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Radiation & Atoms

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A Brief Chronology of Radiation and Protection

– by J. Ellsworth Weaver III. 1994-1999

  • 1,800,000 BC: First "reactor accident." Concentration of enriched uranium forms natural nuclear reactor at Oklo, Gabon and becomes critical; core burns for 200,000 years.
  • 500 BC: Democritus and Leucippus of Greece postulate that all matter is made of indivisible units they call "atomos." "For by convention colour exist, by convention bitter, by convention sweet, but in reality atoms and void." – Galen quoting one of Democritus' 72 lost works.
  • 450 BC: Greek philosopher Anaxagoras states that matter cannot be created nor destroyed.
  • 79 AD: First known use of uranium. Roman artisans produce yellow colored glass in mosaic mural near Naples.
  • 1400 AD: Mysterious malady kills miners at an early age in mountains around Schneeberg (Saxony) and Joachimsthal (Jachymov) in the Sudetenland (now Czechoslovakia). Called "mountain sickness."
  • [...]
  • 1934: Fermi mistaken[ly] reports new element after bombarding uranium with neutrons. Ida Noddack suggests Fermi split the atom; this is ignored.
  • 1935: Yukawa predicts the existence of mesons, reponsible for the short-range nuclear force.
  • 1939 (March 16): Hitler annexes Czechoslovakia, richest known source of uranium.
  • 1942 (June 23): Werner Heisenberg's fourth experimental atomic pile, the L-IV, explodes spewing burning particles of uranium twenty feet in the air and catching the lab on fire. Heisenberg and Robert Doepel are nearly killed.
  • 1942 (Aug 25): Entire world's supply of plutonium spilled and recovered from soggy copy of Chicago Tribune (Met Lab).
  • 1942 (Dec 2): First sustained and controlled chain reaction in an atomic pile at University of Chicago. Reactor is graphite moderated. Fermi oversees design and building. Fission products expected. Arthur Compton sends message to James Conant: "The Italian navigator has arrived at the shores of the new world and found the natives were friendly. It is a smaller world than he believed."
  • 1945 (July 16): Trinity Test (Alamagordo, NM) cattle receive beta burns. 19 KT yield. First atomic bomb (fission).
  • 1945 (Aug 6): Hiroshima, Japan, is atomic bombed.
  • 1945 (Aug 9): , Japan, is atomic bombed.
  • 1946 (June-July): Crossroads bomb tests at Bikini includes 20 kT underwater burst "Baker".
  • 1949 (Aug 29): USSR explodes first A-bomb (fission) at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan.
  • 1950 (Aug 17): Julius and Ethel Rosenberg indicted in atom spy case.
  • 1951 (Dec 20): First electricity is generated from atomic power at EBR-1 Idaho National Engineering Lab, Idaho Falls.
  • 1952 (Oct 3): Great Britain explodes its first A-bomb (25 KT) in lagoon of Monte Bello Islands off Western Australia.
  • 1952 (Oct 31): US explodes the first hydrogen bomb Test-shot Mike 10.4 MT at Eniwetok.
  • 1953 (May 25): Test-shot Grable 15 kT at Nevada Test Site.
    • Operation: Upshot Knothole :: Shot Name: Grable :: Shot number: 10 :: Detonation: Airburst :: Height of Blast: 524 ft :: Location: Frenchman Flat – Nevada Test Site :: Mark 9 Gun Weapon
    • The Atomic Cannon, at 280 mm, was the largest nuclear capable mobile artillery piece manufactured by the United States. On May 25, 1953, a 280 mm cannon fired an atomic projectile a distance of 7 miles at the Nevada Test Site. Twenty 280 mm cannons were manufactured. None were used in battle.
  • 1953 (Aug 12): First russian fusion (not "true" hydrogen) test, Semipalatinsk.
  • 1954 (Feb 28): US hydrogen bomb Test-shot Castle Bravo, 15 MT at Bikini Is. results in fallout over Marshall Islands, contaminates crew of 23 on Fortunate Dragon 7, 28 US servicemen, and 239 Marshall Islanders.
