NUCLEAR energy has opened up entirely new opportunities for enhancing man's control of nature. It has immeasurably enlarged energy resources and has become a new source of power. Nuclear radiation and radioactive isotopes have been turned into a powerful means of developing research in every branch of science and engineering and into a practical tool in industry, biology, medicine and agriculture.

In the Soviet Union, all the achievements of nuclear physics have been placed at the service of the people. There is hardly any branch of the national economy which does not use to some extent the new materials and the new methods that have originated in the nuclear age.

The Soviet Union was the first to demonstrate the practical possibility of using the energy of nuclear fission to generate electric power. Today no one doubts that it is practical to produce electricity by this means. But the wide use of nuclear energy requires that atomic power stations should operate not only reliably and safely, but also economically. The possibilities of reliable and safe operation have been proven in practice at the first Soviet power station. On the cost side, preliminary estimates indicate that even under present conditions large atomic stations are capable of generating power at approximately the same price as thermal power stations using fuel transported from far-off sources. However, these estimates are based on a number of assumptions and must be confirmed by experience.

Nuclear power engineering is still in its infancy and has many problems to solve. The first atomic power station in the world is only five years old; and as with any growing young organism, radical changes take place in the course of development. Understandably enough, the changes are of considerable importance and occur very rapidly; and since they concern both new scientific discoveries and technical improvements they often compel revision of previous decisions and suggest new variants. The rapid progress of nuclear science and engineering, and the absence of accepted standards, forbid the fixed and unambiguous decisions that would be necessary to proceed with building large-scale atomic power stations. What types of stations will best meet the requirements of industrial operation is not yet clear. It may be stated that no country at present has any types sufficiently proven both technically and economically to enable it to develop plans for large-scale atomic power engineering.

In the Soviet Union, research in the field of atomic power engineering seeks to solve a number of both engineering and economic problems. Our country is rich in mineral fuel reserves; we have time to analyze unhurriedly the various trends in atomic power engineering thus revealed. In the coming seven-year period the increase in our power station capacity will be primarily in thermal electric power stations, which can be built much faster and more cheaply than those employing atomic power. The latter are constructed chiefly in order to check the various designs of nuclear power plants--above all, to check the reliable operation of the major units and parts of the power reactors.

Apart from the various sorts of power reactors being constructed in the Soviet Union, we are building atomic power stations in Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic jointly with experts of those countries. On the basis of the experience acquired in building and operating a variety of power reactors, we shall accumulate sufficient technical data to appraise the advantages and deficiencies of the types in question and arrive at basic economic conclusions as to their relative advantages. We shall then be able without undue risk to draw up further plans of research in this new field.

In addition to building atomic power stations, we have started construction, in accordance with the Seven-Year Plan, of a number of nuclear reactors intended for research work. The aim here is to investigate materials under conditions of irradiation.

Research in utilizing the energy of nuclear processes has been conducted chiefly in Moscow and Leningrad, but in the last few years it has also been started in other parts of the country. In 1959, a nuclear reactor for research in this field was begun at the Physical Institute of the Ukranian Academy of Sciences in Kiev. Nuclear reactors have also been built in Tbilisi (Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic) and at the Physical Institute of the Usbek Academy of Sciences in Tashkent, and reactors are also being built in the Latvian, Byelorussian and Kazakh Republics. Further, nuclear reactors are under construction at the Polytechnical Institute in Sverdlovsk (the Urals) and at the Tomsk Polytechnical Institute in Siberia to train the students of those institutes. Thus the development of research work as well as the training of highly qualified specialists in the field of atomic power engineering is assuming a wide scope.

While perfecting the techniques of experimental work, developing further research, establishing new research centers and continuing to train specialists at home, the Soviet Union also renders considerable help in this field abroad.

