Milestone-Proposal:First Industrial Scale Nuclear Reactor
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Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old?
Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s fields of interest? (e.g. “the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communications and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences” – from the IEEE Constitution)
Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity?
Was it of at least regional importance?
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)?
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony?
Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated?
Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an Electrical Engineering Milestone? Yes
Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:
June 7, 1943 to September 1944
Title of the proposed milestone:
First Industrial Scale Nuclear Reactor
Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:
In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:
IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):
Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.
Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):
Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Washington, USA
Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.
Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need.
The plaque will be mounted just outside the entrance to the B reactor.
Are the original buildings extant?
Details of the plaque mounting:
How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?
B Reactor is situated on the US DOE Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Currently, it is physically protected by DOE security forces and accessible to the public by pre-arranged tours or by special appointment. The rector building is listed as a US National Historic Landmark.
Who is the present owner of the site(s)?
U.S. Deprtment of Energy
A letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property:
A letter or email from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application:
What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?
The B Reactor was the world’s first, full-scale nuclear reactor and produced the plutonium used in the “Fat Man” bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan, in August of 1945. Five days after that bomb was deployed, World War II ended. B Reactor is an engineering marvel that was built in only thirteen months (1943-1944). As the world’s first nuclear reactor, drawings and blueprints were being developed at the same time the reactor was being constructed. It wasn’t unusual for crews to be given hand-written notes or sketches to guide them during the construction process. Many of the specialized tools needed for the project hadn’t been invented, so Hanford crews often designed and built their own tools. Since there were no computers when the reactor was being built, calculations for the project were done using slide rules or a pencil and paper! In addition, since the construction work at Hanford was taking place as World War II was being fought, all of the work to build B Reactor and the other facilities at the Site was done in secret. While more than 50,000 construction workers were brought to Hanford to build these facilities, very few of them -- less than 1% -- knew exactly what they were building. The crews were told not to discuss their work with anyone. They knew that they were involved with “important war work”, but they weren’t told anything else. Construction workers knew only their job assignments, and didn’t ask questions about the work other workers were doing or developments in other facilities on the Site. Those who did ask were often relieved of their duties at Hanford and sent elsewhere. The Du Pont Corporation was the main contractor during construction of the reactor, agreeing with the United States government to build the reactor – and indeed the whole Hanford Engineer Works -- for costs plus $1. As Du Pont’s team completed the project early, they were only paid 67-cents profit for the project! B Reactor When the B Reactor began operating in September, 1944, about 64,000 rods of metallic uranium, known as fuel elements, were placed inside the reactor’s core. For about six weeks, these elements were subjected to a nuclear chain reaction (self-sustaining bombardment with neutrons) wherein some of the uranium changed its composition and yielded a small amount of the element plutonium. After the six weeks, these fuel elements had become very radioactive . They needed to be removed to preserve the plutonium isotope (form) needed for a weapon. The elements were pushed out the back side of the reactor into a pool of water where they cooled and some of the radioactivity decayed away. The fuel elements were eventually taken by train from the B Reactor to the separations processing facilities in the 200 Area where the plutonium was removed from them. Interestingly, when the reactor first began operating in 1944, it didn’t work very well. The original specifications called for the reactor to use 1,500 process tubes filled with uranium fuel, but it was discovered that 1,500 process tubes of fuel would not sustain the nuclear chain reaction. With only the 1,500 tubes filled, another element called xenon was “poisoning” the reaction by capturing too many neutrons. This “poison” shut down the reactor prematurely. When crews filled another 504 process tubes in the reactor with fuel, the extra fuel elements made up for the xenon poisoning, and sustained the nuclear chain reaction, thus successfully producing plutonium. B Reactor B Reactor There were no moving parts inside the B Reactor, and the only sounds that could be heard during the reactor’s operation were the movements of millions of gallons of Columbia River water rushing through the reactor to cool it. The reactor also didn’t need many people to operate it, so a typical crew numbered less than twenty. The B Reactor produced plutonium for more than twenty years. It was shut down in February,1968, and was later scheduled to be “cocooned” like the other reactors at Hanford. (Cocooning is a process by which the reactor core is encased in a concrete shell for 75 years to allow the radioactivity to decay away.) However, in August 2008, the United States Department of the Interior designated the B Reactor as a National Historic Landmark. --Excerpt from DOE Hanford Web Page
What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?
Top Secret construction site. Accelerated construction effort. Operation principles developed in concurrence with construction.
What features set this work apart from similar achievements?
First full scale production nuclear reactor that produced the Plutonium 239 for use in the first nuclear bomb test (Trinity) and subsequent military use (Fat Man) in the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan during WWII. Discovery of Xenon poisoning by Enrico Fermi.
References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.
Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.