Timeline of nuclear energy

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This is a timeline of nuclear energy, focusing on events associated with the development of energy production for civil use. Pioneering scientific discoveries and major events involving nuclear weapons are also described.

Sample questions

The following are some interesting questions that can be answered by reading this timeline:

  • How did the focus on nuclear energy changed from military use to peaceful purposes throughout history?
  • Which were important treaties concerning the use of nuclear energy?

Big picture

Time period Development summary
1895–1945 The science of atomic radiation, atomic change and nuclear fission is developed in this period, much of it in the last six of those years, in which most development is focused on the atomic bomb.[1]
1945–1950s After the end of World War II attention is given to harnessing nuclear energy in a controlled fashion for naval propulsion and for making electricity. In the 1950s, nuclear power is first used for electricity generation. Since 1956, the prime focus is put on the technological evolution of reliable nuclear power plants.[2][3]
1960–late 1970s The world’s nuclear capacity grows from 1 GW to over 100 GW, driven by the growth of electricity consumption and a political desire to move away from oil dependency following the oil crisis of the 1970s.[2] The nuclear power industry in the United States grows rapidly in the 1960s. Utility companies see this

new form of electricity production as economical, environmentally clean, and safe.[3]

1970s–2002 The nuclear power industry suffers some decline and stagnation, which would endure until the end of the century.[1] In the mid–1970s public opinion grows more critical of nuclear power, with increasing fear of accidents and an uncertainty as to the handling of radioactive waste.[2]
1980s Nuclear power development continues declining and is marked by the Chernobyl disaster
1990s The decade is characterized by slow but continuing capacity growth, new construction dropping to zero in North America and Western Europe, and modest continuing construction elsewhere. Growth in nuclear electricity generation is somewhat greater than the growth in nuclear capacity, as management efficiencies steadily increase the average availability factors of nuclear plants worldwide. Information exchange, comparison, emulation of best practice and communication among operators and regulators facilitated by IAEA, OECD/NEA, World Association of Nuclear Operators and others, are fostered by the Chernobyl disaster. Another characteristic of the 1990s is the expansion of nuclear power towards Asia and developing countries.[4]
Recent years In the last years, atomic power’s share of global electricity supply fell at the lowest level since the 1980s following the shutdown of Japan’s reactors after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and may fall further without major new plant construction. Discounting the bulk of Japan’s 48 reactors due to their long-term outage, the the number of operating units in the world has fallen to 388 by 2014, 50 less than the peak in 2002. Nuclear’s share of global power generation fell to 10.8%, down from a high of 17.6% in 1996 and the the lowest since the 1980s, according to report.[5] As of 2017, there are over 440 commercial nuclear power reactors operable in 31 countries, with over 390,000 MWe of total capacity. About 60 more reactors are under construction. Nuclear power reactors provide over 11% of the world's electricity as continuous, reliable power to meet base-load demand, without carbon dioxide emissions. 55 countries operate a total of about 250 research reactors, and a further 180 nuclear reactors power some 140 ships and submarines.[6]