  • 1954 (Sept 13): 40,000 USSR soldiers participate in [a] wargame where a nuclear bomb is detonated at 1,150 feet in the air. Troops sent immediately into contaminated dust in Totsk, Kazakhstan.
  • 1955 (Nov 22): First russian "true" hydrogen test, RDS-37, Semipalatinsk.
  • 1956 (July 27): Broken Arrow 1 (first lost nuclear device), Lakenheath AFB, UK.
  • 1957 (May-Oct): Plumbbob bomb tests at Nevada Test Site; 24 shots; including the highest yield shot fired to date in the continental US ("Hood", 74 KT); first deep (790') underground burst ("Ranier", 1.7 KT).
  • 1957 (May 15): First British hydrogen bomb destroys Christmas Island in South Pacific.
  • 1957 (Sept 29): Explosion of underground, high-level nuclear waste storage tank at Mayak Chemical Complex, near Chelyabinsk and Kyshtym (USSR) in the Urals vents 2 million curies over 15,000 sq. miles. Population of over 250,000 resettled due to Sr-90 contamination, 10,180 exposed. Possibly the world's worst nuclear accident.
  • 1960 (Feb 13): First French fission test, Gerboise Blue, 60 kt.
  • 1961 (Oct 30): USSR explodes a 58 megaton hydrogen bomb in the air over Novaya Zemla. Tzar Bomba, largest weapon ever exploded in history.
  • 1962 (Oct 18): Test-shot Chama >1 MT Johnston Is.
  • 1963 (Aug 5): US and USSR sign Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits underwater, atmospheric, and outer space nuclear tests. More than 100 countries eventually ratify the treaty.
  • 1964 (Oct 16): China explodes its first A-bomb, 596, 22 kt.
  • 1965 (Jan 15): First Soviet underground peaceful nuclear explosion at an oil well in Bashkiria, USSR. Through 1989, 115 such detonations are carried out across the Soviet Union leaving 100 million curies in the earth.
  • 1965 (April 3): The first nuclear reactor in space, SNAP-10A, is launched.
  • 1968 (Jan 21): US Air Force plane carrying four nuclear weapons crashes on ice near Thule (Greenland); fire spreads burning plutonium over ice; sixty-seven 25,000 gal. containers filled with contamination buried in US.
  • 1969 (Nov 19): Apollo 12 deploys SNAP-27 nuclear generator on the lunar surface.
  • 1974 (May 18): India explodes its first nuclear bomb, Smiling Buddha, 8 kt.
  • 1977 (Aug): Voyager 2 is launched. The spacecraft's electricity is generated by the decay heat of plutonium pellets.
  • 1980 (Feb 21): CBS reports Israel detonated an A-bomb off the coast of Africa on Sept 22, 1979.
  • 1982: Rupture of central fuel assembly at Chernobyl 1 (USSR) due to operator errors; radioactivity vented to Pripyat; personnel overdosed repairing the "small salamander."
  • 1984 (April): Chernobyl 4, a LGR, goes on-line in Pripyat, Ukraine (USSR). [LGR: Light Water Cooled – Graphite Moderated Reactor]
  • 1986 (April 26): Chernobyl 4 (Pripyat, USSR) explodes and burns, spreads contamination worldwide. Thirty one killed from heat and radiation exposure. Worldwide effects from internal contamination harder to measure.
  • 1989 (Oct 19): The 343rd and final underground nuclear explosion at the Semipalatinsk, USSR site in Kazakhstan. Official statistics cite a total of 467 tests of all types at site.
  • 1991 (Jan 24): US warplanes bomb two Iraqi reactor sites; contamination reported as "insignificant."
  • 1992 (Dec 26): Ground breaking ceremonies for Pakistan's Chasma nuclear power plant (300 MWe) PWR supplied by China. [PWR: Pressurized Water Reactor]
  • 1993 (March 24): F. W. de Klerk, president of South Africa, admits that S. Africa has built 6 nuclear bombs but has dismantled them, "I also trust that South Africa's initiative will inspire other countries to take the same steps."
  • 1994 (Oct 7): China detonates a nuclear bomb test.
  • 1995 (May 15): 0405 GMT China explodes an underground nuclear device (strength estimated 40 to 150 kilotons of TNT).
  • 1995 (Sept 5): France explodes atomic bomb in French Polynesia. Riots ensue in Tahiti.
  • 1998 (May 28): Pakistani fission test, Chagai-I, 9 kt.
  • ...

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