An engineer among scientists

English engineer Harold Tongue was post-war Chief Engineer at Harwell, the bastion of visionary scientists. His job can’t have been easy, especially as the more natural home of budding nuclear engineers, Risley, was often squabbling with Harwell. Here we find Tongue being stubbornly conservative on February 2, 1953, when writing to his boss, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist John Cockcroft. Right now, he argues, the rather basic British power reactor being proposed is the only practical option; any other option is ten years down the track:

I hope it is now generally agreed that a pressurized natural uranium pile is at the present time the only kind of pile to be seriously considered as a means of obtaining useful power from nuclear energy. I hope it is also agreed that it is certain that we cannot hope to assess the prospects of industrial power from fast fission reactors or any other form of reactor for at least the next ten years.

It turned out he was right. Tongue retired the following year.


Tongue, Harold. 1953. Tongue to Cockcroft, Feb. 2, 1953. AB 6/1092, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.