Category Archives: Nuclear Legacy

The Atomic Age

On January 26, 1939, Niels Bohr publicly announced the splitting of the uranium atom. A plaque outside the entrance to Corcoran Hall at The George Washington University commemorates this.

The Fifth Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics, organized by George Gamow and Edward Teller, was held to discuss low-temperature physics and superconductivity.

However, the most famous event at the conference came from Niels Bohr with the public announcement that the nucleus of uranium had been split by bombardment with neutrons, with significant energy release. This was the dawn of the atomic age.

The announcement occurred in the Hall of Government, Room 209, which is located across 21st Street from Corcoran Hall.

Another plaque was placed inside Room 209 of the Hall of Government commemorating the announcement along with a list of the physicists present.

Chicago Pile-1

December 2, 1942

Henry Moore’s sculpture, Nuclear Energy, at the site of the first controlled nuclear fission reaction on the University of Chicago campus.

On this day on December 2, 1942, Enrico Fermi and colleagues conducted the first controlled nuclear fission reaction at the University of Chicago (Chicago Pile-1). The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. This Henry Moore sculpture, Nuclear Energy, was placed at the site on the 25th anniversary in 1967.

Atomic Snapshots: Mallinckrodt

In the Bremen area of St. Louis, Emil Mallinckrodt purchased land for a potato farm in 1840. By 1867, his three sons (Gustav, Otto, and Edward) had established a pharmaceutical company (Mallinckrodt Chemical Works) producing industrial, specialty chemical, and radiological chemical agents.

In 1942, Mallinckrodt was approached by the Metallurgic Laboratory to refine the uranium that would be part of the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at Chicago Pile-1 on December 2, 1942.

Mallinckrodt still has facilities in this area, although the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October, 2020. Building 51, which refined the uranium for the early stages of the Manhattan Project, was demolished in 1996 as part of the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). This program, now operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, identifies, investigates, and cleans up or controls sites in the United States contaminated as a result of the Manhattan Engineer District or Atomic Energy Commission activities.

West Lake Landfill (SLAPS)

Residues from uranium processing at Mallinckrodt are stored at SLAPS (St. Louis Airport Site), or West Lake Landfill, which is one of 33 superfund sites in Missouri on the National Priorities List. You can see this site as you fly out of St. Louis — a city with a long history of radioactive contamination.

Mallinckrodt Plaque
“In this building was refined all the uranium used in the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear reaction December 2, 1942”

As an aside, we contacted the public relations office of Mallinckrodt inquiring of the whereabouts of the plaque (see picture, above) that used to be on the building. The spokesperson said that it was “probably stored in archives” after the building was demolished. (Cue the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.)