Loss of intelligence

3 September 2003

The Nuclear Society of Russia's (NSR's) 14th Annual Scientific and Technical Conference held in July at Kalinin nuclear power plant in the city of Udomlya revealed a growing concern among nuclear scientists at the continued closure of experimental facilities and loss of manpower.

Speakers expressed real concern at the loss of facilities and expertise that had occurred over the past decade. For example, research reactors have closed at major institutes such as the Kurchatov, the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering (Obninsk) and the Russia Institute of Design and Power Engineering (NIKIET). The brain drain to industry continues, exacerbated by the difficulty in attracting young people into nuclear science. This has meant that even those institutes that still have a large number of operational facilities, such as the Russian Institute of Atomic Reactors (RIAR) in Dimitrovgrad, are facing manpower problems. RIAR director professor Alexei Grachev noted that experimental capabilities were deteriorating although they were a vital tool to ensure power plant safety. He also expressed concern that reactor development was proceeding separately from fuel cycle development. "For example, we are now building the BN-800 fast reactor but we have no fuel for this," he said.

Addressing the final plenary session of the conference, professor Valentin Ivanov, scientific adviser to RIAR and a former first deputy atomic energy minister, noted that there were not many specialists left at the Kurchatov or at RIAR that knew about spent fuel handling. He added that Minatom used to be a technological ministry with expertise in all fields, but this was no longer the case which made proper co-ordination difficult. "Co-ordination without knowledge is not possible," he said.

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