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Reincarnation of Nuclear Science

V.М. Kupriyanov, Cand. Sc. (Phys.-Math.), Prof. V.M. Murogov, PUBLISHED 28.08.2020

In his interview to the AtomInfo.Ru web portal, professor Viktor Murogov outlined the main problems facing Russian and global nuclear industry after almost seventy years of its existence.

Solving these problems is impossible without restoring the leading role of science in nuclear industry.

We would like to continue the discussion by publishing an article "Reincarnation of Nuclear Science: Management of Nuclear Knowledge and Creation of New Knowledge"

Authors: Cand. Sc. (Phys.-Math.) V. Kupriyanov and Prof. V. Murogov, Union of Naukograd Veterans, Intersectoral Society of Nuclear Veterans' Movement.

Vyacheslav Kupriyanov

Viktor Murogov

"Science provides more questions than answers ".

"Only those who have questions can have knowledge".

(Henry Ford)


The text that follows is an attempt to address a problem that is currently relevant among nuclear specialists. It was formulated almost twenty years ago and was first discussed by the world community at the First IAEA conference on nuclear knowledge (Managing Nuclear Knowledge: Strategies and Human Resource Development, 7-10 September 2004, Saclay).

In this publication, we tried to combine two points of view on this problem: from above (with an eagle eye) and from below (di sotto in su). The former is presented by the then Deputy Director General of the IAEA while the latter, by a certain expert in data processing and analysis.

The current state of nuclear power is characterized by its stabilization in countries with government regulation and by stagnation in the "old" nuclear nations of the West; some newcomer states take an interest in the development of nuclear power.

The current situation in the global nuclear energy market shows that it is monopolized by pressurized water reactors (95 percent of nuclear power plants under construction use reactors of this given type).

This process is stipulated, in particular, by the desire to standardize nuclear power projects with acceptable economic indicators in countries constructing nuclear power plants, and with acceptable risks of severe accidents, taking into account the current number of NPP units (about 450).

Due to the fast development of nuclear power at the initial stage (1950s thru 1960s) based on the established fuel, engineering, and human resource bases of the defense complex, and rapid entry into the energy sector using the energy technologies of those years, nuclear power got engaged in premature "capitalization" of reactor science, not striving to achieve its development but wishing to obtain benefits for the country at a too "infant" age.

For example, we rushed to "force" nuclear power into the "locomotive" level of thermodynamics, working at the lowest parameters in modern power industry as a whole, which had no risks of global accidents and focused on the rise of efficiency and, afterwards, on environmental acceptability of conventional power plants on organic fuel.

As Academician P. L. Kapitsa wrote at the time, the creation of new competitive nuclear power units is impossible without changing the scientific and technical principle of converting nuclear energy into electrical energy.

Achieving a level of nuclear power development comparable to that of conventional energy at the end of the XXI century (i.e. 5,000 GWe to10,000 GWe),capable of solving socioeconomic and ecological challenges faced by humankind, will require a principally new concept of development.

Academician V. I. Vernadsky predicted that such nuclear power would open the door to the "golden age" of human development when problems of energy demand, nutrition and other socio-political tasks would be solved.

This will demand the adoption of new requirements for nuclear & radiation safety as well as for nuclear non-proliferation. In turn, to achieve this level of nuclear culture, the global community will have to solve a no less urgent task such as education of humankind mentality in the nuclear age.

In the long term, the risk of severe accidents at nuclear power plants or in the nuclear fuel cycle (NFC) with global consequences, as well as stringent requirements for nuclear non-proliferation, will put the future NPPs beyond the competitive capacity, even if the steam-water or gas-turbine parameters in conventional energy are reached at GEN-IV nuclear power plants.

View from above

The modern concept of nuclear knowledge management (NKM) is reduced to the provision that NKM is the heart of nuclear power safety (safe operation of NPPs), including the transfer of nuclear knowledge & expertise for this purpose to the newcomer states planning to develop nuclear power.

This understanding is also consistent with the national nuclear policy, which focuses on safe operation of competitive, environmentally friendly nuclear power plants, i.e. the NKM program concentrates on the training of specialists, their competence in operation, and transfer of experience and skills, thus ensuring steady-state functioning of the nuclear sector.

