We must find out

April 1955 and the British hear of a radical new reactor design, the Boiling Water Reactor. David Goodlet, an energetic engineer working at Harwell, is heading over the ocean and tells his boss, nuclear czar John Cockcroft, that “boiling reactors are possible but not particularly attractive. . . . The boiling reactor thus appears attractive and simple only to people who have not thought deeply about it. I cannot believe that the American engineers who advocate it are in this category and I would like to discover the reason for their interest.”

While he is on his way to Washington, Cockcroft writes to him: “I think you should know that the U.S. are proposing to build a 200 megawatt electrical output boiling water reactor. This is to be constructed by the Commonwealth Edison Company. They are, therefore, fairly convinced about the feasibility of such a reactor. I hope you have arranged to have some discussions at the Argonne on this type of reactor.”

A day later Goodlet scrambles to recover ground by writing to Cockcroft: “I too am convinced of the feasibility . . . We just don’t know and I will do my best to find out. I have asked for discussions at Argonne.”

The Boiling Water Reactor ends up being the second most common worldwide.


Goodlet, David. 1955. Goodlet to Cockcroft, Apr. 21, 1955. AB 6/1466, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.