Mysterious paperweight

On March 23, 1954, Walter Zinn held a farewell lunch at his laboratory for Alfonso Tammaro, who had been Zinn’s local Atomic Energy Commission manager in Chicago. My impression is that there had many tussles been Zinn, the scientist, and Tammaro, an engineer, but that there was also plenty of respect and amity. I found this letter to Alfonso: Dear Al, I have made just a few of these paper. . .

Cold slug effects

In the Idaho desert in early March, 1954, Hyman Rickover’s STR Mark I, a land-based prototype for a submarine nuclear power reactor, is being tested by engineers from Argonne. Rickover hates Argonne (and Argonne’s Zinn hates Rickover; Zinn’s name isn’t even on the distribution list below, although his trusted lieutenant John West is) and will soon expel those engineers. . .

Ham-fisted

Lewis Strauss, American nuclear kingpin in the mid-1950s, was devious and smart, but also often notably clumsy. Here a couple of reporters describe how he extemporized, to terrible effect, after a March 1954 thermonuclear test went badly: President Eisenhower and AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss held a joint press conference in an attempt to put the March 1 blast into proper perspective. … A REPORTER:. . .

Dustbin

In the 1950s, a Harwell scientist, Brian Jay, wrote a few books describing English nuclear efforts. They were a mix of propaganda and technical elucidation, but remain useful. Here he is describing a feature of future breeder reactors that he, and the other pioneers, marveled at: We remarked earlier that the small size of a fast reactor core means that the heat flux (that is, the rate at which. . .

Bettis Laboratory

It’s been three months since I’ve posted. The gap has been simple: I’m drafting new words at the moment, putting chapters down, and during this phase, no discards or leftovers pop up. Everything I deal with, I need, so nothing for this blog… Well, now I’m sorting out data and items of interest do reveal themselves. Take this book, Nuclear Power from Underseas to. . .

Smoke

Stories indeed … oral histories of thirty folks who were there during the founding and expansion of Sellafield. Sellafield wasn’t called Sellafield until the core of Windscale Pile No. 1 began burning in October 1957. Courage and good luck averted a huge catastrophe, and afterwards, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority decided to change names to avoid bad publicity. Listen to. . .

Windscale reactor fire log book

One of the pleasures of archival research is discovering stuff that is charged with atmosphere. At the National Archives in Kew, London, right next to Kew Gardens, I frantically grabbed and copied all that I could about the near-catastrophic reactor fire at Windscale, next to Sellafield, the big semi-military atomic reservation on the northwest coast. It’s all arcane measurements and. . .

Interesting actor dismissed

Writing up the Windscale fire/accident of 1957 has taxed me. It’s the first time I’ve attempted describing one of the close-call reactor accidents and I’m finding myself crowded by thoughts. Here’s something interesting. The Windscale factory/plant in rural England was run (behind barbed wire, it was a military reservation) by a convivial Welshman, Henry Gethin Davey. He. . .

Books about bombs

Power reactors represent the “peaceful atom.” You will have your opinion about the peaceable atom, as do I, and many different debates could be had on the topic. But one thing I have found: to keep on top of the history and current status of the power reactors, i.e. the nuclear energy sector, it is wise to keep on top of nuclear weapons history and current status. So although I have. . .

Scientist versus bean counter

In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission ramped up its efforts to understand the impacts of radiation on animals and plants. Walter Zinn’s crucial Argonne laboratory inherited a Division of Biology under the leadership of an eminent radiation scientist, Austin Brues, and in late 1949, Brues wrote to his boss in Washington, D.C., defending an imminent move into. . .

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