In late 1950 the USSR Cabinet has issued a decree that announced the creation of the several so-called central nuclear weapons storage bases, or CSB.
These facilities were to assemble the weapons manufactured by the Ministry of Medium Machine building, store them, keeping the fact of their storage a secret, carry out component replacements when their storage life was up, test the work of electronic and mechanical components on specially designed test-beds and, in case of receiving the appropriate order, to distribute the nuclear weapons to the army for combat use.
1. It was decided to build one of these CSBs in the Kiziltash valley, which gave an opportunity to secure the site really well, shielding it from prying eyes with surrounding mountains. The storage could be located in the depth of the mountain mass, which according to the experts’ calculations keep the weapons undamaged even in case of a 10 megaton nuclear bomb exploding nearby.
4. Only the massive steel gate could be seen from the outside. It could be camouflaged with tarp matching the color of the rock when needed.
5. The whole underground complex had power supply equipment on the outside and self-contained power supply provided by emergency diesel generators on the inside.
The climatic variables inside the structures were maintained automatically. Radiation monitoring was conducted in every room.
6. The rails that were used to move carts with dangerous materials were dismantled by scrap metal hunters a long while ago, however, they haven’t gotten to the doors of the rooms for some reason.
7. Entering the storage.
8. From the descriptions of the routine maintenance checks of the units’ central components, it becomes apparent how difficult, demanding, and sometimes harmful the job of the staff who serviced the weapons was.
These very important operations were carried out by the Central Parts Storage Service officers. One of the most dangerous tasks was the manual inspection of permanent neutron sources that were part of the early units, more specifically, types NI-2 and NZ-5B.
The sources were kept inside containers with sides composed of, among other materials, a thick layer of mineral wax. They were referred to as “pots”. Each pot was kept inside a separate metal safe.
9. In the underground storage space where the safe deposit boxes were kept the level of neutron radiation was so high that the tungsten wire of a regular light bulb burned out in 13 minutes as a result of the neutron bombardment. And a human being could only stay there for no longer that 43 seconds.
10. Every single time one of the officers had to bring a new light bulb with him, unscrew the old one and replace it. During this time two other officers opened a safe, took out the pot and carried it to the hallway where it was placed in a cart with sides made of mineral wax.
11 The cart was taken down a short hallway to the lab, where the pot was opened on a special table after an inspection. Then the source was taken out and placed manually on a shelf behind a special screen made of thick plexiglas.
A magnifying glass made of the same material was installed opposite the shelf. The source was then carefully inspected through the magnifying glass.
12. The entrance to the next room.
13. The source itself looked like a golden ball a couple inches in diameter consisting of two hemispheres connected with a seam.
Checking the seam integrity and the weight of the source on a high-precision weighing machine was the point of the maintenance checks.
14. During the inspection, the source behind the screen had to be carefully turned around with one hand and simultaneously examined through the magnifying glass.
The hands of the inspector were clad in thin off-white cotton gloves that were tossed into the waste container after the check was completed.
15. After the inspection the source was put back into the pot that was sealed and taken back into the storage room. The light bulb was replaced once more. All the manipulations with the source were properly recorded in the logbook of the unit.
16. As a rule, the task involved all the officers of the Central Parts Storage Service and the officers of the monitoring lab, including the dose monitoring officer.
The work plan was thought through in advance and then trained second by second. The interchange of the officers working on different stages was necessary in order to minimize the neutron emission dose each of them received.
17. Nevertheless, the overall dosage they received was quite high.
18. It is worth noting that the dangerous and technologically imperfect permanent neutron sources began to be replaced in the early 1960s by pulsed neutron sources that didn’t have any of the predecessors’ drawbacks.
19. Another exit from the storage located a couple hundred meters (approx. 650 ft) from the place where we entered it.
In 1994, Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, came to Russia, and during his visit a joint Russian, Ukrainian and American agreement was signed that ordered all the nuclear weapons be moved from Ukraine to Russia.
Due to many difficulties that came up in the process, the last trains of cargo vehicles of the 12th Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Defense left the country only in June, 1996.
Images by frantsouzov, reproduced with permission