Does a reactor’s auxiliary power requirements affect its economics?

To answer the question, I had to look up the definition of “auxiliary power requirements” in in a 1958 trade journal article titled “A Thermodynamic Comparison,” written by an engineer from a consulting firm. A glance at the diagram shows that this is just the percentage of a reactor power plant’s power that goes into running its many pumps. The lower the better, for. . .

An engineer among scientists

English engineer Harold Tongue was post-war Chief Engineer at Harwell, the bastion of visionary scientists. His job can’t have been easy, especially as the more natural home of budding nuclear engineers, Risley, was often squabbling with Harwell. Here we find Tongue being stubbornly conservative on February 2, 1953, when writing to his boss, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist John Cockcroft. . .

It’s 1954 and Americans are hearing about fallout

In November 1954, Ralph Lapp, a former Manhattan Project nuclear physicist, now a journalist, penned an article titled “Civil defense faces new perils.” The article was informative for me but peripheral to my book, but I think it’s worth noting here its effect. The American public, let alone the rest of the world, knew so little of any precision about the effect of radioactivity. . .

Fame guarantees an audience

By 1955, Admiral Hyman Rickover had achieved the kind of fame only a Cold War can generate. The public knew him as the genius creator of Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine and an unqualified triumph. He was building a reactor to generate electricity. Elected politicians fawned at this feet. He ruled over the American nuclear navy for the next two decades, with a power that resisted. . .

Friends across borders

I enjoyed seeing global friendships in those hothouse early nuclear days. George Weil pulled out the control rod of Enrico Fermi’s CP-1 reactor in 1942. He doesn’t figure much in my story after that, but he must have visited John Cockcroft in rural Canada when Cockcroft ran the Canadian lab there in the early 1940s, for I found this letter from Cockcroft to Weil. The letter is super. . .

Spotting a spy

In England in the late 1940s, John Cockcroft’s Harwell laboratory thrived on committees. One of the most senior committees, the Power Steering Committee, sounds and was dry as bone, but was exceedingly important. Perusing its minutes one day, whose name should I notice as its chairman but that of “Dr. K. Fuchs.” The good doctor is, of course, Klaus Fuchs, one of the most. . .

1946 initiation

The #2 postwar British nuclear engineer was Len Owen. I don’t spend much time on him – other characters hold sway – but he was in his own way a colorful personality. Here he is, in 1963, describing his 1946 initiation into the nuclear world: At the start, of the twelve of us at Risley, only one person knew anything about atomic energy. He was Dennis Ginns, an engineer who was. . .

One of the most outsized personalities

I’ve grown to admire and, yes, like, Christopher Hinton, the engineer who built Britain’s reactors from 1946 to 1957. No one who met him forgot him. I enjoyed reading the resume Hinton provided a senior civil servant. Here’s an extract summarising his wartime role: In 1941 I was transferred to the Filling Factory organisation first as Deputy Director in charge of Engineering and later as Deputy. . .

The “unreasonable” Frenchman in Canada

Anyone disputing the role of individuals in history needs to take a look at Canada’s early reactor history. I won’t go into the details here (of course I tackle it in the book) but let me quote some recollections of George Laurence, the most senior Canadian physicist at the time. The context for his remarks is in itself remarkable. Frenchmen who had fled Hitler were bankrolled by Britain. . .

No escaping it . . .

Walking from Florence to Rome (you can see the Via di Roma sign at the bottom of the photo) over five weeks, what should I bump into when passing through an obscure Umbrian village (I didn’t even record its name) but a direct reference to Enrico Fermi, hero of my first chapter. Why a village square dedicated to Fermi? He was born in Rome, spent time in Pisa and then starred in a Rome university. . .

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