[ RadSafe ] Alvin Weinberg

Jaro jaro-10kbq at sympatico.ca
Thu Oct 19 20:27:56 CDT 2006

Nuclear pioneer dies
Weinberg was longtime director of ORNL
By FRANK MUNGER, munger at knews.com
October 19, 2006

OAK RIDGE - Nuclear pioneer Alvin Weinberg, the director of Oak Ridge
National Laboratory for 18 years and a prominent figure in American science
for decades, died Wednesday evening.
He was 91 years old.

Weinberg died at his Oak Ridge home of natural causes, said his son, Richard
Weinberg. Weinberg was hospitalized with a "dissecting aneurysm" a couple of
years ago, and his health had declined in recent weeks, said his son, who
lives in North Carolina.

"Alvin Weinberg, perhaps more than any single individual, personified Oak
Ridge National Laboratory," current ORNL Director Jeff Wadsworth said in a

Weinberg's life was rich with accomplishment, but he was inextricably linked
to his work on the World War II Manhattan Project, which shaped his career.

In 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, the 26-year-old Weinberg joined the
A-bomb project at the urging of Carl Eckart, one of his professors at the
University of Chicago.

Biophysics was his academic training, and Weinberg had planned to become a
neurophysiologist. With the urgency of wartime, however, he shifted gears at
the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, where he worked on designs for nuclear
reactors that ultimately produced the plutonium for the bomb dropped on
Nagasaki, Japan.

"We were under enormous pressure," Weinberg said in a 1984 interview.
"People were dying. Americans and others were being killed at an enormous
rate. We knew if we succeeded, then the war would be over. I never worked so
hard in my life."

In May 1945, Weinberg came to Oak Ridge and joined the staff at Clinton
Laboratories, which later became ORNL.

The overgrown government encampment was still a muddy mess with wartime
rationing in effect, but the rural beauty and mountains all around
enthralled the Chicago native.

Weinberg gained a leadership role at the Oak Ridge lab in the postwar years,
becoming research director in 1948 and director in 1955. He is credited with
helping the laboratory transition from wartime to its place as a science
research facility of international stature.

"I was unimpressed by the arguments offered by some people that in order to
have an important laboratory, you had to be in a great metropolitan center,"
Weinberg said. "On the contrary, I said you have great opportunities to
build something from scratch. I had no doubt you could build a great
laboratory in the heart of East Tennessee."

Weinberg served as ORNL director longer than anyone. After leaving in 1973,
he founded the Institute for Energy Analysis, a think-tank that explored
energy issues of all types. In 1974, he was named director of the U.S.
Office of Energy Research and Development in Washington, D.C., and helped
shaped science programs around the country.

Throughout his career, Weinberg was a hardy proponent of nuclear energy and
long predicted a second nuclear era, when the energy source of the atom
would regain its early popularity. Some people believe the United States is
about to embark on that period with the first new reactor construction
planned in decades.

Even before World War II was over, Weinberg and other physicists and
engineers were speculating on the future of nuclear energy. It was Weinberg
who proposed the design for a pressurized water reactor that ultimately was
used to power nuclear submarines.

Although he participated in the original A-bomb project, Weinberg was deeply
concerned about maintaining the peace.

In a 1946 speech, as the Cold War approached, he warned of the folly of
atomic war.
"Who will bury the dead, who will rule the conquered, who will be victor,
who vanquished? This is not war - this is suicide," he said.

Up until recent months, Weinberg continued to be active and occasionally
attended seminars or special events at ORNL.

He is survived by his son and three grandchildren.

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