Saturday, January 3, 2015

Nuclear Anniversaries-January:

The Nautilus and Other Launches

As promised last year, I am starting the year with a discussion of significant nuclear anniversaries that occur in January.  These are again drawn mainly from my book, Nuclear Firsts:  Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development.  I noted last month that December looked like an unusually busy month for nuclear milestones.

Predictably, then, the number of firsts I cover this month is shorter: 

  • January 7, 1967:  First full-scale, pressurized heavy water reactor (Douglas Pt., Canada)
  • January 9, 1952:  First simultaneous separation of uranium and plutonium (S Plant, Hanford, Washington)
  • January 17, 1955:  First nuclear-powered cruise of a vehicle (USS Nautilus, Groton, Connecticut)
  • January 27, 1944:  First enrichment of uranium on a production scale (Y-12, Oak Ridge, Tennessee)
  • January 27, 1957:  First commercial high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (Peach Bottom 1, Delta, Pennsylvania)
Although the number of events is smaller, most of them are very significant.  They include the start of nuclear propulsion (the Nautilus), the commercial operation of two new reactor types (heavy water and gas-cooled), and the first production-scale enrichment.  In fact, this month marks the 60th anniversary of the first cruise of the Nautilus.  The Nautilus was launched in January of the previous year (January 21, 1954), which actually makes for two nuclear milestones for the Nautilus this month.

On a sad note, January also marks the anniversary of the first fatal accident at a nuclear reactor facility.  On January 3, 1961, the SL-1 (Stationary Low-Power Reactor #1), an Army boiling water reactor being tested at the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho, experienced a steam explosion and partial meltdown due to the improper withdrawal of the main control rod of the reactor.  The incident resulted in the death of three operators in the control room at the time.  (Note:  this was the first accident at a reactor, but there had been fatalities at other types of nuclear facilities before.)


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