As to the content of knowledge, its development, search for new technical and technological solutions, i.e. the reincarnation of nuclear science and creation of new knowledge, this task is far from being a priority in the nuclear industry.

The situation in other leading nuclear nations is similar. As a result, we can see that the main content of the international forum GIF-4 is reduced to a search of ways for utilizing the results of experimental developments of the 1950s-1960s such as high-temperature gas-cooled reactor HTGR, molten salt reactors MSR, liquid metal reactors LMR, reactors with supercritical coolant parameters, mixed spectrum reactors, etc.

The problem is that along with the widely discussed situation with NKM as a basis for safe and stable development of nuclear power, the nuclear sector needs a major program such as "Reincarnation of Nuclear Science: Creation of New Nuclear Knowledge". In other words, there is no target program to solve critical issues specifying the main trends of development of nuclear technologies relating to both fission and synthesis.

As a result, we are unable to fully develop and realize the nuclear power potential. A new energy source requires a new implementation technology.

The fulfillment of the program "Reincarnation of Nuclear Science: Creation of New Nuclear Knowledge" will require an approach similar to the implementation of basic research, i.e. the formation of teams of young creative researchers supported by the existing scientific schools, and the establishment of a relevant computational and experimental base with appropriate funding.

Over the past decades, most schools of civil nuclear research have lost their leaders due to age, and the newly appointed heads of nuclear schools, unfortunately, have no incentives to take part in their development. As a result, we are returning to the original problem of the nuclear power at the current stage, which can be described as innovative stagnation. Without solving this problem, we cannot speak about full-scale development of nuclear power meeting the future social needs.

The demand for scientific schools for obtaining new knowledge is obvious for any field of science. However, it is particularly urgent for today's nuclear sphere. While there is a continuity in traditional science, when outgoing leaders leave for the new generation of researchers a set of promising tasks to be solved with young researchers and students, nuclear science has a particular feature.

When we were young, there was no civilian nuclear science. The majority of scientific schools were involved in the "Atomic project", and the results of their research were closed to "traditional" scientists. As veterans remember, even "neutron" had to be called "zero point" in restricted scientific reports. Therefore, the formation of research teams was impossible.

Now the days of total secrecy are over, but, unfortunately, recognized knowledge holders - potential leaders of civil scientific schools - decease, often without passing their knowledge to the followers. For example, the recently deceased designer of the pioneer nuclear power plant Mikhail Minashin failed to publish his analysis of NPPs operation at the dawn of Russian nuclear power.

Partly due to this, nuclear power has not formed the traditions of creating and developing scientific schools. But because of the necessity to implement new projects, we should create them using modern possibilities and rules of the game. The creation of schools should start right now using the "bottom-up" principle, in contrast to the previous methods.

View from below

We have called the currently discussed activities "reincarnation of nuclear science" in order to distinguish it from the usual term "preservation of nuclear knowledge", used nowadays to describe innovations in the public training of personnel for the nuclear industry.

We suppose that the development of a modern knowledge generation model in the area of nuclear science & technology would be best be presented in the form of theses and comments thereon.


    1. The affair under discussion (reincarnation of nuclear science) will produce real results if we abandon the approach presuming concern for the future nuclear power and nuclear science as a target function, and replace it with concern for motivation of current activities to produce new results by expected participants in these activities.

    In other words, the evolutionary value of individual results created should be indicated for the author at each current moment.

    2. It is necessary to encourage the new generation's interest in nuclear knowledge not with the issue of administrative documents, but with the creation of modern management tools that could satisfy the immediate needs of each participant in this process on the way to the end result.

    In other words, the final success of any affair should be a combination of individual successes of participants.

    3. The results of intellectual activity of any participant should not, as in the Soviet times, automatically become "public property" - we should see the author's contribution to the affair and the right to recognition in the overall result.

    In other words, each participant should always see his/her contribution to the final success (failure).

    4. Like any new affair, the reincarnation of nuclear science should start with the investment efforts of the future beneficiaries of this innovation.

