Created: 4/1/1967

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The use of scientific lilctature in estimating an operational date foe the first Soviet nuclear sul/rnarine.


John A_ laindin

Published Inlormatioo canrime source ol tatelligcnce even to rrilutary^ecbnksl matters like the application, of nuclear technology to weapons. The analyst must recognire research described In the open literature at paralleling the developmentecret military project and extrapolate from the one to the other as Judiciously as possible. Collateral In form it ion from other sources is required in the process; it provides the ties or clues which permit the correlation ol seemingly unrelated Items. Yet some of this information may bo erroneous or misleading, and ft is the analyst's jab to sift out the false and reveal the truease In which the approach from tbe scientific literature was particularly successful was In estimating when the first Soviet nuclear submarine could be erpected to begin regular operation.

Rumors, Reports, Aru^ouncernents, ISS4S7

After the VS. launching of the Nautilus, tnumber of indications began to appear that the Soviets were also embarkeduclear submarine program. Some reports even bad them launching their Erst rubcoaitoen5udear icebreaker would bo built lent pUuribility to the prospectuclear submarine.

In6 Marshal Thukov, then Minister of Defense, declaredecret speech, "Our, In the near future will be equipped with atomichis was authoritative wordaval nudear propulsion program bad boon started but operational status had not beenear later the situation had apparently not changed:7 Admiral S. C. Corshkov, Commander in Chief of the Soviet Navy, said that it had no atomic submarine at that time but would in the future.

in Ihe meantime, bow ever, there were numerous clandestine reports that4 modifications were begun stt Severodvinsk to permit construction of nuclear submarines and that6 hundreds of new workers arrived at the plant Among the welter of other conflicting reports, many implied that nuclear submarines were already In existence as earlyhe problem for intelligence was thus to get firm information on the Soviet program and determine when the first unit had become or would becomo operational.

The Atomic Energy Program4

Up until the time of their Erst nuclear test,he Soviets had bent all their efforts towarduclear weapon.0 they reorganized the atomic energy program aod expanded ft to Include developmentuclear power station as well as continued work on weapons. This expansion necessitated the training of new scientific personnel, the construction of new research facilities, and the developmentupporting nuclear industry.

In4 the program bore fruit when the world's first nuclear electric power station began operation at Obninskenerating capacityegawatts. This achievement, which demonstrated the practicality of obtaining power from nuclear energy, had required concentrated research lo an experimental reactor. The production of high-pressure steam to drive the turbogeneratorsower plant called for fuel elements wbich could operate at temperatureshigher than those In the reactors the Soviets bad built for plutonium production. To develop this new type of fuelesearch "Reactor Physical Technical* (RPT) was constructed at I. V. Kurchatov's Laboratory of Precise Measurements, now called the Institute of Atomic Energy.

The RPT began operation In2 and was brought up to full power in December, when the first experimental loop, or test channel, was ready to test fuel elements for power reactors cooled and moderated by water under high pressure. Later on, aboutwo additional loops were put into service, one to test structural elements for water-cooled reactors and the other to test fuel elements cooled by liquid metal Still later,wo more loops were put Into operation testing fuel dements for power reactors with air and water coobng. During this period RPT had to be shut down several tiroes, not only to Install the new loops and replace expert*

mental fuel elements, but also to repair breakdowns of ibe reactor itself.

Until4 research reactor facilities were thus fully tied up in work on the Obolnsk power reactor fuel elements. Researchuclear propulsion plant, especially the reactor portion, bad to be confined to theoretical considerations such as calculations in reactor physics to select the best kind of reactor for this purpose. Such theoretical studies on reactors cooled and moderated by water were conducted23 by A. P. AUksandrov at Kurcbatov's Laboratory. After the Obninsk reactor proved successful, experimental attention could turn to propulsion plant development, for theLenin and presumably the submarine.

FeUow Scientists Confer

6 this history of Soviet research was known in the West from sdentlfie papers and publications. It was known, too, that theplant being developed for the Lenin was to be basedressurized-water reactor. In April of thatresentation by kurchatov at Ilarwcu showed that tbe Soviets had selected uranium dioxide as the fuel for this type of reactor and were wellevelopment program.

The next important new insights into the Soviet program came from the World Power Conference held In Belgrade Int this conference S. A. Skvortsovaperew pressurired-water power reactor to be constructed at Novovorooeah. Hisshowed that its over-all design parameters were already fixed. Its uranium dioxide fuel was to be enrichedpercent content ofsotope.ew development, rircooium was to be used as the sheath or cladding to protect the fuel from tbe water; tbe Obninsk reactor bad used stainless steel.

The extent and complexity of the data indicated that the Soviets had largely completed their basic research and were now in the engineering phase of development. The Novovoronezh reactor was toarge version of the type one would expect to see used in ship propulsion plants. This information, extrapolated over to theprogram, meant that the major features of the propulsion plant had been developed and it was probably under construction. Yet there was nothing onto which one couldimetable.

