Who Was Alvin Weinberg?
Alvin Weinberg – visionary energy pioneer
The Weinberg Foundation is named in honour of Dr Alvin Weinberg , a nuclear energy pioneer and one of the first scientists to advocate nuclear power as a low carbon energy source to fight climate change. A visionary scientist and key figure in the history of nuclear energy, Weinberg served as director of the US government’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory for 18 years between 1955 and 1973. He pioneered the Light Water Reactor and lead the breakthrough Molten Salt Reactor programme, as well as playing a key role in developing the X-10 Pile, the world’s first continuously operating reactor.
Throughout his career, Dr Weinberg was deeply concerned about air pollution, global warming and sustainable energy for humanity. His landmark 1974 Science journal article, ‘Global Effects of Man’s Production of Energy’ , warned of the long-term consequences for the climate of continued fossil fuel use. In 1975, Weinberg persuaded the US Department of Energy to fund a groundbreaking climate change research program at ORNL. The program trained up a cohort of energy and climate change specialists, and helped clarify the human and environmental costs of ongoing reliance on coal for electricity. In the 1960s, Weinberg served as science advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and in 1974 he became director of President Nixon’s Energy Research and Development Office (ERDO). During his tenure at ERDO, Weinberg demonstrated his commitment to all forms of low carbon energy by recommending the founding of a US government solar energy research institute, an initiative which led to the creation of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Dr Weinberg knew, though, that there would be little chance of mitigating climate change without nuclear power. In a prophetic 1976 paper he warned that any moratorium on nuclear power stations would result in huge increases in carbon emissions, as coal plants would inevitably fill the gap. Dr Weinberg had a keen concern for international peace and cooperation, and so we aim to stimulate nuclear research that supports non-proliferation and promotes international scientific collaboration.
Weinberg was acutely aware that the unique benefits of nuclear energy can only be realised in a society committed to long-term scientific research and development. During the height of anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s, Weinberg predicted a ‘Second Nuclear Era’ involving the development of advanced reactors, such as the Molten Salt Reactor, which would be inherently safe, create minimal waste and able to generate large amounts of clean electricity for many centuries.
The Alvin Weinberg Foundation aims to kickstart this new era of clean energy and is dedicated to making Dr Alvin Weinberg’s humane vision a reality.