Primary traps

Christopher Hinton writes to two of his most senior managers in early 1955 that he has “read the report of the enquiry into the failure of the primary traps at Capenhurst and feel that much of the evidence is unsatisfactory.” I’m not sure what “primary traps” are, perhaps steam traps, and I don’t really need the detail, but this long, blistering memo reinforces to me. . .

Little Fooler contest

Nearly six months before the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, to be held in August 1955, Walter Zinn writes to his Division Directors – Scientific “to place in your hands all the information I have to this moment concerning the International Conference.” He sets out how he reckoned AEC’s conference paper selection would proceed. “The. . .

Duct matching

On February 10, 1955, John Cockcroft received a diplomatic letter attaching a translated Soviet article about that nation’s first “peaceful” (though it wasn’t) reactor at Obninsk (that location only got clarified later). Cockcroft handwrote to his technical guru, John Dunworth: “Do Reactor Physics have any views on this?” Dunworth’s handwritten response is hard to. . .

Battle to build

Anyone who has worked in the corporate world knows all too well how organizations jostle to control anything exciting. At the beginning of 1955, Great Britain was embarking on a build of what became Calder Hall, part military plutonium producer, part reactor supplying the electricity for the nation’s near-monopoly, British Electricity Authority. Something completely airbrushed out of. . .

Creative tension

I’ve blogged about this subject a few times, so forgive me, but the complex relationship between John Cockcroft, the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who created Harwell and oversaw an incredible period of reactor design (from a scientific perspective), and Christopher Hinton, driven, brilliant engineer who built England’s nuclear-weapons-related factories and early power reactors, never. . .

Animus

Until recently, despite knowing so much about the detailed role of Lewis Strauss (the third chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission) in the tumultuous early history of nuclear power in America, I hadn’t appreciated the blowback from his wily, relentless pursuit of American nuclear power prominence and private sector orientation. I went back and reread an academic biography of Strauss and. . .

Funking

Here is Christopher Hinton, U.K. reactor pioneer, exhibiting his robust ego to his boss at the beginning of 1955: Dear Edwin, I have been thinking about the proposal that I should give a lecture to the World Power Conference at their meeting in Vienna. I am, if necessary, prepared to do this and I am not in the least funking going to Vienna. It does seem to me, however, that it may be a foolish. . .

Secret power capacity

The U.S. Navy’s first nuclear submarine, launched in 1954, was highly influential in our nuclear power design history. I spent ages researching a land-based prototype built in an obscure part of the country, in Idaho. Called variously STR or S1W (the screenshot below is from its Wikipedia entry), I thought I’d mastered its history, until I read this in Todd Tucker’s Atomic. . .

Aura

It is hard to imagine now how different the 1950s world of Soviet nuclear scientists was to that in the West. Here’s Roald Sagdeev, prominent physicist: Everyone at the time was more excited by the prospects of going to the heart of atomic physics: the nuclear centers. Such installations were called “mailboxes.” They were so highly classified that they were not given intelligible names that. . .

Supplies of helium

Wherever he went, Hyman Rickover relished using his late-in-life fame to make mischief. Christopher Hinton, informing his boss Plowden, at the tail end of 1954… You will be interested to know that in conversation with Admiral Rickover and his assistant, who visited Risley on 15th December, they gave a vague indication that the Americans had run into difficulties over the use of helium as a. . .

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