WBEZ | nuclear weapons http://www.wbez.org/tags/nuclear-weapons Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Did a WWII nuclear experiment make the U of C radioactive? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/did-wwii-nuclear-experiment-make-u-c-radioactive-106681 <p><p><a name="Audio"></a>In 1942 Enrico Fermi and a team of physicists at the University of Chicago built a nuclear reactor in a squash court under the South Side university&rsquo;s football field. Their successful experiment was a key step toward the creation of the first atomic bomb and, eventually, nuclear power. Impressive, but numerous accounts say the primitive test reactor was constructed with little shielding to protect the outside world from radiation. The story led Mark Eifert, a Chicago native now living in Germany, to wonder:</p><p><em>The first ever self-sustained nuclear reaction was conducted under the University of Chicago&rsquo;s Stagg Field. Is that site still radioactive?</em></p><p>Mark suggested we find someone with a Geiger counter to take a measurement, so we took him up on it.</p><p>But who has a Geiger counter? Meet James Marsicek, the radiation safety officer at the University of Chicago. And yes, Marsicek explained, every major university has a radiation safety officer, because &ldquo;in a clinical setting, many faculty use radioactive material for either diagnostic or therapeutic procedures.&rdquo;</p><p>I joined Marsicek in the Administration Building, about a block away from where Stagg Field used to sit, and we took a control reading there. As Marsicek fired up his Geiger counter, he explained that &ldquo;there&rsquo;s radiation all around us, naturally occurring.&rdquo; This &ldquo;background radiation,&rdquo; he said, will usually measure anywhere from about .02 to .03 millirems per hour on a Geiger counter, and indeed, when we looked at the Geiger counter&rsquo;s needle, that&rsquo;s where it landed.</p><p>From the Administration Building we walked about a block north, stopping near a bronze sculpture designed by Henry Moore that commemorates the first self-sustained nuclear reaction. This spot is close to what used to be Stagg Field, so Marsicek took another reading. The needle again registered .02, the equivalent of normal background radiation. We walked about fifty yards away in the direction of a library building and took another measurement. Same thing.</p><p>As we left the memorial and the site of the former reactor, we passed a student giving a tour. &ldquo;Over here was where the first sustained nuclear reaction took place,&rdquo; he explained. Before long, he added, &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t&rsquo; worry, it isn&rsquo;t dangerous.&rdquo; Apparently, Mark&rsquo;s question is on others&rsquo; minds, too &mdash; seven decades after the experiment ran.</p><p>With the help of technology we can breathe a sigh of relief; there&rsquo;s no undue danger in this corner of the campus, at least not from radiation. But, like I said, the nuclear reactor in question was primitive. So ... were the safety precautions from that time primitive, too? And, why would Fermi risk the chance of <em>any</em> nuclear mishap at a Chicago university in the first place?</p><p><strong>The inner workings of Chicago Pile 1</strong></p><p>For several weeks in the winter of 1942 Fermi&rsquo;s scientists and laborers toiled in the unheated squash court underneath the University of Chicago&rsquo;s abandoned football field, building what was named &ldquo;Chicago Pile 1.&rdquo; They called it a &ldquo;pile&rdquo; because that&rsquo;s what it was: a pile of uranium pellets and graphite bricks, stacked ever-so-precisely. It was so cold most days that technicians and scientists could see their breath. They tried building fires in trash cans, but the room filled with smoke. The pile, which would eventually grow into a spherical shape, was built in meticulous layers, and the men (and one woman) worked in twelve-hour shifts, day and night. Directing the whole operation &ndash; his lab coat black with graphite dust &ndash; was a physicist named Enrico Fermi.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_3323.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: right; height: 187px; width: 280px;" title="James Marsicek uses a Geiger counter to check radiation levels near the site where the first sustained nuclear chain reaction took place. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" />Just three years earlier, some of Fermi&rsquo;s contemporaries, including Albert Einstein, had urged President Franklin Roosevelt to commit the United States to building an atomic bomb before Germany could. Physicists believed that by splitting uranium atoms they could create a chain reaction and release immense amounts of energy, the likes of which had never been seen.</p><p>Top-secret research projects were started around the country, including the one at the University of Chicago led by physicist Arthur Compton. Fermi directed the experiment.</p><p>When Fermi began his work at the university, physicists had never witnessed a self-sustained chain reaction. They had crunched the numbers, of course, but no successful experiment had proved what the math had only suggested. Fermi, who had escaped from his native Italy with his Jewish wife, was known as a hands-on physicist &mdash; just the person for testing this theory in a real-world experiment.