Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nuclear Anniversaries:

Some Events to Remember

Early this month, a friend and I were discussing the fact that it was the 72nd anniversary of CP-1 on December 2, yet we'd seen no coverage of that milestone, even in the nuclear press.  I promised him that I'd see if I could address the problem in this blog.

However, as I thought about it, I wondered what I'd gotten myself into.  It seemed to me that trying to think of something new and fresh to say about CP-1 every year might be a daunting task.  I could write something this year, but what else could I say next year?  Or the year after that? 

Further, it occurred to me that, aside from our personal birthdays and wedding anniversaries, other anniversaries are institutional (for lack of a better word) and most institutional anniversaries do not get much attention on an annual basis.  School reunions are held at 5- or 10-year intervals.  Yes, we do celebrate our national Independence Day each year, but--quick (and without calculating it!)--which anniversary did we celebrate last July 4?  In reality, we only make a big deal of that event on "round-number" anniversaries. 

And also, there may be too many events in the history of nuclear power that we could potentially celebrate.  True, CP-1 holds a very special place in that history, but there are many, many other events of note as well.  Trying to recognize all of them on an annual basis would be overwhelming. 

So instead, I told him I'd try to make note of various nuclear anniversaries periodically in this blog.  For starters, I will draw from my book, Nuclear Firsts:  Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development.  Granted, the book focuses only on firsts of a kind, and there are more anniversaries that we could acknowledge.  But there are enough of the "firsts," so I will start with them.  I would certainly welcome any suggestions of other anniversaries we should acknowledge on these pages.

It turns out that December was a prolific month for nuclear firsts.  I was trying to figure out why this might have been--an end-of-year push, or just the luck of the draw.  Given that there are so many, I will just list them below.  They are all covered in the book, as well as in other sources, for anyone who is interested in learning more about any of them.  Since we are just focusing on one month here, I will put them in order of the day of the month, and not in order of the year they occurred:

  • December 2, 1942:  First self-sustained fission reaction (CP-1, Chicago, Illinois)
  • December 3, 1956:  First production of measurable quantities of U233 (BORAX-IV, Arco, Idaho)
  • December 17, 1967:  First pebble-bed reactor to provide electricity to the grid (AVR, Julich, Germany)
  • December 18, 1957:  First full-scale reactor for peaceful purposes only (Shippingport, Pennsylvania)
  • December 19, 1943:  First separation of usable quantities of plutonium from irradiated fuel (Building 3019, Pilot Plant, Oak Ridge, Tennessee)
  • December 20/21, 1951:  First practical generation of electricity from a reactor (EBR-I, Arco, Idaho)
  • December 20, 1957:  First multinational agreement for research cooperation for peaceful purposes signed (Eurochemic, Mol-Dessel, Belgium) 
  • December 23, 1956:  First purpose-built reactor to provide electricity for a site (EBWR, Argonne, Illinois)
  • December 26, 1944:  First reprocessing on an industrial scale (T Plant, Hanford, Washington) 
  • December 1950:  First swimming pool reactor (BSR, Oak Ridge, Tennessee) (exact date unknown)

While all of these are not of equal importance, several of them are among the events we discuss most frequently when we talk about the origins of nuclear power.  Certainly, CP-1, EBR-I, EBWR, and Shippingport stand out in my mind.  And all were significant steps in one way or another.  So, happy anniversary to all these nuclear firsts!


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