You had uranium in the rocks, in principle an inexhaustible source of energy – enough to keep you going for hundreds of millions of years. I got very, very excited about that because here was an embodiment of a way to save mankind. I guess I acquired a little bit of the same spirit as the Ayatollah Khomeini has at the moment. Alvin Weinberg, first director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1981
The messianic pronouncements of the 1950s about nuclear power were, in large part, based on the notion of an “inexhaustible” energy source. This required the conversion of uranium-238, which constitutes about 99.3 percent of natural uranium and is not a nuclear reactor fuel, into plutonium in special reactors called “breeder reactors”; it also needed facilities to separate that plutonium from highly radioactive waste and unused uranium (called “reprocessing”). In 1954 the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss, proposed that nuclear energy would one day be “too cheap to meter.”
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