</p><p>Fermi&rsquo;s pile was remarkable for its crude simplicity; it had neither mechanical parts nor wires. Instead, the pile consisted of alternating layers of uranium and graphite. Basically, it was just a stage to let the uranium do its thing: emit neutrons that would occasionally strike the nuclei of other uranium atoms, thus splitting off even more neutrons. The graphite served as a moderator, which would slow down the neutrons and make them more likely to strike additional uranium nuclei.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/The_first_nuclear_reactor_was_erected_in_1942_in_the_West_Stands_section_of_Stagg_Field_at_the_University_of_Chicago_-_NARA_-_558600.tif_.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 220px; width: 280px;" title="An artist's rendering of Chicago Pile 1. (Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Department of Energy) " />The pile was to become a giant beehive of neutrons buzzing with atomic life, but scientists could quash this activity by manipulating the pile&rsquo;s only moving parts: cadmium rods. The element cadmium naturally absorbs neutrons, so when the rods were in place, the nuclear reaction would almost stop. To get the reaction going, scientists could pull the rods out of the pile and let stray neutrons buzz freely, striking more and more uranium nuclei. The team was aiming for criticality, the point at which, if you removed the cadmium rods and let the pile go, the chain reaction would continue exponentially on its own.</p><p>The team built the pile slowly; with each new layer Fermi would withdraw the cadmium rods and take a count of neutrons before placing the control rods back in the pile. As the workers and scientists milled more and more graphite, their faces grew black as coal miners&rsquo;. Neighbors complained about the noise, not just from tools, but from the men singing to distract themselves from the monotonous work. The pile grew into a black igloo, 25 feet across at its equator and 20 feet tall from pole to pole. After 17 days of adding layers, Fermi knew the pile was big enough to reach criticality.</p><p><strong>Couldn&rsquo;t they do this in the woods?</strong></p><p>Chicago Pile 1 was never meant to be under the University of Chicago&rsquo;s former football field. Project managers originally wanted the full experiment to run in the Red Gate Woods, southwest of the city. But builders at Red Gate went on strike, so Compton and Fermi faced a decision: abandon the experiment, or move it. Fermi told Compton he felt confident that the pile could be built safely and effectively in the squash court under Stagg field.</p><p>&ldquo;We did not see how a true nuclear explosion, such as that of an atomic bomb, could possibly occur,&rdquo; Compton writes in his memoir. &ldquo;But the amount of potentially radioactive material present in the pile would be enormous.&rdquo;</p><p>The physicists I consulted about the 1942 experiment assured me that this was, in fact, a very low-risk experiment and that university physicists today routinely work with higher levels of radiation. This crude reactor could never have exploded like a bomb, which would require highly-enriched uranium. The worst-case scenario for the Chicago experiment? A primitive meltdown, with the pile catching fire and the uranium spewing more radiation.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/8580595804_a274cce969_o.jpg" style="height: 247px; width: 185px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Mark Eifert got Curious City scrounging for a Geiger counter and braving history in the first place. " />Compton trusted Fermi, enough so that he chose to move forward with the experiment at Stagg Field without telling the University&rsquo;s president. &ldquo;The only answer he could have given would have been no, and this answer would have been wrong, so I assumed the responsibility myself,&rdquo; said Compton in his memoirs.</p><p>On Dec. 2, 1942, Fermi ordered the last cadmium control rod removed from the pile, took a measurement, and declared the pile to be self-sustaining. And then, for a nerve-wracking 15 minutes, he let the reaction run its course while the neutron counters beeped out of control.</p><p>There are several accounts of this, one of the best being in Richard Rhodes&rsquo; <em>The Making of the Atomic Bomb</em>, which includes this eyewitness account from Herbert Anderson: &ldquo;First you could hear the sound of the neutron counter, the clickety clack, clickety clack. Then the clicks came more and more rapidly and after a while they began to merge into a roar.&rdquo;</p><p>Fermi and his team celebrated the achievement with muted enthusiasm. One of the scientists had brought a bottle of Chianti and they passed it around, drinking out of paper cups. According to Rhodes&rsquo; account, no one made a toast. No one said much of anything at all.</p><p>Eugene Wigner, another physicist on the project, recalls his realization of the far-reaching consequences of the event.</p><p>&ldquo;Even though we had anticipated the success of the experiment, its accomplishment had a deep impact on us,&rdquo; he wrote in an account detailed by Rhodes. &ldquo;For some time we had known that we were about to unlock a giant; still, we could not escape an eerie feeling when we knew we had actually done it.