    In other words, each participant should first contribute something that he/she already owns. First of all, it is a reserve of personal time.

    5. The newly formed area of activity should not destroy the stable mechanisms that exist in the field, but should generate and then develop a new niche of activity.

    In other words, one may not trample "someone else's meadow".

Comments on theses

1. Value of individual results.

Speaking of the current state of nuclear industry, it is necessary to note that participants do not have a clear understanding of what are the interests of national nuclear power.

It is known that nuclear power is unprofitable in general. In other words, any new business affair in this sphere will require the revision of relevant items of state budget.

At the same time, it is of no importance that the money allocated for science is scanty. Behind any financial flow there is a strict accounting report to the Court of Audit with a balance of up to hundredths of Ruble. Therefore, it can be argued that the current state interests in the nuclear industry are primarily associated with budgetary savings.

According to the Internet sources, Rosatom has lost previous stable links between the use of the results of civil science and defense nuclear research.

The defense nuclear complex is fully satisfied with its own mechanisms for generating new knowledge, and it is against the diversion of funds from the defense order to civilian purposes. Their development is determined by the Directorate of Scientific Programs (Atomenergoprom is the sole shareholder of the Science and Innovation Company).

In other words, the interests of national nuclear science are actually expressed through the interests of a company with the complete state ownership (Atomenergoprom).

Since higher education in Russia has its own goals and objectives, scientific interests of the higher school do not reflect the interests of nuclear science as well.

At the same time, it is important that the criteria for evaluating the attractiveness of any university for applicants are based on their pragmatism, which has little to do with the interests of national companies or institutions of nuclear research.

Currently, these criteria are largely associated with the future career prospects of graduates. Therefore, master's and postgraduate courses at universities are considered by students as a means of acquiring competencies in civil society organizations rather than in the narrow field of nuclear science.

The need to earn money for daily life, for which there are almost no sources in nuclear science, does not allow young people to spend resources on acquiring knowledge that may bring income only in the distant future, provided that nuclear energy is in demand in subsequent years.

The comprehension of this prospect makes masters and postgraduates, engaged in nuclear research, look for well-paid jobs in other fields.

2. Final success of any business affair should be based on immediate successes of participants.

Now it is impossible to reproduce the model of a youth creative team of the 1960s and 1970s (i.e. the time of our creative activity), because our generation used and properly valued non-material incentives encouraging search efforts. There were certificates of honor with trade union awards, prizes in competitions for the best comprehensive research, etc.

Currently held competitions for young people (hackathons) for the best facilitator, leader, etc. are aimed at encouraging activity as such and not at stimulating the achievement of results.

In other words, modern management, learning how to get results, reproduces itself likewise leaders of scientific schools in our time reproduced themselves by learning what should be obtained as a result.

There are objective reasons for this: to get a noticeable result in modern science is much more difficult than in our time. In addition, one of the main reasons for the fading research activity in the field of nuclear knowledge now is the traditional attitude of Rosatom (along with its structures) to scientific results as state property. Actually, this is no longer true.

Firstly, almost all possible doctoral theses in nuclear physics were defended in our time, i.e. there are very few virginal areas left and, therefore, the state is not interested in the urgent use of this knowledge. For example, B. G. Dubovsky received the Stalin Prize for creating the first portable dosimeter, and today even the periodic table is completed with new elements.

Secondly, in today's conditions of non-state science, recent graduates do not see motivating results of work. Therefore, when forming a youth creative group, first of all, it is necessary to construct a new motivational model.

One of the modern mechanisms for this could be, for example, the creation of conditions for actual recording of the authorship of each successful outcome achieved by a young specialist. The currently applied Civil Code of the Russian Federation (referred to below as "the RF Civil Code") allows one to do this.

The RF Civil Code defines: "The right of authorship - the right of the author of the work, and the right to attribution, the right to use or permit the use the work under his/her own name, under a pseudonym or anonymously - is inalienable. In other words, published works should become an identification tool for the author of a research in the final product (application).

Authors' rights are inalienable and non-transferable, including cases when another person acquires the exclusive right to the work or when another person is granted the right to use the work" (RF Civil Code, Art. 1265. The right of authorship and the right of the author ...").