Full timeline

Year Event type Details Country
1789 Scientific development German chemist Martin Klaproth discovers uranium and names it after the planet Uranus.[1] Germany?
1895 Scientific development German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers X-rays.[7][8][9][10][1][11] Germany
1896 Scientific development French phycisist Henry Bequerel becomes the first to discover evidence of radioactivity. The name of the phenomenon is given by Pierre and Marie Curie.[1][10][11] France
1898 Scientific development Pierre and Marie Curie isolate polonium and radium from the pitchblende.[1] France
1898 Scientific development Samuel Prescott shows that radiation destroys bacteria in food.[1]
1899 Scientific development New Zealand-born British physicist Ernest Rutherford distinguishes alpha and beta radiation and discovers Half-life.[11] United Kingdom
1900 Scientific development French scientist Paul Ulrich Villard discovers gamma rays while studying the radiation emanating from radium.[1]
1902-1919 Scientific development Ernest Rutherford shows that radioactivity as a spontaneous event emitting an alpha or beta particle from the nucleus creates a different element. Rutherford would go on to develop a fuller understanding of atoms and in 1919 he manages to fire alpha particles from a radium source into nitrogen and finds that nuclear rearrangement is occurring, with formation of oxygen.[1][3][11] United Kingdom
1905 Scientific development Albert Einstein publishes paper putting forward the equivalence between mass and energy.[1] Germany
1911 Scientific development English radiochemist Frederick Soddy discovers that naturally-radioactive elements have a number of different isotopes (radionuclides), with the same chemistry. In the same year, Hungarian radiochemist George de Hevesy shows that such radionuclides are invaluable as tracers, because minute amounts can readily be detected with simple instruments.[1] United Kingdom
1913 Scientific development Danish physicist Niels Bohr introduces his model of the atomic structure.[12]
1920 Scientific development Ernest Rutherford theorizes a "neutron".[11]
1932 Scientific development English physicist James Chadwick discovers the neutron.[1][11] United Kingdom
1932 Scientific development Cockcroft and Walton produce nuclear transformations by bombarding atoms with accelerated protons.[1]
1934 Scientific development Irene Curie and Frederic Joliot find that some transformations like those created by Cockcroft and Walton create artificial radionuclides, thus discovering artificial radioactivity.[1] France
1935 Scientific development Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi finds that a much greater variety of artificial radionuclides could be formed when neutrons are used instead of protons.[1] Italy
1938 Scientific development German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in Berlin show that the new lighter elements are barium and others which are about half the mass of uranium, thereby demonstrating that nuclear fission has occurred.[1][3] Germany
1939 Scientific development Otto Hahn and Austrian-Swedish physicist Lise Meitner, along with a small group of scientists, publish results of their discovery of nuclear fission of uranium when it absorbes an extra neutron.[13][14]
1939 Scientific development The feasibility of self–sustaining nuclear chain reaction is confirmed by Leo Szilard, Irène Joliot-Curie and Niels Bohr.[15]
1939 The Einstein–Szilárd letter is written by Leo Szilard and signed by Albert Einstein, warning American president Theodore Roosevelt of possibility of nuclear weapons.[16][17][18][11][15]
1939 Program launch Theodore Roosevelt authorizes the creation of an Advisory Committee on Uranium, beginning US nuclear bomb effort.[11] United States
1940 Scientific development Soviet physicists Georgy Flyorov and Konstantin Petrzhak demonstrate spontaneous fission.[19][20][21] Soviet Union
1942 Scientific development Enrico Fermi and Hungarian-born American physicist Leo Szilard measure neutron multiplication, concluding that a nuclear chain reaction is possible. That year, the couple creates the Chicago Pile-1, Chicago University.[11] United States
1942 (December 2) Scientific development Manhattan Project: The world's first nuclear chain reaction takes place in Chicago.[22][3] United States
1945 (July 16) Weapon (test) Manhattan Project: The United States stages first test of a plutonium weapon, code-named “Trinity”, before dawn in the Jornada del Muerto desert in New Mexico.[22][3] The test is successful.[11] United States
1945 (August 6–9) Weapon Manhattan Project: American bomber drops atomic bomb on Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, the Americans drop the second nuclear attack on Nagasaki. These are the first and last time nuclear energy is used as a weapon.[22][3] Japan
1946 Organization The United States Congress creates the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to take control over the scientific and industrial complex supporting the Manhattan Project and to maintain civilian government control over the field of atomic research and development.[3][23][24][25][26] United States
1947 Research The Atomic Energy Commission first investigates the possibility of peaceful uses of atomic energy.[3] United States
1949 Weapon The Soviet Union explodes it first nuclear bomb.[27]
1951 Technology Experimental Breeder Reactor I starts up in Idaho and produces the world’s first useable electric power from nuclear energy, illuminating four light bulbs.[22] United States
1952 Weapon The first hydrogen bomb is tested by the United States.[28]
1953 (December 8) United States president Dwight D. Eisenhower gives Atoms for Peace speech to the UN General Assembly in New York City, launching civilian program.[11] United States
1954 Power plant The Soviet Union opens the 5 MW Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant, the first nuclear power plant to produce electricity for a power grid.[22] Russia
1955 Submarine The USS Nautilus (SSN-571) launches as the first nuclear-powered submarine.[11] United States
1955 (August 8–20) Conference The first United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy is hosted in Geneva.[3] Switzerland
1956 Power plant Calder Hall opens in Sellafield, England. It is the first commercial nuclear power station for civil use.[2][22] United Kingdom
