ArchiveOctober 2017

The beginnings of British fiscal discipline?

In England, the national policy tension between mastering nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, and ballooning costs, was to preoccupy politicians and public servants from the 1960s, but I enjoyed finding an early sign of concern. The British triumvirate of Christopher Hinton, John Cockcroft, and William Penney was nigh impossible to subject to budgetary control, but on January 26, 1954, private. . .

Naval uniform for a Time magazine cover opportunity

The mythology of Rickover presents dark and light sides, an instance of the latter fascinating me in this pithy aside from biographers Norman Polmar and Thomas Allen: Rickover even put on a uniform for Time. Refreshingly, the Admiral hated kitting up (he hated much about the Navy he served). Of course his alternative dress was standard fifties suit and tie, but his dislike of pomp endears him to. . .

Major anniversary coming up

On December 2 falls the 75th anniversary of the very first nuclear reactor, CP-1 at the University of Chicago. A couple of days ago, the university posted a write-up of the momentous event by Michael Drapa. This event is close to my heart and I greatly enjoyed revisiting the drama, both in the post and in an embedded four-and-a-half-minute video narrated with great verve by Rachel Bronson. . .

Hide from Rickover!

Hyman Rickover was a larger-than-life (if elf-sized) character in the early history of nuclear reactors, and I feature him in the book. But I can’t include every Rickover drama – there were too many! Engineer Salomon Levy worked for General Electric in the 50s. GE’s nuclear laboratory, government-funded Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, was building an experimental submarine. . .

Nuclear power historical debate mostly isn’t debate at all

“What’s your book about?” I’m asked. “The history of nuclear power reactors,” I answer, or at least I used to answer. These days I might not even admit to being a writer. I enjoy debating the history I explore but the trouble is, nearly everyone ignores the word “history” and responds in one of two ways. Pro-nuclear advocates clamour for this. . .

The best biography of Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev features only briefly in my narrative but he looms as large across the canvas of the Cold War as any other human being. Just released, William Taubman’s biography,¬†Gorbachev: His Life and Times, is a tour de force. Taubman is the go-to biographer of Nikita Khrushchev, now I have no hesitation in recommending his Gorbachev rendering. Not only is it comprehensive and. . .

The lure of a new tech

Early 1949, four years after the end of the World War, seven years after the first reactor went live. Atomic energy is locked behind barbed wires – it’s for making bombs. American utilities – the private or public firms that generate electricity for ordinary Americans – are naturally fascinated by the prospect of harnessing this new technology, but they know little more. . .

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