In other words, any result of intellectual efforts should be unambiguously associated with the author. In the legal sense, this is necessary not only to protect the author's interests but also to find the "culprit" if the result used in the case appeared incorrect.

In addition to the right of authorship, the RF Civil Code also presumes the exclusive right to use an intellectual result. In the simplest case, it is the exclusive right to use an object in economic activity.

The result of creative activity of the author/authors is generally a certain text. In our case, the RF Civil Code specifies that this text can also be an object of the exclusive right transferred by the author to the customer or to other rightsholder in the course of economic activity by formalized transfer of exclusive rights from the author to a certain economic entity.

At the same time, the rights of authorship are non-transferable and inalienable. For example, the copyright to a data table or a text, justifying the safety of a technical solution, should and can be an identifiable contribution of each individual to the ultimate successful results of the research used by the owner of exclusive rights.

Be aware that in this case, it is essential that any source (author's) result submitted by the author to a scientific journal (i.e. published) can be transferred to anyone else, since the author along with the text assigns the right to the editorial office for using the result only as a publication.

Therefore, the author may not transmit it in the same published form to the customer that financed the work, during which this text appeared, but this should not prevent the author from using the text in a different way, presenting it in the customer-specified form, unless the customer explicitly forbids the realization of the author's rights in other forms.

This requirement, which is certainly fulfilled in foreign practice and is often ignored in the Russian territory, suggests that the publication in a scientific journal and the result of a customized research are different objects of property.

The technology for work motivation in an initiative research group, established for the preservation and transfer of nuclear knowledge, should be built just on the consistent use of this mechanism.

In other words, publications should become an identification instrument for the author in the ultimate product (application).

3. Each participant should see his/her contribution to the final success (failure).

The traditional administrative mechanism, which is now proposed as a common way of reviving nuclear science in research institutions, has a number of bottlenecks, as follows:

      - the necessity of providing convincing evidences of the feasibility of initial activities for each hierarchical level of management;

      - the necessity of creating new ways to allocate budget funds that are minimally necessary to implement the work, bypassing the traditional overhead costs of the key enterprise, usually not relating directly to the work performed;

      - the necessity of establishing managerial structures ahead of time, before obtaining the first promising results from the group of a free scientific search.

Therefore, if we want to generate something that is not yet available (new knowledge), we should establish new institutional and managerial forms (niches).

Against the background of calls from the IAEA and Rosatom for the preservation of nuclear knowledge, a new niche could be based on the creation and continuous commercialization of local components that make up the final appearance of a new scientific result in the activity under discussion.

The objective of the initiative group of creative youth should not be self-expression of participants in a free scientific search with budget money; on the contrary, it should be the development of ways and means of bringing individual scientific results to their real use (not just implementation) through the management of property rights.

It is on this path that such organizations as the Max Planck Society or the Fraunhofer Society in Germany, private universities in various countries, and private startups in Russia have found success.

In the current practice, such use of intellectual property (results of intellectual activity) can help implement one of the basic principles of Part IV of the RF Civil Code relating to intellectual property rights.

In the past, the use of nuclear knowledge in most purely scientific tasks was frequently provided in the course of defense research using budgetary funds. Currently, important tasks, e.g. creation of new knowledge, can be solved by the initiative research group only if there is a clearly defined experienced consumer of intermediate results through legal mechanisms, and not in the framework of a free scientific search.

In case a young member of the aforementioned group comprehends this, it will internally motivate him to master such scientific knowledge, which is not only fundamental, but can also find application, if not in industry, then in a similar research.

In addition, it is necessary to understand that an order for the generation of fundamental knowledge cannot be placed with a legal person because the result of intellectual activity is initially possible only for the author (a physical person). As to the content of this result, it can be realized by a legal person, to which the author can transfer the exclusive rights to use this result.

In the nuclear industry, such a consumer of new scientific knowledge will necessarily be one of SC Rosatom's subsidiaries, i.e. a commercial structure. Therefore, it is possible to build commercial mechanisms with that structure (and not budget schemes), which is impossible in relations with the State Corporation, in case it acts as a customer using budget funds.

