I think it’s too expensive . . .

Francis Simon, a German physicist and chemist who moved from Germany to England before World War II, became famous for co-inventing the gaseous diffusion method of uranium enrichment, vital for atomic bombs but also later for nuclear power reactors. After the war, he became an Oxford professor, received a knighthood in 1954, and died at age 63 in 1956. He had little direct atomic involvement at. . .

As expensive as Swiss watches

W. Kenneth Davis headed up the reactor development area of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission over the first four years of the 1950s, then joined Bechtel, a major engineering and construction firm. He proved to be an effective reactor salesman, in his own way. At the start of 1959, he addressed the First International Symposium on Nuclear Fuel Elements at Columbia University in New York. He talked. . .

The martinet visits the old country

Admiral Hyman Rickover, the dictatorial, talented engineer responsible for America’s nuclear navy, visited England just before the launch of a major reactor. The minutes of the British Atomic Energy Executive record the following minor item that reverberates with subtlety. First, reporting is Leonard Owen, the 2IC of the country’s reactor building organization. I believe he is angling. . .

I sympathise

In his final few years with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Christopher Hinton, reactor building supremo, an engineer’s engineer, found himself away from his drafting table and either selling reactors or behind a lectern. In late 1955, he logged in his diary: Did a paper for AEA on Graphite supplies & then started trying to get my . . . lecture into shape – it isn’t in a. . .

Chilly at Heathrow

In late October 1955, Christopher Hinton, Britain’s reactor building engineer, made one of his regular forays from his Risley country headquarters to the big smoke. His three days in London turned out to be routine. On his return journey, he confided to his diary, he ate on the run, “sandwiches by the airport where the wind would do things to a brass monkey.” If only he’d had an earth-shattering. . .

No detail too small

A while back, I wrote about the attention to detail exhibited by American nuclear pioneer Walter Zinn, noting how he complained about stray dogs on the grounds of laboratory. Well, Christopher Hinton, the builder of early British reactors, had a similar bent. Here’s a memo he sent in October 1955: The corridors from 5.10 p.m. onwards are once again crowded with people leaving work before. . .

The Canadians arrive late

In September 1954, Dick Hearn, an ambitious engineer with Ontario Hydro, Canada’s largest electricity utility, made his second trip to England. Ben Lewis, the key Canadian physicist, also came. Accompanying them, or rather ruling over them, were two more senior businessmen, namely Bill Bennett, the president of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, and Geoff Gaherty, head of Montreal Engineering. . .

Animated Lego reconstructs CP-1!

Part of Argonne’s tribute to the first reactor, brought to life by Enrico Fermi on December 2, 1942, is a curio piece. It’s a two-and-a-half-minute Lego animation of that event, titled Chicago Pile-1: A Brick History, created by Brick 101, a firm that does Lego animations for a living. When I heard about it, I looked forward to a viewing, mostly to see what a 3D re-enactment reveals about the. . .

A sparkling article about the first reactor

Alex Wellerstein is a consummate researcher with an eloquent writing style, so it’s no surprise that The New Yorker published his 75th-anniversary article on December 2. He really brings the first reactor to life but I especially enjoyed the twist at the end (my own more limited archival research didn’t pick up the evocative coda): After the war had ended and the world had come to appreciate the. . .

Academic politicking in 1955

In my book I cover the rather arcane 1955 battle Walter Zinn, Director of Argonne National Laboratory, had with Midwestern universities over whether Argonne or the universities should build and operate an expensive accelerator. The following memorandum in the files shows one of Zinn’s men reporting back to him after attending an October meeting of the Midwest Universities Research. . .

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