In Memoriam: Leonard Koch
Leonard “Len” Koch, who performed pioneering work for Argonne on two historically significant nuclear reactors, recently passed away in Tucson, Ariz., at the age of 95.
Koch worked at Argonne from 1948-1972 and led efforts to design and build two of the laboratory’s most important reactors, Experimental Breeder Reactors (EBR) I and II. Koch rose to the level of director of the Reactor Engineering Division in 1965.
EBR-I and EBR-II were critical developments in the history of nuclear reactors.
The work done by Len and his collaborators inform and drive the principles at the heart of the next-generation reactors that Argonne is working on to this day.
Associate Laboratory Director of Energy and Global Security Mark Peters
Koch started his career working on EBR-I, although secrecy policies meant he was not aware of the exact nature of the project he signed on to support. Koch would eventually become the associate project engineer for EBR-I, which was the first liquid metal cooled fast reactor. It was designed at Argonne’s suburban Chicago site, then built and managed at Argonne West, which would later become part of the Idaho National Laboratory.
Koch was in the front row of the famous photograph of the scientists, engineers, and technicians who wrote their names on the wall of EBR-I when it made history by illuminating a series of light bulbs, becoming the first nuclear reactor to generate useable amounts of electricity with the power of the atom.
The reactor was designated a National Historic Landmark on August 26, 1966.
Koch was the Project Manager for EBR-II, which is also a National Historic Landmark. EBR-II accomplished a string of unique achievements over its 30-year lifespan while demonstrating the feasibility of a complete fast reactor power plant with onsite reprocessing of metallic fuel.
In 1986, EBR-II demonstrated its inherent safety capabilities in a unique safety test. The reactor shut down automatically with normal shutdown devices disabled, simulating an accident caused by loss of power to the plant. This type of passive safety would become a hallmark of advanced reactor designs.
The principles demonstrated by EBR-II were incorporated in Argonne’s next generation reactor design, the Integral Fast Reactor. Yoon Chang, who was General Manger of the IFR Program, said his work could not have happened were it not for the efforts of Koch and his colleagues.
The brilliance of those early pioneers laid the foundation on which all of us have built our careers.
The field of nuclear engineering has lost one of its great leaders.
General Manager of the IFR Program Yoon Chang