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that examines the scant coverage of Oppenheimer’s life and work in the pages of Nuclear News to date and draws on other historical content—and the DOE’s recent move to correct the record—to fill a few of the gaps.

CP-1 at 80: The legacy of CP-1—and the scientist who created its neutron activity detector

December 8, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear News
A replica of the chianti bottle signed by many of those present on December 2, 1942, alongside the image of a document signed 20 years later by most of those present (Photo: ANL); a portion of a photo of CP-1 scientists taken on December 2, 1946 (Photo: ANL); January 1993 Nuclear News coverage of CP-1 50th anniversary commemorations during the 1992 ANS Winter Meeting.

Nuclear Newswire is back with the final #ThrowbackThursday post honoring the 80th anniversary of Chicago Pile-1 with offerings from past issues of Nuclear News. On November 17, we took a look at the lead-up to the first controlled nuclear chain reaction and on December 1, the events of December 2, 1942, the day a self-sustaining nuclear fission reaction was created and controlled inside a pile of graphite and uranium assembled on a squash court at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field.

Nuclear energy remains transformational, 80 years after Chicago Pile-1

December 2, 2022, 6:56AMNuclear NewsJared Sagoff
On December 2, 1942, a group of 49 scientists led by Enrico Fermi created the world’s first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction underneath the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field football stadium. Some of those present went on to found Argonne National Laboratory. (Image: Argonne)

At a moment of global crisis, in a windowless squash court below the football stadium bleachers at the University of Chicago, a group of scientists changed the world forever.

On December 2, 1942, a team of researchers led by Enrico Fermi, an Italian refugee, successfully achieved the world’s first human-­created, self-­sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Racing to beat Nazi Germany to the creation of an atomic weapon, the team of researchers, working as part of the Manhattan Project, split uranium atoms contained within a large graphite pile—Chicago Pile-­1, the first nuclear reactor ever built.

CP-1 at 80: The events of December 2, 1942

December 1, 2022, 12:01PMNuclear News

On the eve of the 80th anniversary of the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, Nuclear Newswire is back with the second of three prepared #ThrowbackThursday posts of CP-1 coverage from past issues of Nuclear News.

On November 17, we surveyed the events of 1942 leading up to the construction of Chicago Pile-1, an assemblage of graphite bricks and uranium “pseudospheres” used to achieve and control a self-sustaining fission reaction on December 2, 1942, inside a squash court at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field.

Today we’ll pick up where we left off, as construction of CP-1 began on November 16, 1942.

CP-1 at 80: Preparing for the first controlled nuclear chain reaction

November 17, 2022, 3:08PMNuclear News
From left, the cover of the December 1962 issue of NN, featuring a model and a medal, both displayed at the 1962 ANS Winter Meeting; a photo of CP-1 during construction, as published in the November 1992 issue of NN; the opening page of a chronological account of CP-1, published in November 1992 to mark the 50th anniversary.

As we approach the 80th anniversary of controlled nuclear fission, Nuclear Newswire is prepared to deliver not one but three #ThrowbackThursday posts of CP-1 highlights unearthed from past issues of Nuclear News.

ANS was founded in 1954, nearly 12 years after the first controlled nuclear chain reaction was achieved on December 2, 1942, inside a pile of graphite and uranium assembled on a squash court at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field. By 1962, ANS was prepared to “salute the 20th anniversary of the first chain reaction” at their Winter Meeting, displaying a model of Chicago Pile-1 and presenting a specially cast medal to Walter Zinn, a representative of Enrico Fermi’s scientific team. Over the years, ANS has continued to mark significant anniversaries of CP-1 at national meetings and in NN.

Nuclear museum to host virtual event on gay Manhattan Project scientist

June 23, 2022, 3:03PMANS Nuclear Cafe

John Ibson

In an era where being openly gay could get you blacklisted, how was one scientist able to keep his high-security clearance level with the Manhattan Project and beyond? To find out, attend the virtual event “A ‘Lavender Lad’ with a Security Clearance: A Gay Scientist and Homophobia in Midcentury America” on June 24 at 4:00 p.m. (EDT). The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is sponsoring the event and the featured speaker is John Ibson, professor emeritus of American studies at California State University–Fullerton.

The webinar, which requires advance registration, is free for members of the museum. Members can obtain a promo code by emailing the museum’s membership associate, Jennifer Thompson. For others, the registration fee is $10.

