In the early 90’s a new spector of terror arose on the horizon, as the former Soviet Union was undergoing drastic political and economic changes. A major concern to the Western world at that time concerned the fate of the disintegrating stock pile of nuclear war heads in the hands of a fledgling Russia and its satellites.
Thomas L. Neff, a physicist from MIT had a novel idea. Why not let the Russians sell to the US diluted uranium which could be used fuel for electric utilities? For over two decades, that is exactly what happened.
Dr. Neff, not only came up with the idea, he acted as watch dog through the entire process. The energy that his dedication brought into the US illuminated one in ten American light bulbs.
Dr. Neff said that in the beginning he thought others would bring his idea to fruition. But, he stayed the course with the patience necessary to apply nuclear science to a technically complex and politically fragile undertaking. In the end, his mission was accomplished: “Uranium once meant to obliterate American cities ended up endowing them with energy.”
Providing America with a source of inexpensive energy is one thing. But, by following through with his original idea, Dr. Neff helped to stabilize the former Soviet Union. Beginning in 1999 250 shipments of uranium flowed from the former Soviet Union to the US. Last month, the last shipment arrived. Colorful flags in Russian and English announced, “20 thousand Nuclear Warheads Eliminated.”
To me, Thomas Neff is a great hero. He did what so many every day heroes do on a much smaller scale. He put his time, talent and energy into accomplishing a goal that helped to make the world a safer place. Dr. Neff is a great example of one who used his gifts of intelligence, creativity and persistence to save human kind from impending disaster. Always modest, Dr. Neff said that the lesson in his story, “… is that private citizens can actually do something.”