Kuiper with the Plot M sign "Caution - Do Not Dig. Buried in this area is radioactive waste...There is no danger to visitors." The "No" has been carefully chiseled out.

Do Not Dig (Site A/Plot M Disposal Site)

“Jim, you’ll be interested to know, the Italian navigator has just landed in the new world. The earth is not as large as he had estimated. He arrived at the new world sooner than he expected.”

“Is that so? Were the natives friendly?” “Everyone landed safe and happy.” Conversation in code between Arthur Compton (Nobel-prize winning physicist) and James Conant (chairman of National Defense Research Committee), 1942. Compton was reporting on the success of the world’s first man-made nuclear reaction.

The world’s first nuclear reactor is buried about 1,500 feet (460 meters) from where Kuiper is sitting. Don’t worry; there’s about 8 bajillion pounds of concrete surrounding it. The stuff right below us (which is also surrounded by concrete) is considered “low level waste,” i.e. it’s stuff like contaminated lab equipment. We stopped by here on the way to Madison, WI, where we’ll be for the next few days.

Chicago Pile 1 was constructed under the stands of a University of Chicago football stadium in 1942. It was operated by a team of heckin’ scientists, including Enrico Fermi. After the first successful experiment, they decided that maybe this wasn’t the best place for a nuclear reactor. They moved it out to the woods, built Argonne National Laboratory, and renamed it Chicago Pile 2.

Researchers from Argonne also designed the reactor that would power the first atomic submarine, the USS Nautilus. Before the Nautilus, submarines ran on a combination of diesel (on the surface) and electric (when submerged.) The batteries had an extremely limited range and the subs couldn’t replenish their own oxygen, so they could only stay submerged for a few days. The Nautilus could stay underwater for weeks while cruising for thousands of miles.

Other notable tidbits about Argonne include the invention of the ultrasound machine, and an incident involving radio broadcaster Paul Harvey. In 1951, he tried to sneak in but got into a fight with the 10-ft barbed wire fence and lost. He was charged with conspiracy to transmit national security information….

…but a grand jury chose not to indict him. Now you know….the rest of the story. How is your week going?

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