ArchiveFebruary 2024

Pride

The early years of nuclear power were suffused with righteous purpose, as befits a new energy source. Yet I’ve been surprised by how little overt championing of nuclear electricity occurred. I mean, it did occur, and regularly, but the degree of fervor feels less than one sees in 2024 among nuclear power proponents. Perhaps the difference is one of context. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, the. . .

Another Rickover onslaught

I know nothing about Rear-Admiral G. A. M. Wilson of Britain’s Royal Navy but my heart goes out to him in this scene recounted by physicist Terence Price: In preparation for that event I was one of a twenty-strong technical party that crossed the Atlantic in the summer of 1957 to gather whatever advice was on offer. We were to spend a couple of weeks with Rickover and his team, and it was. . .

What’s in a word?

One of the more intriguing paragraphs about the 1950s I noticed was this one from historian Spencer Weart: The nuclear industry urgently wanted to dissociate civilian products from bombs. Publicists encouraged everyone to speak not of “atomic” but of “nuclear” power; aside from being scientifically more accurate, they hoped that would disentangle reactors from atomic bombs. Usage began to shift. . .

Reactor viewing galleries?

During my research, I managed to walk inside a handful of nuclear power reactors. Then 9/11 came along and ever since then, or so it seems to me, security at these power plants is so tight that visiting now would be impossible. So I was bemused to read British pioneer Christopher Hinton in a 1957 letter: One of the things that I regret in the design of Calder Hall is that we did not take account. . .

Gadfly Lilienthal

David Lilienthal is rightly regarded as one of the pioneers of nuclear energy, in his role as inaugural chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission pushing for the “peaceful atom,” but he left his post, after three years, embittered. He became an international merchant banker/developer and had little to do with nuclear affairs, but he consistently railed in private against what he. . .

Sod antics

Huge construction projects like building a power reactor seem to require ceremonies when construction first begins. Dignitaries assemble and make speeches before some earth is excavated to signify commencement. This is sometimes called “sod-turning” or “sod-cutting.” I’ve noted that such ceremonies can involve unexpected tensions and humor, and in my book I use a. . .

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