A Wealth of Anniversaries
The theme of this year's American Nuclear Society (ANS) Winter meeting, which just concluded, was "75 Years of Nuclear Fission," so I fully expected a lot of reflection on this milestone event. I was not mistaken. What I did not expect was that a number of speakers would pick up on the theme of anniversaries, and would point out the fact that this year is a significant anniversary of several other milestones in nuclear history as well.
During the course of the opening plenary of the conference, we were reminded of the following milestones we can celebrate this year:
• It is 100 years since the discovery of the structure of the atom.
• It is 75 years since the discovery of fission.
• It is 65 years since the start of the Naval Reactor Program.
• It is 60 years since President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace address.
• It is the 20th anniversary of the Megatons to Megawatts program.
As the author of a book on nuclear history, I wrote about most of these events, so I feel a little chagrined I didn't think about all these anniversaries during the course of the year. However, I'm glad that others reflect on history as well, and were thoughtful enough to mention the milestones in their remarks.
Speakers made note of how quickly we moved from the theoretical concept of nuclear fission to applications. One plenary speaker, Dr. Sidney Drell, Professor Emeritus at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), reflected on fact that Enrico Fermi did an experiment in 1934 that resulted in fission, but he did not recognize it as such. Ida Noddack, a German chemist, observed that there might be an alternative explanation to the one Fermi proposed, but her idea fell on deaf ears at the time. Drell speculated that, had scientists heeded Noddack in 1934, Germany might have had the bomb before World War II.
The organizers of the conference assembled an outstanding lineup of speakers to celebrate the 75th anniversary. In addition to Dr. Drell, the opening plenary included: Ernie Moniz, Secretary of Energy; George Shultz, former Secretary of State; and Sam Nunn, former U.S. Senator. The ANS President's Special Session that followed included: Allison Macfarlane, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Pete Lyons, Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of Energy (who also spoke in several other sessions during the course of the conference); Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences; Dan Mote, President of the National Academy of Engineering; John Browne, Director Emeritus of the Los Alamos National Laboratory; Susan Eisenhower, Chairman Emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute; and Admiral John Richardson, Director of Naval Reactors.
These sessions were followed by a technical program that included many other distinguished members of the nuclear community, and spanned the whole scope of nuclear-related activities. Particularly noteworthy were the 4 "embedded topicals" that took place during this meeting, covering risk management, small modular reactors (SMRs), nuclear nonproliferation, and a young professionals congress. I gained many insights from the sessions I attended, far too many to cover in one post, but I hope to have a chance to weave some of these insights into future posts.