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How Nuclear Power Gained a Foothold in Soviet Energy Policy

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The article contrasts efforts by Soviet scientists and engineers in the 1950s and 1960s, who successfully persuaded planners to support expensive, still unproven nuclear technologies, and to establish a nuclear industry from scratch, with contemporary efforts by nuclear energy advocates to maintain at least a sliver of relevance for nuclear power in the carbon-friendly energy mix of the 21st century – efforts that have proven very challenging. Nuclear power not only promised to facilitate modernization, it also offered a solution to the imbalance in resource and demand distribution. Despite its cost, creating a nuclear industry made sense to many nations in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, the picture is more fragmented, and different criteria are being used to evaluate the benefits of nuclear energy, including the possibility of severe accidents, and the still unresolved waste management issue. Some countries with nuclear industries have decided to phase out nuclear, while others are engaging in aggressive new build, with most others ambivalent. Relying on archival resources and contemporary policy documents, this essay takes a big-picture view of Soviet energy policy. It examines the shifting criteria for evaluating the potential of nuclear energy in the Soviet and post-Soviet context, with a particular focus on the role of scientific authority, and of institutional inertia, for dealing with the fundamental challenges posed by the Chernobyl accident and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The essay concludes that the notion of viability (technical or economical) is negotiable, and will always remain tied up with dreams of and hopes for a better future.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2018

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  • The Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas ("East European History") present the discipline in its entire breadth; for thematically focused articles the emphasis lies on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. A double-blind review process with international experts ensures adherence to the annals' recognized high quality standards. An extensive section devoted to reviews informs the reader about current trends in German and international research. In addition, the editorial board publishes an electronic review supplement under the title jgo.e-reviews at
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