Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 16

This is the sixteenth volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.

This is the sixteenth volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.

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  • PETER MURRAY 1920–2009


    PETER MURRAY has been recognized internationally for his contributions to the development of nuclear energy for the production of electricity and for the recycling of nuclear fuel with the potential to increase dramatically nuclear fuel resources for the centuries ahead. His career was devoted to high-temperature materials and nuclear fuel research and the design and engineering of uranium dioxide fuel used in today’s worldwide fleet of nuclear electricity-generating plants as well as in advanced reactors being developed for nuclear fuel recycling. Dr. Murray died on July 26, 2009, at the age of 89.

    Born in Rotherham, Yorkshire, England, on March 13, 1920, Peter Murray was an outstanding product of the British education establishment, gaining a B.Sc. with honors in chemistry and a Ph.D. in metallurgy and ceramics from Sheffield University in 1950. From 1949 to 1967, he was employed by the U.K. Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE), in Harwell, starting as a metallurgist, and was appointed head of the metallurgy division in 1960 and assistant director in 1964.

    Peter worked extensively on the effects of radiation and reactor coolants on materials, including metal, oxide, and carbide fuels. He became heavily involved with both thermal and fast reactor development programs, including the reactors in Dounreay, Scotland. He participated in many trips and discussions on nuclear energy and nuclear fuel, including trips to facilities in the United States. He was one of the first foreign nationals to tour American facilities and participated with American scientists on nuclear fuel and nuclear power.

    He was part of the U.K. team that visited Soviet nuclear facilities in the early 1960s (he subsequently participated in a U.S. visit to Soviet facilities about a decade later). He also hosted overseas visitors to the U.K. facilities; one such visit involved then U.S. Navy Captain Hyman Rickover, who was very impressed with the work being done on ceramic uranium dioxide as a nuclear fuel. (Rickover subsequently investigated these ceramic fuels further for naval propulsion reactors.)

    During this time Dr. Murray engaged vigorously in the activities of his professional associations. He was president of the British Ceramic Society in 1965. He received the Holland Memorial Prize in Research from Sheffield University in 1949 and the Newton Chambers Prize of the Royal Institute of Chemistry in 1954. He was the Mellor Memorial Lecturer of the Institute of Ceramics in 1963. He was also a member of the powder and metallurgy and nuclear energy committees of the Institute of Metals and a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry and the Institute of Ceramics.

    By the mid-1960s the United States was building more nuclear power plants for electricity production than any other country. The U.S. industry was short on skilled manpower, so intense recruitment was pursued overseas. Peter was one of the prime rewards from that recruitment. His recruitment caused an uproar in the United Kingdom, where the media protested the “American brain drain” even more loudly when he left the AERE in 1967 and joined the Westinghouse Advanced Reactor Division (ARD) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There he played a leading technical and management role in ceramic fuel development for the pressurized water-cooled reactors that were the prime commercial offerings by Westinghouse as well as for advanced sodium-cooled reactors in the fuel recycling mode.

    ARD’s highest-priority research and development effort was the sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor, the most promising system that could recycle used nuclear fuel to produce plutonium to fuel additional reactors. The term “breeder” denoted the capability of the system to produce more fuel than it used to produce power. Westinghouse was awarded a contract by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to design, build, and operate a major sodium-cooled test reactor, the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) in Hanford, Washington, to demonstrate the reactor performance and fuel capability of a breeder system. The FFTF was completed and operated successfully, placing Westinghouse in the technical lead in fast breeder technology in the United States. The reliability and high-burnup capability of the fuel were also successfully demonstrated.

    Dr. Murray was a key technical contributor to this effort. He was instrumental in the development of the reference fuel pin design for the FFTF, which was utilized in the subsequent breeder demonstration plant. He also contributed to development of the fuel’s heavily cold-worked stainless steel cladding to control radiation-induced swelling. He played a key role in the development of major test facilities and programs investigating corrosion transport phenomena in liquid metal systems.

    As confidence rose that the FFTF program would be successful, DOE issued a competitive request for proposals to build a demonstration breeder plant. With the substantial help of Dr. Murray, Westinghouse won that contract. The 350-MWe plant, called the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, was designed and licensed, and construction preparation started in Clinch River, Tennessee.

