An original graphite brick from the Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1), the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction, is selling at Heritage Auctions.
It’s valued at $10,000-15,000 ahead of the April 29-30 Nature and Science Signature Auction in Dallas.
The first nuclear reactor was a pile of uranium shielded with graphite bricks
You might be alarmed at the use of the word “pile” in a nuclear context, and you’d be right to be.
The experiment took place on December 2, 1942 under the west stand of Stagg Field - the University of Chicago’s football stadium.
Headed by physicist Enrico Fermi, scientists piled up close to 60 short tonnes of uranium. It was shielded by graphite bricks (including the present specimen).
This was the first nuclear reactor ever to go "critical", a landmark moment in the development of nuclear power.
Fortunately for those present, the reaction was fairly low power.
Despite a persistent myth that has dogged the experiment in the years since, none of the 49 scientists present died of complications related to radiation and most lived to old age.
A year later the pile was dismantled and moved to the site of the Manhattan Project in Illinois. Within two years, the first nuclear bombs would fall on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The brick itself is encased in clear acrylic and is perfectly safe, although it would probably indicate a low level radioactivity if you ran a Geiger counter over it.
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