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Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1) was the world's first artificial nuclear reactor. On 2 December 1942, the first human-made self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated in CP-1, during an experiment led by Enrico Fermi. The secret development of the reactor was the first major technical achievement for the Manhattan Project, the Allied effort to create atomic bombs during World War II. Developed by the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago, CP-1 was built under the west viewing stands of the original Stagg Field. Although the project's civilian and military leaders had misgivings about the possibility of a disastrous runaway reaction, they trusted Fermi's safety calculations and decided they could carry out the experiment in a densely populated area. Fermi described the reactor as "a crude pile of black bricks and wooden timbers".

The reactor was assembled in November 1942, by a team that included Fermi, Leo Szilard (who had previously formulated an idea for non-fission chain reaction), Leona Woods, Herbert L. Anderson, Walter Zinn, Martin D. Whitaker, and George Weil. The reactor used natural uranium. This required a very large amount of material in order to reach criticality, along with graphite used as a neutron moderator. The reactor contained 45,000 ultra-pure graphite blocks weighing 360 short tons (330 tonnes), and was fueled by 5.4 short tons (4.9 tonnes) of uranium metal and 45 short tons (41 tonnes) of uranium oxide. Unlike most subsequent nuclear reactors, it had no radiation shielding or cooling system as it operated at very low power – about one-half watt.

The pursuit for a reactor had been touched off by concern that Nazi Germany had a substantial scientific lead. The success of Chicago Pile-1 provided the first vivid demonstration of the feasibility of the military use of nuclear energy by the Allies, and the reality of the danger that Nazi Germany could succeed in producing nuclear weapons. Previously, estimates of critical masses had been crude calculations, leading to order-of-magnitude uncertainties about the size of a hypothetical bomb. The successful use of graphite as a moderator paved the way for progress in the Allied effort, whereas the German program languished partly because of the belief that scarce and expensive heavy water would have to be used for that purpose. The Germans had failed to account for the importance of boron and cadmium impurities in the graphite samples on which they ran their test of its usability as a moderator, while Leo Szillard and Enrico Fermi had asked suppliers about the most common contaminations of graphite after a first failed test and consequently ensured the next test would be run with one entirely devoid of them. As it turns out both boron and cadmium are strong neutron poisons.

In 1943, CP-1 was moved to Red Gate Woods, and reconfigured to become Chicago Pile-2 (CP-2). There, it was operated for research until 1954, when it was dismantled and buried. The stands at Stagg Field were demolished in August 1957; the site is now a National Historic Landmark and a Chicago Landmark. (Full article...)

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Haigerloch-nuclear-reactor ArM.JPG
Credit: ArtMechanic
replica of the nuclear reactor at Haigerloch museum

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Ed Westcott Manhattan Project Photogragher in Oak Ridge Tennessee 2004.jpg
James Edward Westcott (January 20, 1922 – March 29, 2019) was an American photographer who was noted for his work with the United States government in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War.

As one of the few people permitted to have a camera in the Oak Ridge area during the Manhattan Project, he created the main visual record of the construction and operation of the Oak Ridge production facilities and of civilian life in the enclosed community of Oak Ridge. (Full article...)

Nuclear technology news

9 September 2022 – North Korea and weapons of mass destruction
North Korea passes a new law formally declaring itself a "nuclear state". The law includes the right of North Korea to use "preemptive" nuclear strikes as Kim Jong-un promises to "never give up" the country's nuclear weapons. (CNN)
27 August 2022 – Hungary–Russia relations, Nuclear power in Hungary
Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó announces Russian nuclear energy provider Rosatom will begin construction of two new nuclear reactors to expand the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. (BBC News)
26 August 2022 – Russo-Ukrainian War
Ukraine's state nuclear company, Energoatom, says that the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has resumed supplying electricity to Ukraine's power grid after being disconnected yesterday from it for the first time in history. (Al Jazeera) (Reuters)
25 August 2022 – Russo-Ukrainian War
Ukraine says that the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been completely disconnected from its power grid after shelling near the Russian-occupied plant caused several fires. Security systems at the plant were activated shortly after the power failure, according to a local official. (NBC News)

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