    A related Westinghouse business objective to which Peter contributed substantially was the commercial fabrication of mixed plutonium (IV) oxide–uranium dioxide fuels, based on the FFTF fuel design, which would fuel future breeder reactors as well as water-cooled reactors. A demonstration fabrication facility was built at the ARD, and plans were laid to build a commercial fabrication plant in the southeastern United States. As Westinghouse’s market expanded in Europe, in 1975 Peter was assigned for a year as director of research for Westinghouse Electric Europe in Brussels. He enlarged the research and development effort there, benefiting further from available skilled European researchers, and then returned to the ARD in Pittsburgh as chief scientist.

    In the late 1970s DOE curtailed its sodium-cooled reactor program because of a greatly reduced need for expanded nuclear fuel reserves and concerns about the proliferation resistance of recycled fuel systems. The Clinch River Project was canceled. Operation of the FFTF continued until 1992 and, though very successful, its mission was not expanded to cover other attributes of sodium-cooled fast reactors. Westinghouse’s plan for commercial mixed-oxide fuel fabrication also was discontinued. Westinghouse realized the need for a greater technical presence with the federal government on nuclear power matters, so Peter was asked to fulfill this role and was appointed director of the nuclear programs of the Government Affairs Office of Westinghouse in Washington, D.C., in 1981. He was the principal Westinghouse architect of the strategy to revitalize nuclear energy through an innovative reactor design and to secure support from DOE, U.S. utilities, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

    Peter was instrumental in shaping the strategy for a revolutionary reactor technology that Westinghouse was developing in 1985. This technology was to be a new design that would depend only on natural forces to safeguard a nuclear power plant from an accident, even though an accident was quite unlikely. This would mean that the plant’s design would not employ safety-grade pumps, motors, valves, and diesel generators. Instead, the new design would depend on gravity, evaporation, condensation, and natural circulation to safeguard the plant. This design was dubbed the Advanced Passive 600 (AP600), capable of delivering in excess of 600 megawatts of electrical power, safeguarded by passive safety systems that used natural forces. If successful, this new plant design would result in substantial simplification of systems and components and a concomitant reduction in building sizes—thus resulting in superior safety and economics.

    To develop such a design was a large undertaking. In 1988 the DOE, U.S. utilities, and EPRI were engaged in discussions with suppliers, such as Westinghouse and General Electric, to develop nuclear plant designs that were safer and more economical than the already-safe plants in operation at that time. Peter worked tirelessly and effectively with the DOE and EPRI to formulate two major programs—the Advanced Light Water Reactor Design Certification Program and the First of a Kind Engineering Program. The objective of the first program—design certification—was to develop the safety details of a nuclear design and obtain approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    The DOE established a cost-share program wherein Westinghouse’s AP600 was one of four designs selected in 1990. Peter’s role in this success, along with several other major accomplishments, earned him the Order of Merit, the highest award of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. As work on the design certification program progressed from 1990 to 1994, it become evident that the AP600 had the potential to be a key element in a nuclear energy renaissance, not only in the United States but around the world as well.

    Nevertheless, there remained much work to be done on the nonsafety aspects of the plant—an expensive undertaking for any given organization. Peter devised a second program— First of a Kind Engineering—in collaboration with DOE and EPRI. This time the competition was more intense. only the four designs involved with design certification would be considered, and the amount of funding to be distributed would be based on voting from the American nuclear utilities involved.

    Peter’s strategy, counseling, and persuasiveness resulted in a compelling affirmation of the AP600 passive design. Only two of the four competing designs were selected by the utilities, and of the two winners the AP600 garnered 74 percent of the votes for funding. Peter was also instrumental in the development of the related AP1000 reactor design, which offered the same passive safety approach of the AP600 but with a higher power output.

    Russell Smith of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, LLP, remembers that working with Peter Murray to obtain government support for research, development, and licensing of the Westinghouse AP600 reactor remains one of the highlights of his experience as a lobbyist and government relations counselor. Peter brought to this undertaking a commitment to both nuclear power and the AP600 design, a depth of knowledge that no one (supporter or opponent) could equal, and a unique ability to communicate that knowledge to anyone from a senior senator to the “greenest” congressional staff member. Of course, Peter’s charm and his wonderful accent were the icing on the cake. Once he began talking, we were usually well on our way to winning a vote!