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The giant is buried</strong></p><p>The following year Chicago Pile 1 was moved out to Red Gate woods, where it was intended to be in the first place. There, scientists reshaped it as a cube and renamed it Chicago Pile 2. When its physicist guardians felt they had learned all they could from the pile, they buried it in the woods. This burial site is on public land and even has a gravestone to befuddle unsuspecting hikers and other passersby. It reads:</p><p><em>The world&#39;s first nuclear reactor was rebuilt at this site in 1943 after initial operation at the University of Chicago. This reactor (CP-2) and the first heavy-water moderated reactor (CP-3) were major facilities around which developed the Argonne national laboratory. This site was released by the laboratory in 1956 and the US atomic energy commission then buried the reactors here.</em></p><p>The grave isn&rsquo;t easy to find &ndash; Google Maps will lead you only to an unmarked trail-head and, after you arrive, you&rsquo;ll find no sign saying &ldquo;Nuclear reactor this way.&rdquo; (This map below will help you on your adventure.) But if you&#39;re a little weak-kneed about visiting or you feel uncomfortable hitting up the stray jogger or hiker about the pile&rsquo;s ultimate demise, you can find details and a museum-like tour at the nearby <a href="http://www.anl.gov/articles/argonne-marks-70th-anniversary-first-man-made-nuclear-chain-reaction">Argonne National Laboratory</a>.</p><p><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/136520009/The-burial-site-for-Chicago-Pile-1" name="Map" style="font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;" title="View The burial site for Chicago Pile 1 on Scribd">The burial site for Chicago Pile 1</a></p><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_74720" scrolling="no" src="http://www.scribd.com/embeds/136520009/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll" width="620"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 16 Apr 2013 19:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/did-wwii-nuclear-experiment-make-u-c-radioactive-106681 Iran facing growing pressure from international community http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-02-20/iran-facing-growing-pressure-international-community-96548 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2012-February/2012-02-20/AP120205031582.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The west’s confrontation with Iran is causing a spike in oil prices. Amidst growing tension, there’s concern Israel may launch a preemptive strike. <em>Worldview</em> talks with Ahmad Sadri, professor of Islamic Studies at Lake forest college, about the burgeoning global crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.</p></p> Mon, 20 Feb 2012 16:12:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-02-20/iran-facing-growing-pressure-international-community-96548 What's next for Iran? http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-12-06/whats-next-iran-94618 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-December/2011-12-05/iran2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The tit for tat with Iran continues.</p><p>After rioting outside Britain's embassy in Tehran, Prime Minister David Cameron expelled Iranian diplomats in London and shuttered their embassy. In the United States, the senate unanimously approved legislation that would penalize any foreign bank that does business with Iran’s central bank. The EU, for its part, increased sanctions.</p><p>Over the weekend, the Iranians claimed to have shot down a U.S. drone that was on an intelligence gathering mission.</p><p><a href="http://www.lakeforest.edu/academics/faculty/sadri/" target="_blank">Ahmad Sadri</a>, a professor of Islamic world studies at Lake Forest College, parses the latest developments.</p></p> Tue, 06 Dec 2011 18:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-12-06/whats-next-iran-94618 Nobel winner, Fermilab founder, dead at 96 http://www.wbez.org/story/nobel-winner-fermilab-founder-dead-96-93826 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-November/2011-11-07/ramsey.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Norman Ramsey, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and one of the founders of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, died Friday at age 96. Over his career his discoveries helped transform concepts of time, ushering in the advent of super-accurate atomic clocks.</p><p>In the early 1960s, Ramsey was the founding president of the Universities Research Association, which ran what was then called the National Accelerator Laboratory for the U.S. government.</p><p>“Without his support and active participation, the lab would have had a hard time coming into existence,” said Ned Goldwasser, deputy director of the lab at the time of its founding.</p><p>Goldwasser, now an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Illinois, says Ramsey was a key link between the somewhat chaotic efforts to get the accelerator up and running in Batavia, and the politicians paying the bills in Washington.</p><p>"We had a number of serious technical problems as we were constituting the lab. We built big magnets in the ring that failed. There were people in Congress that said we were just a bunch of long-haired know-nothings and we couldn’t be trusted because of this gigantic mistake … Ramsey was an important person, if not the important person, to assuage the ruffled tempers of congressmen and the people at the Atomic Energy Commission.”</p><p>Fermilab archivist Adrienne Kolb says Ramsey was a steadying presence at the URA, returning to the post as president there several times over the years. “He assured Fermilab's continuity and had all the right answers to quiet any challenges,” Kolb wrote in an email.