More than 200 Years of Milestones

1789 Martin Klaproth discovers Uranium and names it after the planet Uranus.
1895 Wilhelm Röntgen accidentally discovers X-rays when he notices a luminescent screen left near a discharge tube was scintillating. The world immediately appreciates their medical potential.  Within five years the British Army is using a mobile x-ray unit to locate bullets and shrapnel in wounded soldiers in the Sudan.
1896 Henri Bequerel uses uranium and radium to discover alpha and beta rays, types of radiation. Paul Villard discovers gamma rays.
1896 J. J. Thomson discovers the electron.
1898 Pierre and Marie Curie first use the word “radiation” to describe the rays they were finding. They also postulated on the existence of Polonium and discovered Radium. Radium would go on and be used as a treatment for cancer. Also in this year, Samuel Prescott used radiation to kill bacteria in food.
1902 - 1919 Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy establish theory of nuclear reactions and conduct various experiments to manipulate elements by bombarding them with alpha and beta particles.
1905 Albert Einstein puts forward a theory relating mass and energy, E=mc2.
1911 George von Hevesy conceives the idea of using radioactive tracers.  This idea is later applied to medical diagnosis.
1913 Niels Bohr publishes model of the atomic structure – a mini solar system – still used today. Frederick Proescher publishes the first study on the intravenous injection of radium for therapy of various diseases.
1927 Herman Blumgart, a Boston physician, first uses radioactive tracers to diagnose heart disease.
1932 James Chadwick discovers the neutron, and important component in nuclear fission.
1933 Canada’s first uranium mine, at LaBine Point NWT (later renamed Port Radium), opens for production.
1934 Enrico Fermi showed that neutrons could split many different types of atoms and yield results lighter than their original reactants.
1937 John Livingood, Fred Fairbrother and Glenn Seaborg discover iron-59.  1938 John Livingood and Glenn Seaborg discover iodine-131 and cobalt-60 - all isotopes currently used in nuclear medicine.
1938 Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, replicating Fermi’s experiment proved that when the atoms are split, energy is in turn released; thereby discovering nuclear fission. The discovery of fission proved Einstein’s theory put forward 33 years prior.
1939 Frederic Curie, Halban and Kowarski demonstrate that fission of uranium can cause a chain reaction. They take a first patent on the production of nuclear energy.

Scientists around the world petitioned their governments to fund nuclear fission programs.

World War II begins.
1940 The Rockefeller Foundation funds the first cyclotron dedicated for biomedical radioisotope production at Washington University in St. Louis.
1942 Fermi and Szilard create Chicago Pile-1, the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear fission reaction beneath the stadium at Chicago University.
1942 - 1945 The Manhattan Project builds the world’s first Atomic Bomb. Two bombs are dropped on Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

World War II ends.
1944 Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) opens Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories 180 mi north of Ottawa; by September, 1945 the facility went online with the first nuclear reactor outside of the US. The Zero Energy Experimental Pile (ZEEP) laid the groundwork for eventual development of the CANDU power reactor.
1946 US Government creates AEC, the atomic energy commission. The commission was created to oversee all nuclear reactors and nuclear research in the US.

Canadian government passes the Atomic Energy Control Act and establishes the Atomic Energy Control Board, responsible for ensuring that nuclear energy use in Canada meets health, safety, security and environmental standards.
1948 Nuclear chain reaction achieved in ZOE, the first French atomic pile in Fort de Chatillon.
1949 The Soviet Union gets the atomic bomb.
1951 Experimental Breeder Reactor I starts in Idaho. Breeder reactors create more fissionable material in the chain reaction process than they consume. EBR-I generated the first energy created by nuclear power.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve sodium iodide 1-131 for use with thyroid patients.  It is the first FDA-approved radiopharmaceutical.
1952 The US sets off the first hydrogen bomb. This bomb uses fusion.

In Canada, AECL is incorporated as a federal crown corporation.
1953 Seeking a way out of the growing nuclear arms race, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers his “Atoms for Peace” speech to the to the UN General Assembly, proposing the creation of the “International Atomic Energy Agency”
1954 The USSR completes Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant, the first nuclear power plant to produce electricity (5 megawatts) for a power grid.

President Dwight Eisenhower signs Atomic Energy Act, opening door to private use of nuclear energy.
1955 The first nuclear powered submarine, the USS Nautilus is launched. Decommissioned in 1980, the Nautilus covered 513,550 nautical miles and was the first submarine to literally cross the geographic North Pole, beneath miles of sea ice.

Arco, Idaho (population 1000) becomes the first U.S. town to be powered by nuclear energy.
1956 Calder Hall, the world’s first commercial nuclear power station, opens in England.
1957 The US completes its first large-scale nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania.

The UN forms IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency to promote nuclear power and stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
1959 In Illinois, the Dresden-1 Nuclear Power Station, the first US nuclear plant built without government funding, achieves self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

First fast breeder reactor begins operation in the Obninsk Scientific Center, Russia (12 megawatts).
1960 The Atomic Energy Commission announces the successful development of a 220-pound nuclear reactor designed to provide electric power for space vehicles.

World-wide, 15 nuclear power reactors were in operation with a combined electricity generation capacity of 1,087 megawatts.
1962 David Kuhl introduces emission reconstruction tomography.  This method later became known as SPECT and PET.  It was extended in radiology to transmission X-ray scanning, known as CT.

Canada’s first nuclear power plant – the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) – begins operation in Rolphton, Ontario.
1963 The United States and Soviet Union sign the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits underwater, atmospheric, and outer space nuclear tests.  More than 100 countries have ratified the treaty since 1963.
1964 The world's first nuclear powered lighthouse, the "Baltimore Light," on the Chesapeake Bay in Md., goes into operation.  A 60-watt radioisotope nuclear generator, 345 inches high, weighing 4,600 pounds, supplies a continuous flow of electricity for 10 years without refueling.

