An Exceptional Month
Last month, I reported that February was a rather thin month for nuclear anniversaries. This month, if anything, the opposite is true. March seems to hold many memorable moments in the history of of the development of nuclear power. Sadly, March also marks the anniversaries of two of the most serious accidents in the history of nuclear power.
Most of the anniversaries highlighted below are described in more detail in my book, Nuclear Firsts: Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development:
March 1, 1970: First on-line refueling in a full-scale reactor (Douglas Point Plant, Douglas Point, Canada)
March 12, 1945: First practical separation of uranium (K-25 gaseous diffusion plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee)
March 14, 1955: First reactor training program established for foreign students (Argonne International School, Argonne, Illinois)
March 14, 1958: First approval for radioisotope food irradiation (using Co-60 to inhibit potatoes from sprouting, in the U.S.S.R.)
March 19, 1974: First power reactor in South America (Atucha-1 in Lima, Argentina)
March 23, 2000: First plant to receive license renewal (Calvert Cliffs, Lusby, Maryland)
March 26, 1999: First geologic repository for transuranic wastes and first purpose-built deep geologic repository (WIPP, Carlsbad, New Mexico)
March 30, 1953: First true pressurized water reactor and first reactor built to supply energy for an application (mechanical energy for submarine propulsion) (STR, also known as S1W, Arco, Idaho)
March 30, 1961: First closed-loop (Brayton) gas turbine cycle reactor; first land-transportable, mobile nuclear power plant (ML-1, NRTS, Arco, Idaho)
March 31, 1952: First non-zero power LWR (MTR, NRTS, Arco, Idaho)
The two accidents I mentioned above, of course, are historic in their own right. These are the March 28, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island Unit 2 in Pennsylvania and the March 11, 2011 accident at Fukushima, Japan. TMI-2 is the first serious accident at a major power plant, and Fukushima Daiichi is, among other things, the first accident that involved multiple units. Both have had (and in the case of Fukushima, are still having) major effects on the evolution and development of nuclear power.
As always, some developments have proved more important than others to nuclear power development, but all are steps forward in different ways. In addition to the number of "firsts" this month, what is also impressive is the variety (different kinds of reactors, as well as propulsion, enrichment, repository, and food irradiation), and the fact that these events took place in several different countries and several different states in the U.S.