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Energy of the Russian Federation (Minatom) has expressed intent to downsize this large complex over the coming years. The reasons for this planned downsizing include the sharp reduction in warhead needs a decade after the end of the “cold war,” the sharp corresponding downsizing of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, the high cost of maintaining the Russian complex at its current size, and the world security interest in nonproliferation efforts.

The Russian nuclear weapons complex has the largest quantity of weapons-usable material in the world. It also has the largest concentration of weapons of mass destruction in the world. The nuclear cities as a group have more than 700,000 residents. Alternative employment will be needed for up to 40,000 workers over the near term, since they will no longer be needed to support the Russian defense mission.

There are 10 closed nuclear cities in the weapons complex, including the NCI pilot cities of Sarov, Zheleznogorsk, and Snezhinsk. A number of additional cities that have supported the weapons complex are open, including Obninsk, or semirestricted, including Zarechny. These cities have populations of up to 100,000. Sarov includes a weapons design institute, VNIIEF (the All-Russian Scientific-Research Institute of Experimental Physics); a weapons assembly/disassembly plant, Avangard; and plutonium storage facilities. Minatom has announced plans to end weapons assembly/disassembly activities at Avangard over the next few years. Zheleznogorsk is a plutonium production, reprocessing, and storage site, with one remaining reactor that serves to provide heat and electricity to the city. Minatom has plans to shut down the last reactor in a few years, once a replacement utility plant has been built to supply steam and electricity to the city. Snezhinsk is home to a weapons design institute, VNIITF (the All-Russian Scientific-Research Institute of Technical Physics), as well as plutonium and highly enriched uranium storage facilities, and may have a reduced defense mission compared with earlier years.


The Nuclear Cities Initiative is a nonproliferation program within the National Nuclear Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy. The purpose of NCI is to enhance U.S. and global security by supporting weapons complex reduction in Russian nuclear cities. NCI works in cooperation with Minatom to redirect functions and equipment in the weapons complex; reduce the physical footprint; and create sustainable, alternative nonweapons work within a functioning city economy.

Strategies to accomplish these goals include

  • creating jointly developed city plans for accelerated downsizing of the Russian nuclear weapons complex

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