Jan 27, 2013

70 years of Nuclear Fission, 1,000's of Centuries of Nuclear Waste "Atoms for Peace, Problems Forever"

On December 2, 1942, a small group of physicists under the direction of Enrico Fermi gathered on an old squash court beneath Alonzo Stagg Stadium on the Campus of the University of Chicago to make and witness history. Uranium pellets and graphite blocks had been stacked around cadmium-coated rods as part of an experiment crucial to the Manhattan Project - the program tasked with building an atom bomb for the allied forces in World War II. The experiment was successful, and for 28 minutes, the scientists and dignitaries present witnessed the world's first manmade, self-sustaining nuclear fission reaction. They called it an atomic pile - Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1), to be exact- but what Fermi and his team had actually done was build the world's first nuclear reactor.

The Manhattan Project's goal was a bomb, but soon after the end of the war, scientists, politicians, the military and private industry looked for ways to harness the power of the atom for civilian use, or, perhaps more to the point, for commercial profit. Fifteen years to the day after CP-1 achieved criticality, President Dwight Eisenhower threw a ceremonial switch to start the reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, which was billed as the first full-scale nuclear power plant built expressly for civilian electrical generation.

Shippingport was, in reality, little more than a submarine engine on blocks, but the nuclear industry and its acolytes will say that it was the beginning of billions of kilowatts of power, promoted (without a hint of irony) as "clean, safe and too cheap to meter." It was also, however, the beginning of what is now a weightier legacy: 72,000 tons of nuclear waste.

Atoms for Peace, Problems Forever

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