In such a model, the principal link should be a team not bound by budget funding, to be established to commercialize the results of research in the field of civil nuclear technologies. This is possible through the use of various civil forms, such as foundations.

4. Each participant should first contribute something that he/she already owns. First of all, it is a reserve of personal time.

The creation of such a system should be based on the contribution of various rights by all potential participants.

      • Heads of scientific schools should contribute - as intellectual property - the rights to all outcomes over a long period of time (real nuclear knowledge management - NKM). Legal objects should be obligatorily identified and registered in accordance with the law. This would be a contribution to the authorized capital of the new structure. For example, manuscripts of publications, submitted at the time to the VANT Collection of articles on nuclear science and technology (including data tables), can be presented (after editing) as a second updated edition.

      • Young specialists should make know-how proposals that they are willing to develop for possible commercialization in the future. Such scientific background should be mandatory for joining the team. (In our time, we usually embarked on postgraduate studies with our own subjects).

      • Young managers will have to participate in all of this hoping for future returns that will result from commercialization (i.e. high-risk long-term investment).

      • Veteran specialists should contribute their image and authority (trademark) as guarantees for loans and sponsorship on the part of potential consumers of new results.

This is a complex model of a purely capitalist approach to the RNS, but, in our opinion, it is now more feasible than any socialist one.

5. One may not trample "someone else's meadow"

Prior to constructing a new mechanism for RNS, one should answer the following questions:

       (a) Why hasn't this been implemented yet?

       (b) At what managerial level should the necessary decisions be made and how necessary is their centralization?

Actually, much is considered in this direction in Rosatom. For example, the joint post-graduate program and the OKB Mechanical Engineering department at the Nizhny Novgorod State Technical University; the MEPhI endowment fund "We Are Together" and a lot of similar examples from other industries. In some way, all of them are intended to form a new generation of experts.

Many of them were established five to ten years ago. Unfortunately, the results they promised when they were created appeared barely noticeable.

Since budget funds will be reduced soon ("Fat times have passed, now we have to manage more effectively the available resources" - A. Siluanov, Russian Minister of Finance), the formation of a new budget flow in Rosatom is almost unreal.

It is unlikely that the simple idea of forming an initiative group of young researchers in the usual socialist model has not yet been implemented by someone else. However, it is obvious that if we do not know about it, it is not attractive as such for decision makers.

It is Rosatom that fully disposes of budget funds in the nuclear sector. Their distribution is possible only on a competitive basis, it is controlled by Russian Audit Chamber according to the anti-corruption legislation.

If budget funds are needed to implement a new idea, then we should persuade Rosatom into arranging an open tender and win it in a competitive struggle with educational institutions such as MEPhI, Bauman Russian State Technical University, Moscow State University, etc.

At the same time, to open the competition, we should conduct a feasibility study and develop a statement of work with monitored indicators and results that would be clear to the Audit Chamber. Obviously, this is an impossible task for our innovative ideas in the fundamental domain of proposals.

If we do not need budgetary funds, and our concern for the future of nuclear science and nuclear knowledge is determined only by our competence and understanding of the real situation, we should do everything ourselves.

At the same time, the top level of centralization should be an informal understanding between the leaders of scientific schools and veterans of nuclear industry.


A bird's-eye view of the current situation in nuclear science allows us to come to two basic statements.

Firstly, the objectives that nuclear science set for the previous generation of scientists, related to energy extraction from uranium and plutonium in the water-water fuel cycle, have been largely achieved.

The remaining objectives either require significant collective efforts, e.g. the problem of safe management of radioactive waste, or are so technologically simple that they do not cause enthusiasm among a new generation of scientists as it was when developing the model of the double-peak barrier for the fission of heavy nucleuses (O. Bor, A. Ignatyuk, Yu. Oganesyan, V. Strutinsky, G. Smirenkin, G. Flerov, etc.). This model later led to the synthesis of heavy nucleuses outside the periodic table.

