Sidney Siegel; Pioneer in Nuclear Energy Research


Sidney Siegel, a pioneering developer of nuclear energy for peaceful uses such as the production of electrical power, has died at 89.

Siegel, a charter member and former president of the American Nuclear Society, died Friday of cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades.

Shortly before his death, Siegel described California’s current electrical energy crisis as “deplorable and utterly avoidable,” said his son-in-law Alan Maltun.

During his long career, Siegel frequently wrote and lectured about the advantages of producing electricity with nuclear energy. Contrasting the environmental impact, economics and health hazards of nuclear power and coal, for example, he said that nuclear energy was cleaner, cheaper and safer despite the problems of waste disposal and possible reactor accidents.


An American representative to the Atoms for Peace Conference, Siegel worked from 1950 to 1972 as vice president and technical director of Los Angeles-based Atomics International, a division of what was then North American Aviation Inc.

There he worked on nuclear energy to power communications satellites and other space vehicles. He was as staunchly opposed to proliferation of nuclear weapons as he was firmly committed to building nuclear power plants.

In 1957, Siegel helped organize the American Nuclear Society to promote research and engineering in nuclear technology. He served on the group’s board for many years and was elected vice president in 1965 and president in 1966.

From 1972 to 1975, Siegel was associate director for energy and the environment at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.


Siegel was also an accomplished photographer and sculptor who exhibited his works throughout California, including a current show at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland.

Born in New York City, Siegel earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in physics at Columbia University. He joined Westinghouse Electric Co. in 1938, doing early research on the effect of radiation on solids.

During World War II, he helped develop torpedo triggering devices and airborne radar systems, and later went to Oak Ridge to work on nuclear reactor development.

Siegel held five patents on solid state instruments and nuclear power devices.

Siegel is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Lilyan Ferges; four daughters, Gail Maltun of South Pasadena, Anne Podney of Pacific Beach, Laura Venning of Oakland and Maria Watt of Berkeley; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.