 2018

The facade of the building housing the world's first nuclear reactor, at Obilinsk. It was in operation from 1954 to 2002. Photo: By Special Arrangement

THE world’s first nuclear power reactor, situated in the Russian town of Obininsk, about 110 km from Moscow, has a quaint charm. Its facade looks like that of an apartment block with its usual windows; the equipment is located 17.5 metres below the ground level; a rotary dial telephone is used in the control room; and the underground spent fuel storage bay is virtually a massive pool of water.

On November 20, 2017, when a team of reporters from India visited the Obininsk Nuclear Power Plant, it was difficult to believe that the reactor had been decommissioned. For everything in the reactor building was in place and the control room looked as if the reactor was functional. “We have made a museum out of the reactor. We have preserved all the equipment and components of the reactor as they were. The control room was used to monitor the situation in all rooms of the nuclear power plant,” said an official who worked in the plant.

The Obininsk Nuclear Power Plant with a capacity of 5 MWe, commissioned on June 27, 1954, is the world’s first nuclear power plant to supply electricity to civilian homes and business premises. It was the first grid-connected nuclear power reactor that generated commercial electricity, albeit on a small scale. It used uranium molybdenum as fuel. While light water was the coolant, graphite was the moderator. It had 128 fuel assemblies.

The plant was located at the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering, Obininsk. It remained in operation for 48 years, from 1954 to 2002, although generation of electricity for the grid ceased in 1959. Thereafter, it was used as a research reactor and a facility for producing isotopes for medical applications.

All through its run, it met with no serious accidents, said Obininsk reactor officials. The reactor was decommissioned in 2002. “The Obininsk Nuclear Power Plant has been a memorial complex since 2002. But it is a wonderful source of information about nuclear industry development in Russia,” another official said.

“We are now working on the development of a reactor which will be a combination of the technologies of a breeder reactor and a traditional reactor. It will lead to less generation of spent fuel. It is in project stage,” he added.

T.S. Subramanian

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