Romashka and the Power of Conversion. Soviet Nuclear Internationalism and Atom-Powered Satellites

Lüscher, Fabian (2019). Romashka and the Power of Conversion. Soviet Nuclear Internationalism and Atom-Powered Satellites. Cahiers du monde russe, 60(2-3), pp. 397-416. Ed. de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

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In the 1960s, nuclear reactors learnt to fly. The two decisive technologies of the Cold War – harnessing nuclear energy and flying to outer space – were merged in space nuclear power projects. After Sputnik 1 and Laika had launched the space race in 1957, opportunities for innovative space projects seemed to be almost limitless. In the wake of the U.S. Atoms for Peace campaign, the regimes of secrecy surrounding everything nuclear were carefully relaxed, allowing for a very limited exchange of information, beginning in the mid‑1950s. It was against this background that Romashka, the world’s first nuclear reactor‑converter, was launched in Moscow in 1964. Although it was a prototype which was never put into use in outer space, Romashka became a showpiece of Soviet scientific‑technological prowess and received considerable attention around the world. This article discusses Soviet space nuclear power projects, focusing on the history of Romashka and proposing an examination of nuclear history with an integrative analytical concept: it studies the history of space nuclear power as an expression of Soviet nuclear internationalism, stressing the interplay of different factors such as the dual‑use potential of nuclear applications in space, the chances and limits of knowledge circulation within a framework of strict secrecy and limited candor, the significance of experts as cultural brokers between the Soviet Union and “the West,” and respected ideas concerning epistemic communities and science‑policy debates.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Modern and Contemporary History

UniBE Contributor:

Lüscher, Fabian


900 History




Ed. de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales




Fabian Lüscher

Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2020 10:28

Last Modified:

02 Jan 2023 00:25




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