X-10 Graphite Reactor, Oak Ridge, TN
The World’s First Viable Nuclear Reactor
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory was created in 1943, at the same time the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was built to house the laboratory’s workers and their families. The laboratory was originally created as part of the Manhattan Project to build the first nuclear bomb, and its role was the production of the uranium and plutonium needed for the bomb.
To produce the plutonium (see page 376), the laboratory first needed to extract the fissile Uranium-235 isotope and then place it in a nuclear reactor. So not only did the uranium extraction plant have to be created, but the first significant nuclear reactor as well.
The only working nuclear reactor in 1943 was a small proof-of-concept, created by Enrico Fermi (see Chapter 97) and known as the Chicago Pile (it had been built under Stagg Field stadium in Chicago). But the Chicago Pile was much too small for real use, and so the X-10 Graphite Reactor was built at Oak Ridge. It operated from 1943 to 1963 and is now open to the public.
The reactor consists of a cube of graphite with edges over 7 meters long ...