Pilot fuel facility in Oak Ridge to begin operations this summer

March 7, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News
Ultra Safe Nuclear staff in front of the new pilot fuel fabrication facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn. (Photo: USNC)

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), an advanced reactor and reactor fuel developer, announced last week that it plans to begin operations this summer at its Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., pending the receipt of the requisite state and local permits. The facility is located in the East Tennessee Technology Park, site of the Manhattan Project’s K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. USNC purchased an 8.7-acre site—which included a preexisting industrial building—from Heritage Center LLC in 2021.

Machine learning and environmental remediation

January 28, 2022, 9:29AMANS Nuclear CafeAndrew Amann

Due to the large amount of water used by nuclear power plants, measuring the water’s impact on the environment is a huge data processing task. It is impossible to manually measure millions of gallons, along with tracking wildlife and the weather. The data computation needed to understand environmental patterns takes massive amounts of storage and strong algorithms to uncover anomalies.

Oak Ridge project team honored with Achievement Award

January 13, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News
Oak Ridge before-and-after views: At left is the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant when it was closed in the late 1980s, and at right is a view of the site today, known as the East Tennessee Technology Park. (Photo: DOE)

Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm honored a Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (EM) team from Oak Ridge with the Secretary of Energy’s Achievement Award during a virtual ceremony yesterday for successfully removing a former uranium enrichment complex. The project cleared 13 million square feet of deteriorated, contaminated structures from the site.

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.

Tennessee-85 students to receive inaugural Social Responsibility award from ANS

October 4, 2021, 12:01PMANS News

The American Nuclear Society has selected a group of Black former students known as the Tennessee-85 to receive the inaugural Social Responsibility in the Nuclear Community Award. The 85 former students are receiving the honor in recognition of their bravery and leadership displayed in desegregating an Oak Ridge school in Tennessee in 1955. A co-recipient of the award is the Secretary of Energy for the leadership displayed by the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy) in ordering the all-white Oak Ridge public schools to integrate that year. The award will be presented at the upcoming ANS Winter Meeting.

Former ANS president Wilkins’s role in Manhattan Project highlighted

May 20, 2021, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe
J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. was honored posthumously by the University of Chicago at a special event held on March 2, 2007. (Photo: Dan Dry/Wikimedia Commons)

ANS past president (1974–1975) J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. was featured in a recent History.com article highlighting the unsung contributions that Black scientists made to the Manhattan Project.

LANL cleanup modifies fieldwork to protect threatened species

March 31, 2021, 3:01PMRadwaste Solutions
The Mexican spotted owl, which finds a home in northern New Mexico’s canyons and forests, is a threatened species that the DOE strives to protect. Photo: Don Ulrich, taken in Flagstaff, Ariz.

To protect a treasured ecological species of northern New Mexico, the Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) of the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management and its contractor N3B this month began their annual task of modifying legacy waste cleanup activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory ahead of the Mexican spotted owl breeding season.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the owl as a threatened species in 1993, when population numbers were decreasing drastically due to the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of their habitat.

Manhattan Project scientist Chien-Shiung Wu honored with Forever Stamp

February 11, 2021, 11:59AMNuclear News

To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the U.S. Postal Service today issued a commemorative Forever stamp recognizing influential nuclear physicist and professor Chien-Shiung Wu (1912–1997).

A great honor: The stamp was dedicated during a virtual ceremony that can be viewed on the Postal Service Facebook and Twitter pages. USPS official Kristin Seaver was joined for the ceremony by Vincent Yuan, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and son of the honoree; Jada Yuan, granddaughter of the honoree; and Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. The stamp is available for purchase at Post Office locations nationwide and online.

“I am elated to have my mother honored by USPS on a postage stamp because I believe it goes beyond recognizing her scientific achievements; it also honors the determination and moral qualities that she embodied,” said Vincent Yuan. “It’s even more profound that the recognition comes from America, the country of her naturalization that she loved.”

DOE marks 75th anniversary of Trinity Test by highlighting cleanup progress

July 16, 2020, 10:25AMRadwaste Solutions

On July 16, 1945, the research and development efforts of the nation’s once-secret Manhattan Project were realized when the detonation of the world’s first atomic device occurred in Alamogordo, N.M., more than 200 miles south of Los Alamos, in what was code-named the Trinity Test—a name inspired by the poems of John Donne.

On the 75th anniversary of this landmark event, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) is highlighting the cleanup, long-term management, and historical significance of the Manhattan Project sites—Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash.—that were conceived, built, and operated in secrecy as they supported weapons development during World War II.