The reason that the arrival of this unassuming chunk of grey material made me so gleeful is its history. I’m a bit of a nerd about nuclear power which is an obsession that’s currently slightly less acceptable than fox hunting. The history of nuclear reactors (artificial ones at least) started in a sports stadium in Chicago in 1942. A team lead by Enrico Fermi demonstrated that you could control a fission chain-reaction in a safe manner. The reactor they built was called Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1) since it was literally a pile of graphite blocks, some of which also contained pellets of uranium. All modern reactors, including those that provide the UK with a fifth of it’s electricity, are direct descendants of that first reactor in Chicago.
Recently the CP-1 site was being remediated and a number of original graphite blocks were found. One of these blocks was sliced up into small pieces to be sold for charity. Because I follow a lot of nuclear power folks on the Internet I saw the announcement and a few weeks later I now have a piece of the worlds first nuclear reactor sitting on my bookshelf.
In a pleasing piece of symmetry while most modern nuclear reactor are water-moderated the one closest to me (which probably supplies part of the electricity I use) is Dungeness which is graphite-moderated just like CP-1.