Since 1955 the Soviet Union has helped set up research centers in many countries for studying the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Under existing agreements, it has built a number of nuclear reactors and equipped laboratories, including such complex physical installations as cyclotrons and electrostatic generators. Thus an important research center has been set up in the Chinese People's Republic, containing a reactor with a capacity up to 10,000 kilowatts. In Czechoslovakia and Poland the research centers which have been established consist of a complex of buildings equipped with 2,000-kilowatt nuclear reactors, cyclotrons and other physical devices.

Similar centers have been set up in the German Democratic Republic as well as in Hungary and Rumania; one reactor has been built in Jugoslavia; another is under construction in Bulgaria; and a research center is being set up in the United Arab Republic. The latter is being equipped with a 2,000-kilowatt nuclear reactor and an electrostatic generator, as well as with various kinds of apparatus required for research work. In the latter part of 1959, the Soviet Union signed new agreements with the Korean People's Democratic Republic and the Republic of Iraq providing for the construction of reactors and the installation of diverse equipment.

The Soviet Union also has initiated the use of nuclear power in transportation. We have built the icebreaker Lenin, the first surface vessel propelled by a nuclear power plant. It is designed to cruise without calling at a port for a whole year.

Reclamation of the Soviet North washed by the Arctic Ocean is inconceivable without the assistance of powerful icebreakers. They are necessary to escort caravans of ships, not just along the narrow strip of coastal waters but also further north. The icebreakers at present servicing the northern sea route use conventional fuel. They waste much time refueling and are under constant threat of being icebound for lack of fuel. In a type of vessel like an icebreaker the advantages of nuclear power are manifest.

II

In the fission of uranium and plutonium nuclei, energy is released not only as heat but also as radiation. The energy of nuclear radiation can be used in various ways.

Experiments have shown that nuclear radiation has a powerful impact on various chemical processes and substances. The reactions resulting from such impacts have been termed radiation-chemical reactions. It has also been established that nuclear radiation can be used practically in a number of chemical processes, namely polymerization, oxidation of organic compounds, halogenation, cracking and many others.

Polymerization (the formation of organic compounds of high molecular weight from those of low molecular weight) is highly important in the production of many organic compounds.

Halogenation (the displacement of hydrogen atoms in the molecules of organic compounds by chlorine, fluorine, bromine or iodine) is the basis for the formation of many substances required for the production of major intermediate products to obtain various plastics and synthetic rubber.

The specific advantage of radiation polymerization is that it can be used on compounds which do not yield to polymerization by other methods. The rate of radiation polymerization is higher; it is easier to control; and it does not require the addition of foreign matter, the residues of which often deteriorate the properties of the final product.

Using the impact of nuclear radiation, it is possible to carry out the synthesis of a number of new chemical products. It is possible to "cross-link"the molecules of many organic compounds and to combine their most valuable properties in the newly derived product. A number of such materials with new properties have been obtained with polyethlyene and polysterene.

Vulcanizing some kinds of rubber by conventional methods is extremely difficult, and the quality of the final product is rather low. Radiation vulcanization of these rubbers is much simpler, and no foreign substances have to be added in the process. A product of higher and more uniform quality is obtained.

Nuclear radiation can also be applied in a number of chemical industries, for instance to bind atmospheric nitrogen and to obtain nitric acid, ammonia and cyanogen. And with the use of radioactivity it is possible to crack petroleum and to change the properties of many organic compounds.

Estimates by Soviet experts have shown that by using the radiation of the waste fuel elements at the Novovoronezh atomic power station now under construction it will be possible to vulcanize about 2,000,000 automobile tires a year or yield some 200,000 tons of polyethylene.

Thus we see that an atomic power station is not only capable of generating electricity; the accumulated waste can be an important means of carrying out chemical processes which are likely to be widely applied in the very near future. Science has opened the way for the practical utilization of nuclear radiation, and indications are that it will be a paying proposition.

It is still difficult to say what the main objective will be in utilizing the nuclear processes of fission--whether it will be to generate electricity or to make chemical products based on the use of nuclear radiation. Quite possibly electricity will be a byproduct of the radiation-chemical industry. In the Soviet Union, much attention is being devoted to research in this field.

