Another look at Churchill’s scientist

A fascinating podcast from Malcolm Gladwell, from his Revisionist History series, puts the human cause of a massive famine in Bengal in 1943 down to the relationship between Churchill and Frederick Lindemann, his highly eccentric chief scientist. I don’t have any interest in wartime Bengal but Lindemann, later often called Cherwell (as in Lord Cherwell) plays a cameo role in Britain’s. . .

42 minutes re North Korean nuke war risks

Van Jackson’s “On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War” stunned me last year. Compulsory reading for anyone interested in nuclear proliferation, etc. Now Van Jackson has made a 42-minute documentary on the subject. “The Nuclear Button: How Trump and Kim Blustered to the Brink of War” is fascinating, the same points as the book but nonetheless quite. . .

Even Denmark proves to be interesting

Denmark never built or bought a power reactor but in writing up the early history of its atomic/nuclear efforts, I grew fascinated despite myself. What complicated this history was the towering presence of Niels Bohr. Bohr was central in launching the theory of nuclear fission and apparently promised U.S.A after World War II that he wouldn’t use his insider knowledge. So for a decade he. . .

Pleasures & perils of new data

A startling new book published last November by the Institute for Science and International Security, “Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Weapons Program: Nuclear Weapons On-Demand” by David Albright and Andrea Stricker, completely changed my mind about Taiwan’s nuclear history from the 60s to the 80s. I have to admit I’ve grumbled a bit, because processing this book has been a. . .

Italy in 1952: Far behind

In December 1952, the recently established trade journal Nucleonics surveyed the world’s nuclear power prospects as best it could. I guess it figured its American readers desired to know how quickly other countries were progressing towards nuclear-generated electricity, and I’m sure the magazine hit a sweet spot that month. But 1952 was before the Americans, followed by the British. . .

Bartering nuclear materials

From 1948 to 1951, the small nation of Norway leveraged its heavy water factory’s precious output (it’s one of the best moderators of nuclear fission, this “moderation” being essential for controllable nuclear power). It played the British and French off against each other (U.S.A. refused to offer any assistance) in order to build its first research reactor. In May 1951, John Cockcroft in England. . .

Belgium rejects England

On September 6, 1954, President Eisenhower announces, as a side note, that USA will build a power reactor in Belgium. This is a body blow to the British, who are fostering nuclear connections throughout Europe and who have contributed their design to Belgium’s first small research reactor, currently under construction. I like this snippet (but consider it too detailed for my book) from John. . .

Watch what the politicians do

The United Kingdom Cabinet, chaired by Winston Churchill, met on June 16, 1952. Amongst much weightier issues addressed, it resolved as follows: Authorised the Paymaster-General to make available to the Belgian Government a suitable expert to superintend the construction in Belgium of an experimental pile. Why did the nation’s top politicians care whether or not a techo geek visited the small. . .

Something new on North Korea

I thought I had North Korea sussed (I won’t spoil my pleasure by telling you now what I think about it in my book’s context) but a new data source is revelatory. Not only is Van Jackson’s “On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War” brilliant in bringing my understanding up to date over the 2010s, the author chronicled his writing task over six months, in a blog series titled “Nuke. . .

Looking back isn’t straightforward

I constantly need to exhort myself to try to see things as they were seen back then. Reminders about this requirement from historians or others are always welcome. One of my most useful memoirs/autobiographies/histories is that of John Simpson, who held senior roles in Westinghouse’s nuclear business for decades. Summing up the construction and launch of the seminal Shippingport nuclear power. . .

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