Oak Ridge National Laboratory Company History Timeline


Meanwhile, receiver design evolved quickly enough in spring and summer 1943 to be incorporated into the Alpha plant.

With what was left of his time and money in early 1943 Lawrence built prototypes of both Alpha and Beta units at Berkeley for testing and training operating personnel.

In 1943, construction of the Clinton Laboratories was completed, later renamed to Oak Ridge National Laboratory . The site was chosen for the X-10 Graphite Reactor, used to show that plutonium can be created from enriched uranium.


In spite of precautions aimed at correcting the electrical and oil related problems that had shut down Alpha 1, the second Alpha fared little better when it started up in mid-January 1944.

The opening of the Beta building on March 11, 1944 led to further disappointment.

X-10 s mission was to develop and test the experimental Graphite Reactor, which went critical in March 1944.

Navy research on atomic power, conducted primarily for submarines, received no direct aid from Groves, who, in fact, was not up-to-date on the state of navy efforts when he received a letter on the subject from Oppenheimer in April 1944.

Abelson was building a plant to produce enriched uranium to be completed by early July 1944.


As the K-25 stock continued to drop and plutonium prospects remained uncertain, Lawrence lobbied yet again for further expansion of Y-12, arguing that it provided the only possible avenue to a bomb by 1945.

A quick analysis demonstrated that a thermal diffusion plant could indeed be built at Oak Ridge and placed in operation by early 1945.


In 1946, X-10 began producing peacetime radioisotopes for use in industry, agriculture, medicine and research.


In 1950 the Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology was established with two courses in reactor operation and safety almost 1000 students graduated.


The US Army contracted portable nuclear reactors in 1953 for heat and electricity generation in remote military bases.


ORNL designed and tested a nuclear-powered aircraft in 1954 as a proof-of-concept for a proposed USAF fleet of long-range bombers, although it never flew.


Alvin Weinberg was named Director of Research, ORNL, and in 1955 Director of the Laboratory.


The Health Physics Research Reactor built in 1962 was used for radiation exposure experiments leading to more accurate dosage limits and dosimeters, and improved radiation shielding.


The project, called Water for Peace, was backed by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and presented at a 1964 United Nations conference, but increases in the cost of construction and falling public confidence in nuclear power caused the plan to fail.

In 1964 the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment began with the construction of the reactor.


The High Flux Isotope Reactor built in 1965 had the highest neutron flux of any reactor at the time.


In the 1970 s, the site began ecological and biological research concerning the environmental effects and safety of nuclear power plants.


In 1972 the AEC held a series of public hearings where emergency cooling requirements were highlighted and the safety requirements became more stringent.

Also in 1972, Peter Mazur, a biologist at ORNL, froze with liquid nitrogen, thawed and implanted mouse embryos in a surrogate mother.


In 1974 Alvin Weinberg, director of the lab for 19 years, was replaced by Herman Postma, a fusion scientist.


In 1977 construction began for 6 metre 20 foot superconducting electromagnets, intended to control fusion reactions.


ORNL was involved in analysing the damage to the core of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station after the accident in 1979.


In 1981, the Holifield Heavy Ion Research Facility, a 25 MV particle accelerator, was opened at ORNL. At the time, Holifield had the widest range of ion species and was twice as powerful as other accelerators, attracting hundreds of guest researchers each year.


Until 1985, K-25 produced fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors around the world.


Since nuclear non-proliferation reduced the need for weapons, the K-25 plant ceased gaseous diffusion operations in 1987.

In 1987 the High Temperature Materials Laboratory was established, where ORNL and industry researchers cooperated on ceramic and alloy projects.

The five older reactors were subjected to safety reviews in 1987, ordered to be deactivated until the reviews were complete.


By 1989 when the High Flux Isotope Reactor was restarted the US supply of certain medical isotopes was depleted.


The text for this page was taken and adapted from the United States Department of Energy's official Manhattan Project history F. G. Gosling, The Manhattan Project Making the Atomic Bomb DOE MA-0001 Washington History Division, Department of Energy, January 1999 , 19-26, 31-32.


Thanks to the new Tennessee Promise program, more high school grads in our region are going to community college to get training. It also helps that the partnership of UT Battelle has managed the lab since 2000.


K-25 cost 512 million to build, or 6.5 billion in 2010 dollars.


The Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium is an outgrowth of ORNL. Dan Miller, manager of industrial partnerships and economic development for ORNL, says, Innovation Valley has been an active member in the Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium since its inception in 2011.

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