He was appointed to numerous advisory commissions on nuclear reactor safety, including the Expert Consultant Group to Evaluate the Chernobyl Accident and the President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (TMI). “It was Tom’s wisdom, judgment and practical experience that, in my opinion, led to the TMI Commission’s recommendations being so well thought-out,” said Vice Admiral Eugene Wilkinson, commander of the first nuclear submarine and first president of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. These recommendations have stood the test of time and have served as a catalyst for significant change. Even representatives of strongly antinuclear organizations admired and respected Pigford’s straightforward, honest approach: “He was very strongly pro-nuclear and, because of that, he wanted it to be done right,” said Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer of nuclear policy at UC Santa Cruz and president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nonprofit organization critical of nuclear development. “He knew a nuclear program couldn’t be viable if safety problems were ignored. I admired him beyond measure.”
Pigford was one of the first to develop nuclear chemical engineering as an important subdiscipline of nuclear technology at a time when President Eisenhower was pushing strongly for nuclear power. The book that Pigford coauthored with Manson Benedict, called Nuclear Chemical Engineering (McGraw-Hill, 1957), is considered the seminal text in this field. The entire fuel cycle, from extraction of uranium ore, isotope separation, fabrication of fuel rods, reprocessing of spent fuel, to storage of radioactive waste is addressed in this book.
Pigford was born on April 21, 1922, in Meridian, Mississippi. He received his bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude) in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1943. He continued his graduate studies in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned his Sc.D. degree in 1952.
After an interlude in the U.S. Navy and while still completing his doctorate, Pigford became associate professor of nuclear and chemical engineering in 1955. In addition to teaching