Secondly, the sharp decline in experimental activities in nuclear science and the transfer of researchers' attention to computational models has led to the loss of young physicists' interest to the analysis of physical justification of research and, consequently, to their transfer to other fields of science.

Not every specialist is able to spend hours finding out where a comma is missing in the text of the computer model of the phenomenon under study. And it is almost impossible to defend a thesis on physical subjects using only a computer model.

These statements partly explain the fact that reactor science is stagnating.

In our opinion, the reincarnation of nuclear science is possible in case researchers face new global goals related to the particular features of nuclear power as a source of energy.

This is, for example, an awareness of the fact that the current conversion of high-quality heat from fission energy into work occurs at very low thermodynamic parameters of the process. The efficiency of nuclear power plants with the steam cycle does not exceed 35 percent at present. And a nuclear power plant, in fact, warms the atmosphere more significantly through cooling towers than conventional energy systems.

Therefore, such a global objective as raising nuclear heat efficiency (direct conversion, high-temperature materials, new types of energy transfer, etc.) could become an area of activity in which the new generation of nuclear physicists will find tasks for their scientific enthusiasm.

In this knowledge space, it is necessary to identify problems pertaining to thermal physics, nuclear physics, material science, and systems. Our generation knows about these problems, but their solution should be the objective of a new generation of researchers as an urgent form of modern innovation activities.

Obviously, in modern conditions, apart from traditional state support mechanisms, we also need new forms of research organization.

From the bottom-up point of view, the innovation mechanism described above will require the significant organizational effort from all participants, charity actions from potential consumers, and a certain risk on the part of sponsors.

But, despite it seems fantastic, it is more real now than attempts to get access to budget funds for activities that will always be considered by official structures as competitive and even as discrediting existing activities.

In principle, if we, who are concerned about the reincarnation of nuclear knowledge and the prospects for new ideas in nuclear power, manage to gather like-minded people from among active specialists younger than 65 years old, the task can be solved. But, obviously, it is necessary to look for a solution (i.e. to prove the feasibility of such an approach), not in power structures, but among people who are ready to invest their resources in the business.


This analysis of the history of civil nuclear power shows that nuclear science experiences a severe crisis of development.

While the fulfillment of nuclear power programs was based on the conversion of defense equipment in combination with conventional energy in the 1950s-1960s, and the initial stage of its development focused on solving internal problems such as nuclear & radiation safety, efficient utilization of fuel, management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, non-proliferation, etc., conventional energy has implemented - in a competitive environment - the ways to improve economic efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Modern conventional energy has fundamentally improved its efficiency and has provided environmental protection by switching to non-critical parameters and the gas-steam cycle with an efficiency of up to 60 percent. As to the energy efficiency of nuclear power, it remains now at the level of the 1960s.

Moreover, even if future NPPs with GEN IV reactors achieve the parameters of modern heat & power plants, nuclear heat & power plants, power plants with the steam-gas or gas-turbine cycles (e.g. at NPPs with the liquid metal coolant) nuclear power plants will lose their competitive ability due to the risk of severe accidents with global consequences, as well as the non-proliferation requirements.

On the one hand, this means the stagnation of nuclear power industry in the future and the inability to achieve the principal objective of nuclear power - the displacement of conventional energy on organic fuel (i.e., reaching the level of 5,000 GWe to 10,000 GWe) simultaneously solving global environmental problems.

On the other hand, according to P. Kapitsa, scientists and engineers face a prospect of major and promising creative R&D work in various fields such as physics, electronics, metallurgy, chemistry, electrochemistry, heat engineering, etc. In this case, nuclear power will become an integral part of our culture and well-being, as electricity now.

To sum up, we can say that "from above" we see a set of tasks and areas of activity that must be solved and developed to build the nuclear power of the future, and "from below" we see an understanding of how it can be done.

Obviously, one should start by reaching an understanding on the part of top officials and attracting enthusiasts to develop a business plan for the implementation of new ideas.

Union of Naukograd Veterans
Intersectoral Society of Nuclear Veterans' Movement
Cand. Sc. (Phys.-Math.) V. Kupriyanov, Prof. V. Murogov

Topics: Nuclear knowledge, Opinions

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