As expensive as Swiss watches

W. Kenneth Davis headed up the reactor development area of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission over the first four years of the 1950s, then joined Bechtel, a major engineering and construction firm. He proved to be an effective reactor salesman, in his own way. At the start of 1959, he addressed the First International Symposium on Nuclear Fuel Elements at Columbia University in New York. He talked about “Fuels for reactors of the future” and injected some engineering humour into the otherwise dry proceedings:

The [fuel cost] situation has improved somewhat since I picked up Wally Zinn’s comments on reactor cores being built like swiss watches and estimated the cost of the Shippingport PWR core within 10% by assuming it was constructed entirely of the same volume of swiss watches.

I’ve tried to imagine the moment. Reading the speech nearly six decades later, I can’t say I guffawed, but I did nod and smile.


Davis, W. Kenneth. 1959. Fuels for reactors of the future: Speech at New York symposium. Folder ‘Reactors – General’, Box 534, Series I, RG 128, NARA II, College Park, Maryland