Conducting detailed archival research (at least for two countries, the United Kingdom and the United States) has meant that I’ve grown highly familiar with a great many “bit players” or “character actors” in the grand drama of nuclear power’s history. They are the middle managers, the senior scientists and engineers, the diplomats. Some might take part in something momentous and thus have a walk-on role. Others will never be mentioned in the book. Take this photo, for example:
The 1955 First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy had smashed much atomic secrecy, and nations scrambled to show off their prowess to their rivals. In November, Basil Schonland, John Cockcroft’s second-in-charge at the Harwell laboratory, led a British delegation behind the Iron Curtain for the first time. (Cockcroft would, I’m sure, have loved to go, but he was busy).
I feel I know five of the six excited travelers as well as people I used to work with. Schonland, holding his spectacles up front, played a sterling supporting role to Cockcroft, but in the scheme of things, I think I only mention him in passing a couple of times. Willis Jackson, the bald man, was an engineer who took part in many of England’s pioneer reactor efforts but never receives a mention from me.
The man holding the hat is physicist John Dunsworth, the chief reactor guru at Harwell. His fingerprints are all over the early history of nuclear reactors, and I do mention him reasonably often, but always in passing. The man wearing glasses is D. W. Fry (I never did find his first name), who wrote some of the landmark internal design reports but, again, he gets short thrift in the book.
The only person I do feature is David Goodlet, the guy with the askew hair. An engineer, he can be regarded as the initial architect of the British Magnox design. The number of reports, memos, and letters written by him that I’ve read!
Sometimes it seems a pity that I’m the only person I know with knowledge of these people from days long ago.
Austin, Brian. 2001. Schonland: Scientist and Soldier. IOP, Bristol, p. 475.