Clementine—The world’s first fast neutron reactor

March 19, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear NewsJeremy Hampshire
The exterior of the Clementine nuclear reactor at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. (Photo: LANL)

In March 1949—75 years ago this month—the 25-kilowatt reactor known as Clementine reached full power. As an experimental reactor, it had a rather long and successful run. It was the world’s first fast neutron (high-energy) reactor and operated from initial criticality in 1946 to final shutdown in 1952.

ANS to host behind-the-scenes Oppenheimer event featuring LANL

August 16, 2023, 3:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

The American Nuclear Society will be hosting a special online event on Friday, August 25, at 11:00 am (ET). The webinar Oppenheimer: Behind the Scenes with Los Alamos National Laboratory will feature representatives from LANL, who will discuss the blockbuster feature Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan, which premiered last month in theaters.

Big Bang fusion 13.8 billion years ago and its importance today

August 4, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear NewsM. W. Paris and M. B. Chadwick

In Big Bang nucleosynthesis (BBN), the deuterium-tritium (DT) fusion reaction 3H(d,n)4He, enhanced by the 3/2+ “Bretscher resonance,” is responsible for 99 percent of primordial helium-4. While this fact has been known for decades, it has not been widely appreciated. The importance of the resonant nature of the DT fusion reaction has been amplified by recent activities related to the production and use of terrestrial fusion, including the recent net-gain shot at the National Ignition Facility (NIF). Here, we aim to highlight the anthropic importance of the 4He-producing DT reaction that plays such a prominent role in models of nucleosynthetic processes occurring in the early universe. This primordial helium serves as a source for the subsequent creation of more than 25 percent of the carbon (12C) and other heavier elements that compose a substantial fraction of the human body. Further studies are required to determine a better characterization of the amount of 12C than this lower limit of 25 percent. Some scenarios of core stellar nucleosynthetic yield of 12C suggest that even higher percentages of carbon from primordial helium are possible.

DOE awards DD&R contract for Ion Beam Facility removal

August 1, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management awarded a contract to Aptim Federal Services of Baton Rouge, La., to perform deactivation, decommissioning, and removal of the former Ion Beam Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

DOE ramps up plutonium oxide production to fuel NASA’s deep space missions

July 20, 2023, 7:01AMNuclear News
ORNL has developed an automated metrology system to produce Pu-238 pellets. (Photo: ORNL)

The Department of Energy recently shipped half a kilogram of plutonium oxide pellets from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Los Alamos National Laboratory, the agency announced July 18, marking the largest such shipment since the DOE restarted domestic plutonium-238 production over a decade ago.

Grandson of J. Robert Oppenheimer calls for nuclear cooperation to address energy crisis

May 19, 2023, 11:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Charles Oppenheimer, the grandson of the “father of the atomic bomb,” wants us to save the world with nuclear fission. In “Nuclear Energy’s Moment Has Come,” published in Time last week, Oppenheimer discusses why the public should embrace nuclear energy as a bipartisan solution to the climate crisis.

The earliest DT nuclear fusion discoveries

April 13, 2023, 3:01PMNuclear NewsM. B. Chadwick, M. W. Paris, G. M. Hale, J. P. Lestone, C. Bates, and S. A. Andrews

Fusion energy research has seen exciting recent breakthroughs. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has achieved ignition,1,2 and in the United Kingdom, the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy’s Joint European Torus (JET) has produced a record 59 megajoules of fusion energy.3 Against this backdrop of advances, we provide an account of the earliest fusion discoveries from the 1930s to the 1950s.* Some of this technical history has not been previously appreciated—most notably the first 1938 reporting of deuterium-tritium (DT) 14-MeV neutrons at the University of Michigan by Arthur Ruhlig.4 This experiment had a critical role in inspiring early thermonuclear fusion research directions. This article presents some unique insights from the extensive holdings within Los Alamos National Laboratory’s archives—including sources typically unavailable to a broad audience.

Project Rover: The original nuclear-powered rocket program

January 12, 2023, 3:02PMNuclear News
A diagram from the January 1963 story depicting a nuclear-powered rocket.

It’s Thursday, meaning it’s time to dig through the Nuclear News archives for another #ThrowbackThursday post. Today’s story goes back 60 years to the January 1963 issue of NN and the cover story “Review of Rover: A nuclear rocket” (p. 9), which reviews the first phase of the nuclear rocket program from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Some quick digging online uncovers a lot of information about Project Rover, most notably, a short 20-minute film on the LANL YouTube page that reviews the project (Historic 1960s Film Describes Project Rover). The description of the video notes that the project was active from 1955 to 1973 and led to the design of multiple reactors suitable for testing, including Pewee 1, and that NASA has a modern nuclear thermal propulsion project based on the Pewee design. So it seems fitting to revisit Project Rover, given that there is today a lot of renewed interest in nuclear propulsion for space exploration.

The opening line from the January 1963 article seems to ring true today— “Provided the U. S. continues her space efforts, nuclear-powered rockets are inevitable”—although that probably didn’t seem likely to the nuclear community after the country’s attention shifted from the Space Race to the Vietnam War in the early 1970s when Project Rover was canceled. The introduction to the article lays out the argument for a nuclear-powered rocket and provides a review of the program since its launch in 1955.

The full article as it appeared in 1963 is reprinted below, but don’t forget, all ANS members have full access to the Nuclear News archives that has decades of great content about all topics on nuclear science and technology. Happy reading!

