My drawing of Chicago based on the sketches of architect Bertrand Goldberg and containing some of his architecture.
What city can claim the most nuclear-related history in all of the USA? There are ample contenders, but the award if there were one I feel would have to go to Chicago. Consider the following:
—The Dresden Generating Station, the first fully private, long-term, nuclear generating plant in the United States was built southwest of Chicago. (Vallecitos and Shippingport were both older, but Vallecitos was not a long-term project as a power-generating facility and Shippingport was not under fully private auspices.)
—The headquarters of the American Nuclear Society and the Radiological Society of North America are both in the Chicago metro area. The ANS probably needs no introduction here, but for those who don't know about the RSNA, it's the largest professional society for medical radiology in the world and sponsors the most-crucial and well-attended meeting for radiologists and other medical professionals involved in diagnostic radiology, nuclear medicine, and radiation therapy fields in the world.
—The Chicago area is also home to the NRC's Region III offices and a number of nuclear-related consulting firms.
—Two of our leading National Labs, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Argonne National Laboratory, are both located in the Chicago region. Their contributions to nuclear science and related fields are far too numerous to even begin to list here.
—Illinois is not short on nuclear power plants, either, including the ill-fated if very interesting Zion Nuclear Generating Station to the north of Chicago.
But beyond all else, Chicago was the home to the world's first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1, designed by Enrico Fermi himself at the University of Chicago under an abandoned stadium's stands. This makes the Windy City also the original Nuclear City. The net result on a sociological level of Dr. Fermi's awesome project was not just the advent of the general atomic age, but the specific local example of nuclear and the promise it held. New York was America's financial heart, DC its seat of government, LA its gateway to Asia and home of the film industry, but Chicago could, in a changing post-war world, become the national seat of science and technology. People believed in nuclear here. Nuclear wasn't just a future energy source, but it inspired people—it inspired medical research, it inspired architects like Bertrand Goldberg who was based in Chicago, to apply nuclear concepts, engineering-driven design, and hi-tech materials to his architecture. It inspired people to look to the future because people in Chicago were proud that they were one birthplace of nuclear technology.
This was all before Three Mile Island, before people started to distrust nuclear. It was a time of progressive views on energy and technology in general and a mindset we very much need to see return to America. I've reported in this blog of Russia's nuclear march forward and others—journalists at Wired and elsewhere—have reported on China's fast climb in many technology sectors. If we, as Americans, give up on nuclear we're not just foolishly setting aside our greatest long-term energy solution but also a wealth of side-product technologies that grow forth form nuclear-oriented research. When you look at Chicago, you see a legacy that started literally on day one. That's a legacy that can be owned by the entire nation if we want it.