Nuclear Engineer/CGNP expert Dr. Abraham Weitzberg
has seen the ups and downs of the nuclear industry from its beginning - and from the inside out. Accepted to the undergraduate program at MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering in 1953, Abe switched to the nascent field of Nuclear Engineering when he encountered “smelly experiences” at a refinery and chemical plant. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1962, he worked at Atomics International (AI) in Canoga Park, CA, working on the physics and safety of space reactors (at the time, space was another promising new field).
From 1965-1977 Abe worked for General Electric, first on liquid metal fast reactors then boiling water reactors (BWRs). For several years he led GE’s Nuclear Methods Group developing nuclear analytical methods – the precursors of today’s data-intensive computer modeling. Since 1977 he has been a consultant for utilities, the Department of Energy and its national laboratories (Oak Ridge, Sandia, others), the Electric Power Research Institute, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and NASA.
Last year, Abe was awarded the American Nuclear Society’s 2017 Standards Service Award
“in recognition of nearly 50 years of outstanding contributions in pioneering new reactor physics standards as a working group member and working group.” He’s made a substantial contribution to CGNP’s filings before California’s Public Utilities Commission, and continues to perform consulting work on nuclear space propulsion systems.
I recently asked him about his role in one of the most controversial fields of the last century, and what we might expect for the future of nuclear energy.
CW: What specific roles did you perform when designing nuclear reactors?
I led the effort for the GE core physics and thermal hydraulic design for the reactors GE sold and built in the late 1960's through the TMI accident. I supported the DOE participation in space reactor programs from 1980 on.
CW: Any anecdotes of interest from the early days (1960s-1970s)?
We were doing things that had never been done before. In 1963, at AI, we were brainstorming on ways to test the effects of a launch failure dropping a SNAP reactor into the ocean. Calculations showed that the reactor would destroy itself with little release of radioactivity. I suggested using a method based on some immersion criticality experiments I had done. A couple of years later we blew up the reactor using my suggested method.
About 10 years later, when GE was restarting the first BWR using fuel rods with gadolinia the startup engineers were quite concerned when the startup looked much different from what they were accustomed to seeing. It took us, the methods developers, about 2 minutes to identify the cause and to explain why there was not a problem. more...