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Chapter 4: Olympian Feats

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1955 GENEVA CONFERENCE 

As a result of President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program, the United Nations in August 1955 conducted the first International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, Switzerland.

ORNL leaders inspecting the 1955 Geneva Conference reactor were (from left) Alvin Weinberg, Charles Winters, Robert Charpie, and E. P. Epler.
ORNL leaders inspecting the 1955 Geneva Conference reactor were (from left) Alvin Weinberg, Charles Winters, Robert Charpie, and E. P. Epler.

For display at this conference, the Laboratory designed and built a small nuclear reactor in just three months and transported it by air to Geneva. Called Project Aquarium because it was a "swimming pool" type reactor, it served as a prototype for research reactors overseas that could be fueled with the low-enrichment fissionable material contributed by the United States to the international stockpile. 

In Geneva, President Eisenhower took personal interest in the reactor, received a full briefing, and pressed the control button that activated it. Afterward, the Laboratory staff designated him an "honorary reactor operator." 

More than 62,000 people, including kings, queens, presidents, and other dignitaries, queued up to see the reactor's blue glow during the two-week-long conference. It became the most popular exhibit at the conference. Enrico Fermi's wife subsequently labeled it the world's "most beautiful little reactor." 

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