After 70 years, J. Robert Oppenheimer’s legacy is being rewritten

December 22, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News

On December 16 the Department of Energy reversed a decision made nearly 70 years ago by leaders of its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, to revoke the security clearance of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the first group of scientists and engineers at what would eventually become Los Alamos National Laboratory as they built the first atomic bomb. While it comes far too late for Oppenheimer, his family, and his colleagues to appreciate, the McCarthy-era campaign to discredit Oppenheimer is now itself officially discredited as “a flawed process that violated the Commission’s own regulations,” in the words of the DOE’s recent announcement.

Oppenheimer’s story has been told many times by biographers and chroniclers of the Manhattan Project; a new feature film is expected in July 2023. Today, we offer a #ThrowbackThursday post that examines the scant coverage of Oppenheimer’s life and work in the pages of Nuclear News to date and draws on other historical content—and the DOE’s recent move to correct the record—to fill a few of the gaps.

DOE evaluates wearable robotic devices to aid cleanup workforce

November 4, 2022, 7:09AMRadwaste Solutions
Nicholas Spivey, left, an SRNL mechanical engineer, and Kurt Gerdes, director of EM’s Office of Technology Development, use virtual reality simulation of an EM worksite during meetings held at the IHMC in Pensacola, Fla. (Photo: DOE)

For the first time since forming in 2020, more than 40 members of a Department of Energy team met in person to evaluate technologies, including exoskeletons and wearable robotic devices, that could be adapted to the cleanup mission of department’s Office of Environmental Management (EM), helping improve the safety and well-being of its workers.

NNSA to prepare Los Alamos’s fourth site-wide environmental analysis

August 23, 2022, 7:00AMNuclear News
A view of Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Photo: LANL)

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced that, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it intends to prepare a site-wide environmental impact statement (SWEIS) to analyze the potential environmental impacts for continuing operations of the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the next 15 years. The SWEIS will also analyze the environmental impacts of legacy waste remediation being done by the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management at the site.

DOE tags Los Alamos to lead $9.25 million molten salt computational research program

August 10, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy has chosen Los Alamos National Laboratory to lead a $9.25 million collaborative project to model the behavior and properties of structural materials in molten salt through the Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program and announced the news August 9. The team working on the five-year project includes experts from LANL; Carnegie Mellon University; and Idaho, Lawrence Berkeley, and Sandia national laboratories.

DOE releases updated cleanup strategy

March 10, 2022, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has issued EM Strategic Vision 2022-2032, a blueprint for planned nuclear-related cleanup efforts over the next decade. The document outlines environmental cleanup priorities for 2022–2032, focusing on safety, innovation, and improved performance.

According to a March 8 statement, the DOE is working to fulfill “the moral and ecological responsibility of safely dealing with contamination and delivering on environmental justice goals in communities that were vital to the development of nuclear weapons and advances in government-sponsored nuclear energy research.”

EM Strategic Vision 2022–2032, which is available here, is an update of previous iterations and was developed with feedback from regulators, tribal nations, local communities, and other partners.

DOE expands minority partnership program for post-doctoral researchers

March 1, 2022, 7:00AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management recently announced the expansion of its Minority Serving Institutions Partnership Program for post-doctoral researchers.

The program will offer the opportunity for recent graduates with Ph.D. degrees to perform scientific research that furthers technology development, enhances the global scientific knowledge base, and results in publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

Biden picks ANS Fellow to lead NNSA defense programs

December 16, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News


President Biden yesterday announced his intent to nominate Marvin Adams, an ANS Fellow, for the position of deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The announcement drew the following response from energy secretary Jennifer Granholm: “Marvin is a unique success story, having started his career at a DOE lab and now regarded as the nation’s foremost academic expert on safeguarding our nuclear stockpile. If confirmed, Marvin will work to keep our nation—and our world—safe from nuclear threats. I am deeply grateful for Marvin’s willingness to serve and look forward to his speedy confirmation.”

Texas A&M to lead isotope R&D traineeship program

December 9, 2021, 9:31AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy is dedicating $2 million to the establishment of a first-of-its-kind program to train undergraduate and graduate students in isotope research and development, production, and processing. Texas A&M University will serve as the Isotope Traineeship Coordination (ITC) site, collaborating with a team of 14 colleges and universities and three national laboratories: Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Nuclear Technology publishes special issue on the Manhattan Project

December 7, 2021, 12:01PMANS News

A special issue of the ANS journal Nuclear Technology, published last month, observes the 75th anniversary of the Trinity experiment, the world’s first nuclear explosion, on July 16, 1945, near Alamogordo, N.M. The experiment was a first step toward the conclusion of the Manhattan Project and the end of World War II. The special issue, The Manhattan Project Nuclear Science and Technology Development at Los Alamos: A Special Issue of Nuclear Technology, was sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory and curated by Mark Chadwick.

Thanks to LANL, the 23 papers published in the issue are open access, which means that a subscription is not required to read this contribution to the history of science. The issue can be accessed on the journal’s platform, hosted by Taylor & Francis, publisher of ANS’s technical journals.

An inventive solution speeds up production of actinium-225

August 5, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
Chemist Kevin Gaddis has adapted components of a high-pressure ion chromatography system to withstand the extreme conditions of a hot cell. (Photo: ORNL/Carlos Jones)

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher has built a device that can speed up the separation of the medical radioisotope actinium-225 from irradiated thorium targets and withstand the high-radiation environment of a hot cell. In July, ORNL announced that Kevin Gaddis, a chemistry technician at the lab, had built and tested a prototype and was working to secure a patent for a device that cut separations time by 75 percent.