    He added: “So few of our clients become friends. I looked forward to every encounter with Peter, and I can’t think of anyone with whom I have enjoyed ‘walking the halls’ of Congress more than Peter. It is satisfying to know that he had a long, eventful, and valuable career and life, and to think fondly of picking up the phone and hearing him talking about activity at the Energy Department facility in ‘Mary-land’ and exclaiming ‘Hello, what’s this?’ when learning of a new development. He was one of a kind.” Peter continued in that role as well as remaining as a consultant on nuclear programs to Westinghouse after his retirement until his death.

    Dr. Murray authored 80 scientific and technical papers published in professional journals and had several patents. In addition to his election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1976 and much recognition in the United Kingdom, he was elected to membership in the Institute of Ceramics, the American Nuclear Society, and the American Ceramic Society. He also acted in advisory capacities to the DOE, including as a U.S. delegate to the U.S./Japan Ceramic Fuel Exchange Meeting, as a member of U.S. reactor teams to Europe in 1969 and the USSR in 1970, and as a member of Argonne National Laboratory review committees for metallurgy.

    He was broadly recognized professionally in the United States for his technical achievements: the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Nuclear Society, Materials Science and Technology Division in 1983 “for pioneering work on the development of oxide fuels for thermal and fast reactors”; the Order of Merit Award from Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1983 “for his outstanding accomplishments in the field of nuclear science and technology”; fellow of the American Nuclear Society in 1986 “in recognition of his pioneering achievements in developing metals and ceramics for application to nuclear power generation and for fostering an international development of safe, reliable reactor system performance through managerial and technical leadership”; and the Walker Lee Cisler Medal of the American Nuclear Society in 2004 in recognition of his leadership in the development of fast breeder reactor technology.

    In the English tradition, Dr. Murray was a Renaissance man, not just an outstanding scientist devoted only to nuclear science and engineering. In his spare time he enjoyed reading the poetry of William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. He was known for his ability to recite long passages from King Lear and Hamlet on the spot. He had a positive and optimistic attitude that showed up especially at moments of general discouragement when tests and experiments produced unexpected results. He was an undaunted promoter of nuclear energy because of his conviction that it was an essential contributor to the world’s energy future. He always introduced safety into discussions about performance and economics. He always respected people and treated them well.

    H. Vaughn Gilbert remembers that upon discovering that Gilbert was an amateur Churchill scholar, Peter told him this story. In the early 1950s, when Churchill was in his second stint as prime minister, he visited a confidential site that was being used to develop civilian nuclear power. Peter was assigned as one of the technical hosts who was to answer any questions the prime minister might have.

    Churchill, looking through thick glass at a uranium pellet of some sort that was on display for the VIP visitor, asked Peter what would happen if one touched it. Peter responded that it would probably kill you but not for 30 or 40 years. Churchill then quipped: “Given that I am now well into my 70s, call me if it falls off and needs to be repositioned on the display case.”

    Peter married Josie Glaisher in 1947 and was a devoted husband until her death in 2007. He remained active in retirement—as a consultant, as a husband, and as a caregiver to Josie when she became ill—and as a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He volunteered at a nursing home, helping residents often 10 to 20 years his junior. He actually broke his hip while volunteering and, with his indomitable spirit and family love, recovered and went back to living at home. He remained mentally and physically active until pneumonia took him away.

    He was a loving father and family man and is survived by his three children—Jane Weston (of East Amherst, New York), Paul Murray (of Key West, Florida), and Alexander Murray (of Gaithersburg, Maryland); four grandchildren—Robert Weston, Jamie Weston, Peter Murray, and Krista Murray; a great-granddaughter, Julia Jane Weston; and a great-grandson, Peter Alan Gerard Weston. The family has many fond memories of Peter, including the many visits of American scientists to his home in England, playing with the children and the pets, and chatting with anybody on anything and everything. He is missed both professionally and personally.

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