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The American Experience
Timeline of Nuclear Technology (1942-1959)
December -- Dr. Enrico Fermi achieves the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, with a natural uranium device moderated with graphite. Fermi conducted the process using the first demonstration reactor, known as Chicago Pile 1.
August -- The United States, at the order of President Harry S. Truman, drops two atomic bombs on Japan. The first is dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, a second is dropped three days later on Nagasaki. Together, the two bombs kill over 130,000 people and kill thousands more from radiation poisoning over the subsequent months. Japan surrendered to the U.S. on August 14.
August -- President Harry S. Truman signs The Atomic Energy Act of 1946. The act places the newly devised nuclear energy industry under civilian control. The Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy is also established at this time to monitor the growth and actions of the industry.
October -- The Atomic Energy Commission begins work on a report investigating peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
December -- The Atoms For Peace program is unveiled by President Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower proposed the creation of an international agency devoted to developing peaceful nuclear technologies. Eisenhower spoke of taking nuclear materials "out of the hands of soldiers...(and placing them) into the hands of those who will...adapt (them) to the arts of peace."
August -- The first major amendment to the 1946 Atomic Energy Act is made when President Eisenhower gives the civilian nuclear energy program further access to nuclear technology.
January -- The Atomic Energy Commission announces a cooperative program between the federal governement and the nuclear power industry to develop power plants.

July -- Arco, Idaho, with a population of 1,000, is the first U.S. town powered by nuclear energy. The town's energy was supplied by an experimental boiling-water reactor called the Borax III.

November -- An experimental breeder reactor about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho, partially melts down during a test. The cause of the partial meltdown was attributed to operator error.
July -- The Sodium Reactor Experiment at Santa Susana, California becomes the first civilian nuclear power unit to go on-line. The unit continued to generate power until 1966.

September -- President Eisenhower signs the Price-Anderson Act, which will protect private citizens, public utilities, and contractors from incurring financial hardship in the event of an accident at a nuclear power plant.

October -- The Windscale plutonium production reactor catches fire spreading approximately 20,000 curies of radioactive iodine across Great Britain and northern Europe.

December -- Shippingport, Pennsylvania is the site of the first full-scale nuclear power plant in the U.S. The plant was able to generate 60 megawatts of electricity after reaching full power 21 days after going on-line.
October -- The first nuclear power plant in the U.S. to be built without any government funding -- the Dresden 1 Nuclear Power Station in Illinois -- achieves a self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

1942 -- 1959 | 1961 -- 1981 |1983 -- 1998