</p><p>Ramsey won the Nobel Prize in 1989, for his work on methods to measure the minute oscillations of atoms, which led to the invention of the atomic clock. That technology would literally redefine time. As of 1967, one second has been officially defined as 9,192,631,770 cycles of a cesium atom.</p><p>Ramsey also taught for four decades at Harvard and served on the Manhattan Project, the covert Allied effort to design and build a nuclear weapon.</p></p> Mon, 07 Nov 2011 22:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/nobel-winner-fermilab-founder-dead-96-93826 Inside the play ‘A Walk in the Woods’ http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-10-25/inside-play-%E2%80%98-walk-woods%E2%80%99-93462 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-October/2011-10-25/WalkInTheWoods_340.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In 1988, Lee Blessing wrote a landmark play called <em>A Walk in the Woods</em>. The story centers on two Cold War arms negotiators, one American and one Soviet, who are locked in a standstill at the bargaining table. Frustrated, they take a walk in the woods to discuss nuclear disarmament, and to their surprise, develop an unlikely friendship. The play poses the question: is nuclear disarmament an attainable reality?</p><p>Originally written for two male characters, TimeLine Theatre Company’s <a href="http://www.timelinetheatre.com/walk_in_the_woods/" target="_blank">current production</a> of the play features actress Janet Ulrich Brooks in the role of the Russian negotiator. We speak with Blessing, Brooks and the production’s other star, David Parkes, about this twist on the Tony and Pulitzer-nominated play, which <a href="https://www.theaterwit.org/tickets/productions/61/performances#top" target="_blank">runs</a> through November 20 at Chicago’s <a href="http://www.theaterwit.org/" target="_blank">Theater Wit</a>.</p></p> Tue, 25 Oct 2011 16:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-10-25/inside-play-%E2%80%98-walk-woods%E2%80%99-93462 Governments take steps towards a nuclear-free world http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-10-24/governments-take-steps-towards-nuclear-free-world-93410 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-October/2011-10-24/nuclear2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>As the world prepares to welcome its seven billionth citizen next week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the need to achieve a future in which the human family is free of the threat of nuclear weapons. As he said this month in New York, “We know that the world of tomorrow is shaped by the decisions we make today. A world free of nuclear weapons is a concrete possibility.” He added, “Let us realize that dream so that seven billion people can live in peace and security.”</p><p>Global politics in the next year will determine how attainable this vision really is.</p><p>Last Friday, the United Nations, the U.S., Russia and Britain announced the first steps to convening what is certain to be a controversial conference in 2012 on turning the Middle East into a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. An appointed “facilitator” will have the difficult task of consulting outlier states in the region, such as Israel and Iran, ahead of the conference.</p><p>Then, there's the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Ratified by about 155 states, it can’t go into effect because nuclear powers like the U. S. and China won’t sign on. The Obama administration affirmed its intention to deliver the treaty for ratification to the U.S. Senate but hasn't said when.</p><p>And next May, Chicago will host both the G8 and NATO summits. Last month, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen outlined goals for the NATO conference, including what he calls the “appropriate mix of capabilities - conventional, nuclear and missile defense" - especially for former Soviet Union States like Poland and Romania.</p><p>Kevin Martin joins us to talk about the state of the nuclear non-proliferation movement. He’s executive director of <a href="http://www.peace-action.org/" target="_blank">Peace Action</a> in Washington D.C., a group that follows non-proliferation issues and attempts to develop citizen engagement toward a nuclear-free world.</p></p> Mon, 24 Oct 2011 16:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-10-24/governments-take-steps-towards-nuclear-free-world-93410 India’s singular nuclear history and implications of U.S.-India nuclear energy deal http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-07-29/india%E2%80%99s-singular-nuclear-history-and-implications-us-india-nuclear-energ <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-July/2011-07-29/India.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>India is a clear outlier in the global nuclear community. Though the South Asian nation possesses nuclear weapons, it refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.</p><p>For decades, signatories of the NPT labeled India an outcast. But power dynamics shifted in 2008, when the U.S. backed away from a decades-long moratorium on nuclear trade with India.</p><p>We speak to <a href="http://www.indiana.edu/%7Ealldrp/members/ganguly.html" target="_blank">Sumit Ganguly</a>, the director of research at Indiana University’s <a href="http://www.indiana.edu/%7Ecags/index.shtml" target="_blank">Center for American and Global Security</a>, about India’s unique role as a nuclear power.</p></p> Fri, 29 Jul 2011 17:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-07-29/india%E2%80%99s-singular-nuclear-history-and-implications-us-india-nuclear-energ