Saint Petersburg’s absence in the history of nuclear power

If you visit both Saint Petersburg (which was called Leningrad for nearly three quarters of a century, before the collapse of the Soviet Union) and Moscow, their differences and rivalry are readily apparent. The “father of the Soviet bomb” and also the launcher of its early power reactor efforts, Igor Kurchatov, began his career at the Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute, which was the place to be for the first two Soviet decades. Yet I barely mention Saint Petersburg in my book. What happened? Well, essentially Stalin crushed the more eastern, more cosmopolitan city. Historian Paul Josephson puts it like this:

The Great Terror of 1936 to 1938 during which millions upon millions perished is the final chapter in this story. The Terror led to the decimation of the Leningrad physics community and in particular its young theoreticians. Coupled with Leningrad’s declines as a scientific and cultural center, the transfer of the Academy of Sciences to Moscow in 1934, the purge of the Leningrad Party apparatus, and the devastation of Leningrad’s population and physical plant by German armies in World War II, the March 1936 session marked the end of LFTI’s [Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute’s] pre-eminence in the history of Soviet physics.

Josephson, Paul R. 1991. Physics and Politics in Revolutionary Russia. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 7-8.

The LFTI didn’t disappear. Now renamed the Ioffe Institute (see the sign above, taken from its Wikipedia page), it employs 1,500 even now. It will feature in a minor role when I cover Soviet breeders and nonstandard reactors, but Moscow ruled after WWII.