PROJECTS | 1996 | ARSAMAS - 16


The Secret Nuclear Cities of the Soviet Union

Juergen Ast | Karlheinz Eyermann

Juergen Ast

Commissioning Editors:
Helfried Spitra | Jan Lorenzen

52' | 90'

astfilm productions | for MDR | ARTE // ARTE

"Potschtovie Jaschtschike" - "Post Office Boxes", that is what those cities were called colloquially, test-sites and weapon factories of the former Soviet Union. They were not to be found on any kind of map, and even today, after the break-down of the Soviet Union, they remain blank spots. For the most important "Post Office Box", the heart of the Soviet's nuclear research program, six different code names were in use: "Object No. 550", "Moscow Center 300", "KB-11", "Volga Office", "Kremljov", and "Arsamas-16".

By orders from Stalin, the Soviet's nuclear weapons factory was to be situated next to the city of Nishni Novgorod, some 400 kilometers from Moscow. Architect, master builder, and in command was none less than Lavrenti Beria, the director of the intelligence service NKVD. Tens of thousands of forced labor convicts had build the largest nuclear research center in the world. It is here where the nuclear arms race between the East and the West started.

The secret cities behind the Iron Curtain, they were constantly sealed-off. Developed by special branches of the NKVD, they all looked very similar: in the center, a statue of Lenin. A gym, a socialistic "Palace of Culture", nurseries, schools, housing areas, an own road and railroad system, and finally the nuclear weapons factory. Hundreds of thousands "Nuclear Slaves" used to live here, and still do, then highly decorated, the elite of the country. Through their "product's", the Soviet Union became a superpower.

The documentary looks back at the Soviet's nuclear history, shows unique archive footage, let distinguished scientists speak, and permits never seen and in-depth looks into the heart of the Soviet/Russian nuclear industry. At the end the film pursues the question, how the former superpower will handle its nuclear "bankrupt stock" after the downfall of the Soviet Union.