Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nuclear Power Anniversaries:

Celebrating Many Milestones in December

Last Friday, December 2, Will Davis, who blogs at Atomic Power Review, reminded all of us that December 2 was a very important anniversary in the history of nuclear power. December 2, 1942, after all, was the date that controlled fission was first achieved at Chicago Pile 1. Will also noted the curious fact that December is a month with many other nuclear anniversaries as well. Indeed, I had noticed that myself when I was writing my book, "Nuclear Firsts: Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development," so I thought I might be able to add something to the story, even though I'm a few days late for the December 2 anniversary.

As Will notes, and as the ANS Nuclear Cafe also observes, the 3 events we probably cite the most in the development of nuclear power all occurred in December. In addition to CP-1, on December 2, 1942, the other key events include the first generation of usable quantities of electricity at the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 on December 20-21, 1951 (making this upcoming December 20 the 60th anniversary), and the start-up of Shippingport on December 28, 2957. Will's blog on the historical December events has some fascinating old illustrations of Shippingport and of Fermi-1.

What many people don't know, and what I discovered learned only in writing the book, was that there were a number of other important milestones that occurred in the month of December. The full list of early milestones profiled in the book that occurred in December (with the previously mentioned ones highlighted in red) are:

• December 2, 1942: First controlled nuclear fission (at CP-1 in Chicago)
• December 19, 1942: First demonstration of reprocessing (bismuth phosphate process at Oak Ridge)
• December 26, 1944: First industrial scale reprocessing (bismuth phosphate process at Hanford)
• December 25, 1946: First reactor outside North America (F-1 in the Soviet Union)
• December 1950: First "swimming pool" type reactor (Bulk Shielding Reactor at Oak Ridge)
• December 20-21, 1951: First generation of useful quantities of electricity (at EBR-1 in Idaho)
• December 3, 1956: First use of thorium in a reactor (BORAX-IV in Idaho)
• December 23, 1956: First purpose-built reactor to provide electricity for a site (EBWR at Argonne)
• December 18, 1957: First peaceful commercial reactor (Shippingport in Pennsylvania)
• December 20, 1957: First peaceful multinational project (Eurochemic for reprocessing, in Belgium)
• December 17, 1967, First electricity from a pebble bed reactor (AVR in West Germany)

Will also identifies the first criticality of the N.S. Savannah as being in December 1961. These are certainly not all of equal importance, and of course, there are important events that happened in other months of the year. Still, it is striking that so many key events took place in the waning days of the year. I do not know why this seems to be the case. Perhaps some conscious, or even unconscious, effort to reach certain goals before the year was out. Whatever the case, I would echo Will and others in recognizing that this month


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