Watch what the politicians do

The United Kingdom Cabinet, chaired by Winston Churchill, met on June 16, 1952. Amongst much weightier issues addressed, it resolved as follows:

Authorised the Paymaster-General to make available to the Belgian Government a suitable expert to superintend the construction in Belgium of an experimental pile.

Nuclear Power HistoryWhy did the nation’s top politicians care whether or not a techo geek visited the small Lowland country of Belgium? It took me some time to figure this out and I’ll set it out simplistically. Belgium supplied America and England with uranium ore during World War II, as a result gaining quite privileged access to nuclear know-how. After the war, America locked the nuclear gate with the McMahon Act in 1949 and Belgium lost access. But it was still critical to the former Allies building uranium-fuelled bombs and there was also an abiding, almost ethical, commitment to help Belgium. Very little happened until 1951 when USA and UK finally agreed to help with the first Belgian research reactor, BR1, near Antwerp. Each country would partly contribute materials and advice towards the small reactor. In the meantime the Belgians were driving a hard bargain. Hence the need for the highest level of approval for one low-level aspect of the deal.

Even after the Cabinet resolution, it took until mid-1953 for an “expert” to fly to Brussels, and the Belgians didn’t get BR1 up and running until 1956. But that’s another story.


Cabinet. 1952. Cabinet Conclusions 61, Jun. 16, 1952. CAB 128/25/151, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.