In Canada, the Ontario provincial government announces plans to build large-scale CANDU nuclear reactors at Pickering. Pickering Unit 1 starts operation in 1971.
1965 The US launches the first nuclear reactor in space.
1968 - 1986 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) calling for halting the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities is signed.  By 1970, more than 50 countries had ratified the NPT.  By 1986, more than 130 countries had ratified it.
1970 World-wide, 84 nuclear power reactors were in operation with a combined electricity generation capacity of 17,656 megawatts.
1971 The American Medical Association officially recognizes nuclear medicine as a medical specialty.
1972 Computer axial tomography, commonly known as CAT scanning, is introduced.  A CAT scan combines many high-definition, cross-sectional x-rays to produce a two-dimensional image of a patient's anatomy.
1973 Phenix, first French fast breeder power plant in operation in Marcoule goes online (250 megawatts).
1974 India detonates its first nuclear device, leading to the development of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to set guidelines that restrict the export of certain nuclear and dual-use materials, equipment and technologies.
1977 US President Carter bans the recycling of used nuclear fuel from commercial reactors. The Voyager 2 spacecraft is launched with its electrical systems powered by the decay of plutonium 238 pellets. Canada’s department of Energy, Mines and Resources commissions an independent expert panel to study and report on safe, long-term storage of radioactive waste. The panel recommends the development of a national plan.
1978 David Goldenberg uses radiolabeled antibodies to image tumors in humans. The Canadian Nuclear Fuel Waste Management Program is established to develop safe and permanent disposal methods for used nuclear fuel. AECL is given the task of researching and developing the concept of a deep geologic disposal site in the Canadian Shield.
1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania suffers a partial core meltdown.  The event sparked many improvements in nuclear power plant operations - from emergency response planning to reactor operator training.
1980 The Joint FAO/IAEA/WHO Expert Committee on the Wholesomeness of Irradiated Food (JECFI), evaluated (in 1964, 1969, 1976, and 1980) the results of wholesomeness and safety testing. In 1980, JECFI approves all irradiated foods treated with a maximum average dose of 10 kGy.

World-wide, 245 nuclear power reactors were in operation with a combined electricity generation capacity of 133,037 megawatts.
1982 Steve Larson and Jeff Carrasquillo use iodine-131 labeled monoclonial antibodies to treat cancer patients with malignant melanoma. Natural Resources Canada establishes the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office to oversee the handling and storage of low-level radioactive wastes from past industrial operations and research activities in Canada.
1983 Nuclear power generates more energy than natural gas in the US.
1986 The Chernobyl explosion occurs. Subsequently, numerous initiatives were taken to strengthen global nuclear governance, including:
  • 1986 Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident
  • 1986 Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency
  • 1994 Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS)—the first legally binding multilateral nuclear safety treaty
  • 1997 Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management
U.S. FDA approves irradiation of fruits and vegetables and other foods up to doses of 1 kGy.
1987 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act designates Yucca Mountain, Nevada as candidate for the US’s first geological repository for high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.
1990 World-wide, 416 nuclear power reactors were in operation with a combined electricity generation capacity of 318,253 megawatts.
1994 Canada’s AECL submits its report on deep geologic disposal of nuclear waste. The government’s Environmental Assessment Agency Panel begins reviews and public consultations in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan — the five provinces in which nuclear waste is either produced or where nuclear R&D facilities are located
1995 Megatons to Megawatts program launched by the US and Russia. The most successful non-proliferation program to date, over 18,000 nuclear warheads have been recycled into low enriched uranium (LEU) used to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants. The program ends at the close of 2013.
1997 Canadian government passes the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, replacing the Atomic Control Act of 1946 and designed to improve the regulatory framework for the nuclear industry. It also replaces the Atomic Energy Control Board with a new regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

The IAEA’s Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste is signed by 15 states. It’s the first international agreement to promote the safety of spent fuel and the management of radioactive waste. It went into effect in June, 2001 and, as of 2012, has 67 participating countries.
1998 Canada’s Environmental Assessment Agency Panel completes its review of the deep geologic concept. It finds the safety of the AECL proposal technically sound but concludes that it remains a socially unacceptable plan in Canada.
1997 With the positive implications for the nuclear power industry, the UN’s Kyoto Protocol is agreed to. The protocol is designed to set binding obligations on participating nations to reduce greenhouse gases (and subsequent climate changes). It goes into effect in 2005.
2000 World-wide, 435 nuclear power reactors were in operation with a combined electricity generation capacity of 349,999 megawatts.

US Department of Energy (DOE) convenes representatives from 9 countries to collaborate in the development of Generation IV nuclear energy systems. By 2012, 13 countries are active participants in the Generation IV International Forum (GIF).
2001 The term ‘nuclear renaissance’ is coined to describe a possible nuclear power industry revival driven by fossil fuel prices and international pressure to reduce greenhouse gases.
2002 The Canadian government passes the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. The new legislation calls on nuclear power producers to create the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.
2008 IAEA publishes “Climate Change and Nuclear Power” to promote nuclear power solutions to the world’s greenhouse gas emission targets.
2010 World-wide, 441 nuclear power reactors were in operation with a combined electricity generation capacity of 375,280 megawatts.
2011 Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan is destroyed after unprecedented earthquake and tsunami sweep the country. Some of the outcomes include increased regulatory oversight measures and further strengthening of safety features at nuclear plants around the world.
2012 World-wide, 437 nuclear power reactors were in operation with a combined electricity generation capacity of 371,762 megawatts.

One ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent to burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.