FOR DECADES, THE SECRET cities of the Soviet Union churned out weapons of mass destruction. Surrounded by barbed wire, unnoted on a map, these dozen cities sheltered the cream of Soviet scientific talent. But now, the cold war cities are going commercial. Their brain trusts held an international exhibition in Moscow recently, offering such diverse products as pogo sticks, pasteurizers, and jet-skis.
Cities that once produced uranium and plutonium for nuclear warheads are faring the best, because they have an assured cash flow to underwrite new business ventures. Since the Kremlin has slashed buying weapons-grade material, the producers have switched to making lower-grade uranium for power plants in the U.S. and elsewhere. This nuclear income allowed a factory in Zelenogorsk to spend $200 million on gear from Germany's BASF Group to manufacture audio- and videocassettes.
Although these cities, set up by Joseph Stalin in the 1940s and 1950s, still are under Russian Army guard, they no longer are secret. A number even have foreign joint-venture partners, such as Nortel.