The era we have entered is frequently called the age of nuclear energy. This is quite true. But an equally distinguishing feature of it is the ever-increasing application of automation and the mechanization of processes of production, control and regulation by means of electronics and radio engineering. Here, too, the prospects of development are almost boundless.

Radioactive isotopes are destined to play an important role in the complex mechanization and automation of industrial processes. By means of them it is possible to control the production processes of pig iron and steel--to control automatically milling, the quality of casting, and the processes of welding, to discover deposits of minerals, to determine defects in structures, etc. Radioisotopes in mines check the operation of transportation mechanisms; in chemical works they control the levels of liquids or the density of gases; in engineering mills they count the number of parts and prevent accidents. As a rule, their use leads in every industry to reduced waste, higher production rates and considerable financial savings. According to rather incomplete and inaccurate estimates, the use of radioisotopes in the Soviet Union saved, by the end of last year, two billion rubles. In the coming five or six years the savings obtained by the automatic control of production processes are expected to reach four to five billion rubles.

But the value of radioisotopes cannot be estimated only in terms of money saved by industry (very large as the sums are) or in their uses to control or regulate technological processes. Their importance is immeasurably greater. For they have introduced a revolutionary principle into many industrial enterprises, and other enterprises as well.

They have found wide application, for example, in oil prospecting and production. The Soviet atomic industry has created the conditions necessary for large-scale production of radioactive polonium and has made it possible to employ polonium-beryllium sources of radiation.

The method of neutron logging of oil wells developed in the U.S.S.R. has been put to use widely in our oil regions since 1950. In 1953, our industry started the mass-scale production of equipment for radioactive methods of logging; and in 1957, as a result, more than 25,000,000 feet of wells were explored by these methods. Today over 150 geophysical prospecting groups are employing these methods in their work. Radioisotopes have also been extensively used in oil production, chiefly in studying the technical conditions of the wells.

The use of radioactive methods in the oil industry saves considerable sums by identifying the geological sections of the wells, singling out the gas-bearing and oil-bearing strata, and perfecting the methods of observing the processes of developing oil and gas deposits. In 1958 alone the savings thus effected amounted to over 350,000,000 rubles.

Numerous observations testify to the fact that radioactive irradiation is capable of enhancing or suppressing the vital activity of many vegetables. Radioactive phosphorus placed in the soil has a beneficial effect on the growth of tomatoes and in increasing the number of flowers. It has been recorded that radioactive substances also increase the yield of peas, beans and many other agricultural crops.

Radioactivity can also be used very effectively to prolong the freshness of some vegetables. Present methods of storing vegetables are based on low temperatures; but they are not suitable for potatoes, for instance, since at a temperature lower than 41 degrees potatoes acquire a sweetish taste owing to the conversion of starch into sugar. Potatoes subjected to radioactive irradiation can be kept in ordinary non-cooled storehouses till the next harvest. A mobile installation for irradiation has been designed to service several storehouses. Investigations at the Institute of Nourishment under the U.S.S.R. Academy of Medical Sciences show that the irradiated potato is harmless and edible.

Methods of combatting agricultural pests are of great national economic significance, as shown by an inquiry conducted by the United Nations in 29 countries. It revealed that the storage loss of grain due to pests is often as high as 5 percent; and half of this is caused by insects such as granary weevils, moths and others. In individual batches of grain the losses reached 40-50 percent.

The radioactive irradiation of grain kills or sterilizes granary weevils. On the basis of work at Soviet research institutions, an experimental plant for the irradiation of grain, with a capacity of 1,100 pounds per hour, is now almost completed. The experience thus gained will be applied to the destruction of pests in all the granaries of the country.

Radioactive isotopes are finding ever-increasing application in medical practice. They are being successfully used in diagnostics, enabling the physician to determine the symptoms of many diseases at an early stage when they cannot as yet be detected by any other means.

