Charles Julian Barton, Sr

Charles Julian Barton, Sr, a reactor chemistry pioneer, died of causes related to his advanced age at 1:40 AM on January 31, 2009 at the NHC Health Care Center in Oak Ridge. He had celebrated his 97th birthday on January 16th.

Dr. Barton was born on January 16, 1912, in the Campbell County town of Jellico, Tennessee. He was the son of Viola Hodsden Barton and Charles Lee Barton. Dr. Barton attended public school in Jellico until 1929 when he began studying at Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Kentucky. During his year as a Cumberland College student, he developed an interest in chemistry. The next year he transferred to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he obtained a BS in 1933 and an MS in 1934. He then went on to obtain a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Virginia in 1939.

Between 1934 and 1936, Dr. Barton worked as a chemist for TVA testing the quality of the cement that went into Norris Dam. After obtaining his PhD. He obtained employment in the rayon industry, and was a rayon chemist till 1946 when he took a job with International Minerals at a phosphate mine near Bartow, Florida. In 1948 he accepted an offer to join Warren Grimes’ chemistry group at Y-12, where his most notable assignment was the development of a technique for the separation of zirconium from hafnium. This was an important step to the development of the Light Water Reactors, because zirconium is essential for both Naval and civilian power reactor technology.

Dr. Barton was administratively transferred from Y-12 to ORNL in 1950, and went to work on the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion project at the same time. Between 1950 and 1969 much of Dr. Barton’s ORNL research focused on molten salt reactor technology. His areas of interest were the chemistry and chemical problems related to molten salt reactors.

He was a true pioneer of Molten Salt Reactor chemistry. His pioneering efforts and accomplishments included:
1. Pioneering research on the NaF, ZrF4, UF4 salt mixture concept, and shared credit for the final reactor formula. This fuel formula was used in the revolutionary Aircraft Reactor Experiment, the pioneering molten salt reactor.
2. Shared pioneering research on the LiF, BeF2, UF4 salt mix, and the creation of the final formula. This is the salt formula used for the 1966 to ‘69 molten salt reactor experiment.
3. Pioneering research on chloride salts for reactor use. Chloride salts are promising safe alternatives to the dangerous metallic sodium used in fast breeder reactors.
4. Pioneering research on the use of plutonium as a MSR fuel. This research opened the door for using molten salt reactors to dispose of plutonium stockpiles left over from nuclear weapons, and for burning plutonium found in nuclear waste.
5. Pioneering research on the extraction of protactinium from blanket and core salts. This was a vital element in the use of molten salt reactors to efficiently convert thorium, an abundant element that presently goes to waste, into a nuclear fuel.
6. Pioneering research on the use of molten salts in a blanket to extract power from a thermonuclear reactor. This research opened the door to approaches to extracting energy from fusion machines.

In addition to these accomplishments, Dr. Barton made notable contributions to nuclear safety. When Dr. Barton was asked to perform plutonium chemistry in the mid 1950’s he learned of safety concerns with the then current methods of plutonium handling. He requested an expansion of his research assignment, to include improvements in plutonium handling technology and techniques. Dr. Barton successfully completed all of these assignments, and his findings pointed to long term improvement in worker and researcher safety, while handling dangerous material at AEC facilities. Dr. Barton went on to team with the late George Parker between 1960 and 1964 in the study of chemical aspects of reactor accidents. In that research Dr. Barton specialized in improving understanding of the transport of radioisotopes in the environment following reactor accidents. Dr. Barton’s research carried him to England where he studied the release of radioactive materials following the Windscale reactor fire.

During the late 1960’s Dr. Barton’s research shifted to safety issues stemming from the use of nuclear devices to stimulate the production of natural gas. Dr. Barton also undertook a pioneering study of the normal presence of radioactive radon that is naturally present in natural gas, and natural sources of radioactive radon found in many American homes.

Dr. Barton married Ruth Mae Grant in 1939. They were married for 64 years before Ruth died on December 26, 2003. They had three children, Charles Barton, Jr., of Dallas, Texas, David Grant Barton, of Greenville, Texas and the late Michael Lee Barton, of Quainton, England. In addition to his surviving sons, Dr. Barton is also survived by David’s wife, the Reverend Ann Barton, David’s son, Gregory Ross Barton, Greg’s wife Marci Welch, and their child, Ada Barton; David’s daughter, NPR journalist, Julia Barton, her partner Josh Sarantitus and their children, Zackery and Avi Sarantitus; Michael’s wife, Lorna Barton, who now lives in Columbia, South Carolina, and sons Blair Barton of Columbia, South Carolina, and Mathew Barton of North Carolina, and Matthew’s wife Kate. Dr. Barton married Anna Kate Teague, a family friend, in September 2004, and is survived by her. Family members say that the marriage brought Dr. Barton great happiness.

Dr. Barton was a community leader. He was an active member of Glenwood Baptist Church for many years, and later transferred his membership to the First Baptist Church of Oak Ridge before going on to become a founding member of Grace Covenant Church of Oak Ridge. Dr. Barton was involved in many community activities. In addition to his church work, he was active in the Clinton Baptist Association for many years. He helped to found Hope Cottage, originally a half way house for recovering alcoholics, which has now grown into Hope of East Tennessee. Dr. Barton also served for many years as a volunteer with the Contact Help Line. He also was a founding member of the Prisoners Aid Society of Tennessee. He was an active supporter of the reform of Tennessee’s sales tax which he viewed as oppressive to poor of Tennessee. He also wrote extensively about his life experiences and travels in the Oak Ridger and in other local publications.

A number of stories related to Dr. Barton’s professional career and his scientific accomplishments can be found on the Internet blogs, Nuclear Green and Energy from Thorium.

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