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Closed city. Nuclear weapons design and production center

Arzamas-16 (Sarov) closed city

The former Arzamas-16 (now Sarov) is the main nuclear weapons forgery in Russia

Country Russia
Population 94 000 (census 2015)
Area 232 km˛
Coordinates N 54°49' E 43°22'


   The Arzamas-16 is a closed city, located 450 km from Moscow. It was established in 1946 and was the first Soviet nuclear weapons design and production center. Initially a KB-11 design bureau was established there, that was developing nuclear weapons. Research and design activities began in 1947. During the same year security forced began to build a perimeter across the closed area. In 1947 the city was removed from all official Soviet maps and statistical documents. The isolation of the area was completed by 1948. The existence of this closed city was made public and appeared on the maps only in 1994. This city is a home to two nuclear weapon facilities - design institute and warhead assembly/disassembly facility. Today this city is known as Sarov. It is the main Russian nuclear weapons design and production center.

   At some point this city was known under various provisional names, including "the installation", Base No.112, "the site", Site 550, Arzamas-75 (early 1960s-1967), Arzamas-60, Gorkiy-130, Moscow-300, and under other names. Between 1966 and 1991 the city was known as Arzamas-16. In 1991, after collapse of the Soviet Union, it was renamed Kremlyov. Since 1995 this city is know as Sarov.

   The KB-11 design bureau, established in the late 1940s in this closed city, developed and manufactured the first Soviet nuclear bomb. This bomb was successfully tested in 1949. The first Soviet hydrogen bomb (or thermonuclear bomb) was also developed and manufactured here. It was successfully detonated in 1953.

   The Arzamas-16 is located 75 km from the actual city Arzamas, which is the largest city in the area. It was a typical trend in the Soviet Union to name secret cities by the same names as nearby larger cities.  In a Soviet postal code system the number 16 indicated that the city was located 16 km from the city of Arzamas. In the early 1960s the city was named Arzamas-75. However such name was soon criticized as it was exact distance by road from Arzamas to to secret city. The name was changed to Arzamas-60, but the "60" was still considered too sensitive and after a couple of years the number was changed to "16" in order to mislead. Also, house numbers in such closed Russian cities had unusual numbering. It was a continuation of the numbering of the closest major city, in this case the Arzamas.

   The Arzamas-16 can be compared with Los Alamos of the United States. In the 1990s this closed city had a population of approximately 83 000. Of them 20 000 people worked at the nuclear weapons design institute, which houses the main Russian nuclear weapon and scientific research laboratories. This institute has extensive theoretical and experimental capabilities. It had a couple of American supercomputers, acquired form the Silicon Graphics, that were significantly faster than any previous supercomputers available in Soviet Union or Russia. Another 10 000 people worked at the nuclear warhead assembly plant, which produces explosive components of nuclear warheads. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the city expanded. In 2015 this closed city had a population of 95 000.

   The whole city and its development and production factices are located within a hexagonal restricted area with a size of 232 km˛. This area is surrounded by a double barbed-wire fence. The spaces between the fences are plowed and patrolled. The perimeter is guarded by the military. Furthermore outer defensive ring of 40 km from the city is carefully monitored. During the Cold War in this outer ring there was an anti-aircraft missile regiment, and possibly a number of other military units. The inner city is patrolled by the military and troops of Ministry of Internal Affairs. There are a number of restricted areas within the city, that house nuclear materials. These are surrounded by multiple walls and fences. Sensors are used to detect unauthorized intruders. The city has a small airfield with an unusually wide runway.

   People, who live in this city, as well as other closed Russian cities, have to obey strict internal rules. Until the mid 1950s, scientists, engineers and other people who took part in development and production of nuclear weapons, including their family members, could not leave the city. Even during their vacation. Some of the limitations were lifted as the city was growing up. At some point people from the Arzamas-16 were allowed to travel to the Arzamas, or other larger cities, but only on a special bus.

   In Soviet Union it was nearly impossible for outsiders to get to such secret cities. Also these were completely closed for foreigners. Only relatives could visit the people living in Arzamas-16, after they received special permissions. Even today outsiders are not allowed to the city.

   There were always strict requirements for the newcomers. All of them had and still have to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding their location, research/production facilities, and so on.

   Despite the strict internal rules there were some advantages for the people living in such cities. Wages and welfare and were on a significantly higher level than the country's average. In the Soviet Union closed cities were well supplied, despite constant shortages all over the country. Crime was nearly non existent.

   Nuclear warheads are still developed in this closed city. Currently most Russian nuclear weapons are made in Sarov. Another Russian principal nuclear warhead design institute is located in Chelyabinsk-70 (since 1991 known as Snezhinsk).


Arzamas-16 (Sarov) secret city

Arzamas-16 (Sarov) secret city

Location of Arzamas-16 (Sarov) secret city

Arzamas-16 (Sarov) secret city

Arzamas-16 (Sarov) secret city

Arzamas-16 (Sarov) secret city

Arzamas-16 (Sarov) secret city

Arzamas-16 (Sarov) secret city

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