Radioactive iodine is used in diseases of the thyroid gland, and sodium in disturbances of the blood circulation and in diseases of the vascular system. Radioactive cobalt is used in treating malignant tumors, and phosphorus is helpful in curing many forms of angioma (a variety of tumor) as well as in treating some skin diseases. By means of radioactive isotopes medical workers study the effects of drugs administered to the patient and determine the mechanism of their action.

The wide application of isotopes in biology and medicine in the Soviet Union has stimulated the development of new methods and new medical devices and apparatus. Whereas formerly the same equipment which was used in testing samples of blood or tissue also served in various biological investigations, various new types of specialized equipment have recently been developed for isotopic investigations, particularly of living organisms.

The substances introduced into a living organism are in constant motion, which may either be very fast, for instance in the case of the blood stream, or slow, for example during absorption in the stomach or during excretion by the kidneys. The motion of the substance can be studied with exactness, provided observations are made simultaneously at many points, i.e. when the picture as a whole is analyzed.

A special "radiograph" has been developed in our country for this purpose. Eight probes are placed in various sections of the organism under examination. After a tracer and a quite harmless quantity of the radioactive substance have been introduced, signals from these eight probes are recorded on a tape moving in front of the observer; they "tell," as it were, the hidden processes occurring in the patient's body. With this information the physician can form an opinion on many things--the rate of the circulation of the blood in the various sections of the organism, including the lungs; the activity of the heart; the assimilation of substances from the gastro-intestinal tract; the excretion of some substances by the kidneys and even by each kidney separately.

All these data help in establishing accurately the nature of the disease and in eliminating many diagnostic difficulties. The radiograph designed in the Soviet Union was shown at the Soviet Exhibition in New York in 1959 and won recognition.

Since the advent of nuclear energy, great attention has been given in the Soviet Union to the problem of creating controlled thermonuclear reactions.

Utilization of light nuclei synthesis energy will place at the service of man the boundless power resources contained in ocean water, thereby providing power engineering with raw materials for millions of years, even allowing for consumption of power a thousand times greater than at existing levels. The practical utilization of such processes, however, will require even greater and continuing efforts on the part of physicists and technicians.

We attach practical importance to research aimed at mastering these processes and are sparing no efforts or means to wrest one secret more from nature--the secret of how to control the energy processes underlying the existence of the entire animal and vegetable world of our planet. We believe that, following the extensive use of the energy of heavy nuclei fission, there should begin an era in which the energy of light nuclei fusion will be even more widely utilized.

III

Along with the research which the Soviet Union is carrying forward in order to expand the use of atomic energy in its own national economy it also is sharing its achievements with others.

Thus it coöperates extensively on an international plane in the peaceful uses of atomic energy. This coöperation has assumed various forms, but in every agreement signed by the Soviet Union with other countries the principle of respect for the sovereign rights of states is strictly observed. In all, the Soviet Union has bilateral agreements with 11 countries covering scientific, technical and industrial aid and coöperation.

The Soviet Union proceeds from the principle that countries receiving its aid in the peaceful uses of atomic energy should be enabled as a result to develop further research independently and should not be chained to the chariot of the country which has given them help at the start. It therefore strives to aid to the maximum the scientific research carried out in other countries; its own chief function is to supply the needed equipment and materials. It attaches particular importance to the training of national staffs.

From the very beginning, the Soviet Union expressed its wilingness to coöperate with other countries in the peaceful uses of atomic energy; and it also has helped other countries through the International Atomic Energy Agency. We regard the Agency as an organization which, as laid down in its statute, "conducts its activities in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, aimed at strengthening the peace and fostering international coöperation." In consonance with this provision we believe that coöperation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy should contribute to the strengthening of international confidence and the broadening of economic, scientific, technical and cultural ties between nations.

We have joined the Agency not to compete, but to coöperate. This coöperation should be coöperation among equals. The countries which have advanced in the peaceful uses of atomic energy should extend help to those which need it. Through the Agency the underdeveloped countries can be helped to develop their economy, to train national staffs and to advance their science and engineering. It obviously is of considerable importance that they draw their programs of scientific research properly.