1956 Power plant Marcoule Nuclear Site is commissioned by the French nuclear program, generating its first electricity.[22] France
1957 Power plant The United States completes its first large-scale nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania.[22][3] United States
1957 (July 29) Organization The International Atomic Energy Agency is established with aims at promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy.[21]
1959 Power plant The first nuclear plant built without government funding is completed in Dresden, Illinois.[29] United States
1960 Power plant Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station starts operation in Rowe, Massachusetts, using the first fully commercial PWR of 250 MWe, designed by Westinghouse.[1] United States
1961 (November 22) Transportation The United States Navy commissions the world’s largest ship, the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with the ability to operate at speeds upto 30 knots for distances up to 740,800 kilometers without refueling.[3] United States
1964 Power plant The first two Soviet nuclear power plants are commissioned.[1] Soviet Union
1965 The United States launches the first nuclear reactor in space.[30][31][32] United States
1970 (March 5) Treaty The United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and 45 other nations ratify the Treaty for Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.[3]
1972 Reactor The world's first commercial prototype fast neutron reactor (the BN-350) started up in Kazakhstan, producing 120 MW of electricity and heat to desalinate Caspian seawater.[1] Soviet Union
1973 Reactor The first large RBMK (1,000 MW - high-power channel reactor) is commissioned at Sosnovy Bor, Leningrad Oblast.[1] Soviet Union
1974 Policy France decides to make a major push for nuclear energy. By 2004, the country would end up with 75% of its electricity coming from nuclear reactors.[11] France
1974 Power plant Atucha I Nuclear Power Plant becomes operational near Zárate, Buenos Aires. It's the first nuclear power plant in Latin America.[33][34][35] Argentina
1977 (August 20) Voyager 2 is launched toward the outer solar system. For 38 years, it would be powered by plutonium decay.[21]
1979 (March 28) Accident The Three mile island accident is the worst accident in United States commercial reactor history. The accident is caused by a loss of coolant from the reactor core due to a combination of mechanical malfunction and human error. However, no one is injured, and no overexposure to radiation results from the accident.[2][22][3][11] United States
1980 Penetration For the first time, nuclear energy generates more power than oil in the United States.[21] United States
1983 Penetration Nuclear energy generates more electricity than natural gas.[21] worldwide?
1984 Power plant The Koeberg Nuclear Power Station is commissioned 30 km north of Cape Town, South Africa. It remains the only one in the country, and the only one on the entire African continent. South Africa
1984 Penetration Nuclear power surpasses hydropower to become the second largest source of electricity in the United States.[21] United States
1986 Accident The Chernobyl disaster occurs after a safety test deliberately turns off safety systems. A large amount of radiation occurs, over fifty firefighter die, and up to 4,000 civilians are estimated to die of early cancer.[11] Soviet Union
1987 Nuclear waste Yucca Mountain is designated as a storage place for nuclear waste material produced in the United States.[36] United States
1990 Shutdown Italy has all of its four reactors closed down.[2]
1991 Statistics The United States have twice as many operating nuclear powerplants as any other country. At the end of the year, 31 other countries also have nuclear powerplants in commercial operation or under construction.[3]
1994 Treaty The Megatons to Megawatts Program is signed between the United States and Russia, to downblend nuclear warheads into reactor fuel. Eventually, 10% of US electricity would come from dismantled nuclear weapons.[11]
1996 Reactor Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Japan’s biggest power utility, starts commercial operation of the world’s first advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR), commissioned at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant.[22] Japan
2005 Power plant Finland approves construction of one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants, raising the dormant atomic power industry’s hopes for a revival.[22] Finland
2007 Power plant Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant becomes the first nuclear reactor to come online in the United States in the 21st century.[21] United States
2011 (March 11) Accident A 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami wrecks the Fukushima nuclear plant, triggering nuclear meltdowns that contaminate food and water and force mass evacuations. Nearly 16,000 people are killed in the earthquake and the tsunami and 3,300 remain unaccounted for. However, much of the radiation released of it goes out to sea instead of into populated area. No people are expected to die from radiation dose.[22][11][11] Japan
2012 Shutdown Japan shuts its last working nuclear power reactor following the nuclear disaster, leaving it without nuclear power for the first time since 1970.[22] Japan
2013 (March) Publication Famous climate scientist James Hansen co-publishes a paper from NASA computing that, even with worst case estimates of nuclear accidents, nuclear energy as a whole has saved 1.8 million lives and counting by offsetting the air-pollution related deaths that come from fossil fuel plants.[37][38][39]
2013 (September) Transportation Space probe Voyager I enters interstellar space, 36 years after its launch. It is powered by a Plutonium-238 Radioisotope thermoelectric generator.[11]

Meta information on the timeline

How the timeline was built

The initial version of the timeline was written by User:Sebastian.

Funding information for this timeline is available.

What the timeline is still missing

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Timeline update strategy

See also

External links

Timeline of Safety Enhancements to US Nuclear Energy Facilities


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