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Oak Ridge spreads the nuclear knowledge

Future ORNL Laboratory Director Alvin Weinberg teaches at the Clinton Laboratories’ Training School in 1954. Image credit: ORNL

75 years of science and technology

At the end of World War II, most people who knew anything about generating nuclear power were located at Manhattan Project sites like Oak Ridge.

That’s where a young naval officer named Hyman Rickover found himself attending nuclear engineering classes with a handful of other students at the newly created Clinton Laboratories’ Training School. Rickover, who would become known as the “father of the nuclear Navy,” was sent to Oak Ridge to determine whether a nuclear reactor would be capable of powering a naval destroyer.

His time in Oak Ridge convinced him that nuclear power was a viable option for naval propulsion. What was missing were the hundreds of nuclear-savvy engineers needed to turn this dream into reality.

In 1950, with that need in mind, Rickover and ORNL research director (and later lab director) Alvin Weinberg founded the Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology, which offered 12-month intensive programs in reactor hazards analysis and reactor operations. The school produced nearly 1,000 graduates.

Rickover was put in charge of both the Navy’s program to develop a nuclear-powered submarine and the government’s reactor development activities. Under his guidance, and with graduates from the Oak Ridge school playing key roles, the world’s first nuclear submarine, Nautilus, was launched in 1954, and the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, the world’s first full-scale nuclear electric power plant, went online in 1959.