Here the International Atomic Energy Agency can render substantial aid. If it would invite specialists from countries considerably advanced in the field of atomic science and engineering to work with representatives of underdeveloped countries, it could get initial programs of research and exploration under way in those countries and stimulate subsequent independent research. Through the Agency the underdeveloped countries could arrange to train their own national personnel in the educational and research institutions of countries more advanced in atomic science and engineering. The Agency also could help them set up their own centers by enlisting specialists and supplying equipment.

In the immediate future the most fruitful development in the field of atomic energy in most of the underdeveloped countries will be training staffs and setting up national educational and scientific centers to begin training needed specialists. The most rational course would be to emphasize training in the use of radioactive isotopes, above all for diagnostics and the treatment of diseases and also for combatting agricultural pests.

But the Agency's usefulness will not be limited to underdeveloped countries; it also can serve countries which are far advanced in peaceful uses of atomic energy--that is, all its own members.

In the first place, they will profit from a well organized exchange of scientific and technical information. This will do away with unnecessary duplication in scientific work, reduce expenditures on research and speed up the solution of scientific problems. Scientific information can be exchanged in various ways. Of great importance is the rapid exchange of scientific and technical publications, the calling of conferences on major scientific and engineering problems, and the discussion of plans for new investigations and projects. Finally, highly developed countries could work jointly on problems of modern physical science and engineering which are too intricate and costly for any single country.

Mankind is faced with urgent and most complex problems which are beyond solution not simply by a single person but sometimes even by a large body of scientists. The lone scientist no longer exists; only large bodies can solve scientific problems. The present-day research institute is a vast and intricate complex, equipped with diverse and complicated devices and employing experts in several different specialties. Sometimes it is difficult to find all the necessary things for the solution of an outstanding scientific problem within the boundaries of a single country. Since science and engineering have developed unevenly in individual countries, one branch may be advanced while another is lagging.

Coöperation and discussion of the common problems facing all scientists have become necessary. Nor is it merely that great numbers of experts in various specialties are required; this sort of experimental work calls for vast expenditures too. For example, investigations into the interaction of nuclear particles require particle accelerators, very expensive and intricate physical tools.

At present scientists in many countries are carrying out the same investigations. The expense is being duplicated over and over. Not only is time lost but many of the huge capital investments are unnecessary. Quite understandably, the question arises why the problems cannot be solved jointly. Scientists from many countries are asking this question more and more frequently at international meetings. Why, actually, cannot this problem be solved? What in fact hinders coöperation?

In some countries scientists are not allotted sufficient finances for research, so that many take no part in solving the most pertinent problems of the day. Considerable numbers of scientists and huge material resources are being diverted to armaments. Many gifted scientists are engaged at military institutes and laboratories, developing the designs of new weapons and improving existing ones, elaborating new means of warfare and perfecting war techniques. Not only does this work absorb immense financial sums; it also monopolizes the most talented people.

Some scientists who cannot see clearly how to ensure the peaceful use of the achievements of science and engineering lapse into pessimism. Some, for instance, come out with declarations in favor of abolishing one of man's greatest discoveries; they advocate discontinuing altogether the use of atomic power not only for military purposes but for peaceful ends as well.

What is the way out? There is one way and one way only--complete disarmament. Were a program of complete disarmament accepted it would at once bring science and engineering to full flower. The chief obstacles to creative scientific work would be eliminated everywhere. What are now considered the most difficult problems--problems which some scientists think will take decades to solve--could without any doubt at all be solved in a very short time. If there were complete disarmament the doors of all the secret laboratories would be thrown open; all the might of atomic science and engineering would be put at the service of peace. The military uses of atomic power greatly reduce the possibilities of international coöperation. Only if there is complete disarmament will scientists attain limitless opportunities for coöperation; only then will science really flourish.

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  • V. S. YEMELYANOV, Director of the Main Administration for the Utilization of Atomic Energy, Council of Ministers, Moscow
  • More By V. S. Yemelyanov