Nuclear Uranium | An Historical Timeline


“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

– Soh Yamamura, portraying Adm. Yamamoto (film Tora! Tora! Tora!)

Genesis –

  • Uranium was first discovered by German scientist Martin Klaproth in 1789.
  • Henri Becquerel demonstrated a unique effect of radiation due to the emission of electrons and helium nuclei. In 1900 French physicist and chemist Paul Ulrich Villard discovered a third type of radiation called gamma rays.
  • 1896 Pierre and Marie Curie coined the term ‘radioactivity’. 1898 isolated polonium and radium. 1895 Wilhelm Rontgen introduced radiotherapy as a medical treatment. 1898 Samuel Prescott demonstrated radiation destroys bacteria in food.
  • Frederick Soddy discovered nucleotides. George De Hevesy discovers that nucleotides can be detected as tracers
  • 1932 James Chadwick discovered the neutron. 1935 Enrico Fermi repeated experiments done by Cockcroft and Walton and found an effective way of producing artificial radionuclides by using neutrons.

Discovery of Atomic Fusion –

  • Developing concepts and theories stagnated by Stalin’s great purge.
  • Manhattan project saw a revival in atomic fusion as American and British scientist rushed to attain it for military purposes.  
  • The Americans were developing three enrichment processes gaseous diffusion, electromagnetic separation and the centrifuge method.   
  • In 1942 U.S. Army took over and full oversight of the project went to the U.S. military.
  • In 1942 the Soviet Union began developing a nuke of their own. Stalin recruited the then young scientist Igor Kurchatov to head the project.  
  • 1945 Japan was nuked in response to an aggression on the United States.  

Post World War II –

  • 1953 President Eisenhower proposed legislation that would help guide a more responsible and practical method of developing nuclear fusion and turning it into energy.
  • Admiral Hyman Rickover in a joint project helped develop PWR for naval submarines which could be powered by enriched uranium.
  • 1959 Both USSR and U.S. launched their own nuclear power-surface submarine.
  • U.S. holding monopoly on uranium the British tried to develop several of their own nuclear power reactors through natural uranium metal, moderated by graphite, and gas-cooled, before finally conceding to the superiority of the American PWR model.

Nuclear Energy Commercial –

  • Modern day use of uranium and nuclear fusion is commercialized. In 1960 Argonne National Laboratory developed one of the first boiling water reactors (BWR). General Electric developed their own BWR called the Dresden-1 of 250 MWe.
  • 1959 France tried to develop their own gas-graphite form of reactor before again settling on the superiority of the American PWR model.
  • 1964 Soviet Union started their own power plants.
  • Their first graphite-BWR started in Beloyarsk (Urals).
  • Their first PWR called a VVER (veda-vodyanoi energetichesky reaktor) started in Novovoronezh (Volga region).

Modern Day –

  • (1970-2002) distribution of uranium had seen a stagnation.
  • Modern day use of uranium has seen a revival due to new issues of reducing carbon foot-printing and energy security.
  • In 2004-2005 Finland, France and USA sought to build newer reactors and power plants more modern and efficient.
  • China overshadows the world in modern nuclear power plants.

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