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Dawn of the Soviet Nuclear Propulsion System Program

By Bruce Rule - Nov 4, 2014

In the late 1960s, the writer spent a lot of time trying to tie Soviet work on German WWII submarine designs with the Soviet nuclear submarine program including the opportunity to interview Helmet Walther who pioneered closed-cycle systems such as the German Type XXVI.

The article below indicates the Soviet nuclear program was independent (isolated from) of the Soviet closed-cycle efforts.

The Development of a Russian Nuclear-Propelled Fleet

During the late 1950s, Russia started the development of nuclear-propelled ships for both naval and civilian applications. The naval ships were initially nuclear submarines, later followed by missile cruisers and a command ship. The civilian ships were icebreakers and an icebreaking freighter to assist with shipping along the country’s northern Arctic coast.


The start was a slow one. As early as 1948 the Russian director for Institute for Problems in Physics, Academician Anatoli Aleksandrov, wanted to see a nuclear-propulsion project established. However, Stalin’s right-hand man, Beria, said that nothing was to be done, as described in [Kotcher], until a nuclear bomb had been built. The bomb was finally ready, and on September 9, 1952, work on a submarine using a nuclear-propulsion reactor was officially initiated by the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union [Demjanovski]. Six years later, the first Russian nuclear submarine was commissioned, and at 10.03 in the morning of July 4, 1958, the November-class attack submarine K-3 Leninsky Komsomol, containing two 70 MWt pressurized water reactors (PWR) initiated its first trip as part of the Russian Navy.