By Josh Simons on Dec 12, 2005
It's not popular to talk about nuclear power these days and even less popular to discuss nuclear malfunctions, but I did see an interesting tidbit in Ken Silverstein's The Radioactive Boy Scout that I'd like to pass on.
In 1942, Enrico Fermi achieved the first sustainable nuclear chain reaction using a primitive reactor constructed in a makeshift laboratory under the stands of the football field at the University of Chicago.
Silverstein describes the origin of the term "scram", which refers to the emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor:
The chain reaction took place in a small reactor, which Fermi called an atomic pile. One of the control rods made of cadmium--which blocks neutrons, which are used to split the uranium atom and initiate the chain reaction--was attached to a rope over a pulley and suspended above the reactor. Should something have gone wrong, a scientist named Norman Hilberry was to cut the rope with an axe, thereby dropping the cadmium rod into the reactor and, it was hoped, halting the chain reaction before a meltdown occurred. Hilberry's job title was Safety Control Rod Axe Man; hence, ever since then, an emergency nuclear-plant shutdown has been called a scram.