Finally, al lhe Second Intranational Conference on the Peaceful Use. of Atomic Energy, held8 in Ceneva. the Sovietsarge number of papers on tbe technology of thereactor, and these contained the ley lo the time factor in their development aod construction of the nuclear submarine. Tbe controlling factor was the development and testing of the fuel element.

Fuel EUmtnt ROD

First of atL the neutron apectiuiu (the distribution of neutron speeds) for the water-cooled and -moderated system had to be workedaper bycrstovoi tt at of the Institute of Atomic Energy reviewed the study of neutron spectra In such systems; tt had been startedrom these studies the optimum spacing of the core lattice was determined, so that the fuel assembly could boaccordingly.

A paper byeJnberg et al described the mathematicalused for determining how the geometry of tbe uranium-water lattice, tbe Initial content of fissionable isotopes, and the size of the core affect the quantity of power released per unit weight of fuel (tbe degree of fuel burn uphe neutron cross sections (giving probability of interaction, for which neutron speed is critical) that be used were those worked out inhese calculations established the basic parameters for the coreressurized-water reactor using uranium dioxide as the fuel and zirconium as tbe cladding.

A paper by R. S. Ambsrtsumyan tt al recounted Soviet efforts toommercial zirconium alloy suitable for continuous Operation in water and steam at high temperatures. Specimens were tested for as long05ut tbe critical results bad been obtained at aboutoursn the course of these tests continual reference was madeaper presented by D. E. Thomas at the First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy held inhis meant that the Soviets probably began testing alloy samples Inhen the decisive results were available, fnhey could then select the best aBoy for the cladding and proceed with the next phase of the teat program, namely rn-pllc tests of fuel element

This phase was discussedecond paper by Ambartsumyan et ci. which completed the timetable key. It disclosed bow the Soviets

Red WcujIi'Iui

uel clement under the conditions of tbe proposed Lenin reactor. After the0 hours the test element was taken out and inspected, and the state of the jackets was very good.4 hours in this loop it was shiftedecond test channel closer to the axis of the reactor, where test conditions were similar to those planned for the Novovoronerh electric power reactor. Asbe prototype fuel element bad been in the second loop3 hours,otal test time as8 of moreays.


Ihe testing of the prototype element therefore began no later thanVhenhour inrpexXion in late7 found it to be in good orxtdltioo, the Soviets knew theyuel clement of satisfactory reliability. Abouthen, they could fix its design and start manufacturing. Using VS. experienceuide, ft was estimated that nine months would probably be required to produce tbe first core.8 was then the earliest the core could be loaded Into the submarine reactor. Another three to stx months would be required before ddekside trials could take place. The submarine could bave begun sea trials at the earliest In late

chedule would countormal rate of construction, allowing for no unexpected delays.ewly designedhowever. It was supposed that problems might crop up and take time being worked out,eriod of uncertainty in tho estimated schedule perhaps as longear. In that case, the first Soviet nuclear submarine would become operational byhe chronology Is rumniarlzed in the tablo on

Corttrooern/ and Ccmfa-maticm

Tins conclusion,he fallas supported by informationS. military editor wbo had visited the USSR fn September, He reported rumors that the first Soviet nuclear sulrmarine was launched ta8 and that ft was to beprecedes fitting out and tbe sbakodownthe end of the year. On the etherlandestine service report shortly thereafter stated flatly that the nuclear sulrmaitncs were In series production fn Leningrad, not Severodvinsk, and that as of9 twelve were "oo the way."



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This but reportumber of partisans in tbe fotelh'gence enaimuoity, and there was great controversyime over the validity of reasoning from open scientific htexatuxe, of deriving production rate from shipyard capacity, of depending on rumors, etc The report could possibly be interpreted to mean only that twelve nuclear submarines were planned and construction had started, but tbe Leningrad location could not be reconciled. (In the end, much later, it was learned that this Information was deception material fed to the source by the ICR.)

In the falloviet sailor who had been stationed at the

Severodvinskeported that the first nudear submarine was launched fne bad sect, it in June, Otherof his corjcernlng the shipyard and naval activities was well substantiated. He implied that the submarine began operation late that year.

At about this sameeport came in of the righting and sketchingew submarine, Pendant, inecords showed that this number had first been noted in July. This, right on schedule, was the nuclear submarine, nowlass; but it took several years to confirm the fact3 the Soviets finally published an article describing the voyage of tbe nuclear Lcninsku Kcmisornol to the North Pole, and an accompanyingshowedlass lubmarine., with the same features as bad been seen In

This case history illustrates that in countries that have limited resources and manpower devotediven technology, the scientific literature in that field reflects the progress being made Id both unclassified and secret projects. We haveituation to which clandestine reporting informed us of the existenceuclear submarine program, but it was scientific discussion of developments in pressuxized-water reactors thatorrect estimate of the Initial date of operation.


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