I’ve referred previously to the fascinating historical interplay between the two key British reactor pioneers, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist John Cockcroft and engineer Christopher Hinton. To put it plainly, they did not get along, though they both tried to make the relationship work, in different ways in different periods. The way they grated against each other is mostly airbrushed from. . .
49 people, some luminaries, some journeymen, one woman amongst them all, signed a celebratory Chianti bottle after witnessing Enrico Fermi and Walter Zinn’s Chicago Pile-1 “go critical” (that is, achieve fission), on December 2, 1942. The first one of anything is always special. I spend an entire chapter on CP-1 and this wintry Chicago morning, and am a fetishist on the event. . .
A while back, I quoted an interview snippet that encapsulated a strain of idealism in early nuclear power history. Far easier to spot in the historical record is the motivation of pioneering, of working in a brand new exciting field. I quoted Sellafield physicist Graham Brightman in that earlier post. Let me feature Brightman again: I moved over to work at the then very new shining Calder. . .
Last week I watched Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, a 70-minute documentary film exhuming a 1968 6-hour interview David Ben-Gurion gave to a British director and his film crew to inform into their script of a feature film on the legendary leader, a biopic recreating the man and parts of his life. The film reels came to be forgotten, almost lost. The accompanying soundtrack (which didn’t quite match the. . .
British atomic manufacturing supremo Christopher Hinton had a fearsome reputation that comes down to us more though asides and a handful of descriptions than from direct recollections. His diary is invaluable although generally cautious. But in this 1954 diary entry I catch him commenting on a non-executive director of the Atomic Energy Authority: There was a tough discussion about. . .
Facts are one thing, motives another. A historian can get lucky and tap into historical actors’ underlying aspirations and goals through revelatory memoirs, biographies, interviews or emails/letters, but in the nuclear field, opacity quickly came to be the prevalent stance. When the only historical documents are official reports, speeches, cautious meeting minutes, or newspaper articles, the spin. . .