2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Observing the 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting opened on November 16 with a plenary session moderated by ANS President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and more than 700 people in attendance. The opening plenary session was followed by nearly 40 panel and technical sessions. Recordings of all the sessions are posted on the meeting platform and can be view by all registered attendees at any time.

Two sessions held in the afternoon of opening day were centered around the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Both sessions featured distinguished experts on the NPT to discuss its successes, challenges, future, and the role of the United States in international nonproliferation.

Feature Article

The ongoing effort to convert the world’s research reactors

The Ghana Research Reactor-1, located in Accra, Ghana, was converted from HEU fuel to LEU in 2017. Photo: Argonne National Laboratory

In late 2018, Nigeria’s sole operating nuclear research reactor, NIRR-1, switched to a safer uranium fuel. Coming just 18 months on the heels of a celebrated conversion in Ghana, the NIRR-1 reboot passed without much fanfare. However, the switch marked an important global milestone: NIRR-1 was the last of Africa’s 11 operating research reactors to run on high-enriched uranium fuel.

The 40-year effort to make research reactors safer and more secure by replacing HEU fuel with low-enriched uranium is marked by a succession of quiet but immeasurably significant milestones like these. Before Africa, a team of engineers from many organizations, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, concluded its conversion work in South America and Australia. Worldwide, 71 reactors in nearly 40 countries have undergone conversions to LEU, defined as less than 20 percent uranium-235. Another 31 research reactors have been permanently shut down.

Experimental Breeder Reactor I: A retrospective

In the not-so-distant 20th century past, our planet was in an uncertain new-world order. The second of two major wars had dramatically reshaped the landscape of the world's nations. It was not by any means assured that the extraordinary nuclear process of fission, which itself had been discovered mere years before the second war's end, would be successfully utilized for anything but the tremendous and frightening powers realized in thermonuclear warheads. In the years following, a humble project materializing out of the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho was to challenge that assertion and demonstrate that nuclear fission could indeed be a commercial, peaceful source of electrical power for civilizations around the globe.

Eisenhower's Atomic Power for Peace - The Civilian Application Program II

Westinghouse Electric Corporation promotional illustration showing "PWR" (Shippingport Atomic Power Station) plant and site.  "Selected Articles on Nuclear Power," Westinghouse Electric (see sources.)

Westinghouse Electric Corporation promotional illustration showing "PWR" (Shippingport Atomic Power Station) plant and site. "Selected Articles on Nuclear Power," Westinghouse Electric (see sources).

The commercial nuclear power program in the United States was sparked by the Shippingport Atomic Power Station project-but one project does not a program make. Action by the U.S. Congress soon after the announcement of the project ensured that a wide program that would evaluate other approaches was launched:

Eisenhower's Atomic Power for Peace – The Civilian Application Program

Futuristic illustration from 1955 Progress Report, Atomic Power Development Associates, published March 1956.  This would become the Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant.

Futuristic illustration from 1955 Progress Report, Atomic Power Development Associates, published March 1956. This would become the Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant.

President Eisenhower's momentous Atomic Power for Peace speech to the United Nations in December 1953 included the bold statement: "It is not enough to take this weapon [a metaphor for atomic energy, specifically as weaponized only] out of the hands of soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace." With that, he effectively launched the civilian nuclear power business as we know it today-of course, it having since undergone many changes and evolutions. What's little spoken of today is what happened before and after this speech.