We all hope

The forgotten reactor pioneer is Walter Zinn, who had an early crucial hand in most of the world’s dominant designs. In his early fifties, he left the national laboratory he had built and set up as private designer/researcher, along with the cream of the lab’s scientists. Despite a coruscating private contempt for politicians, and lack of smooth charm, he knew everyone in the industry and networked with both the regulator and the regulator’s congressional overlords, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Here he is, in April 1957, less than a year after flying solo, writing to James Ramey, an unusually influential civil servant employed by the Committee:

You probably have seen the statement that our company has made a preliminary design for a power reactor for the Florida Nuclear Power Group. It is being proposed under the demonstration program. The reactor is natural-uranium feed, heavy water-moderated and gas-cooled. Potentially it is very good, and I hope some way will be found to get on with it. Research and development is required because it is a pressure tube version and therefore is not limited in size by the ability to erect pressure vessels. More importantly, its performance is not limited by the same considerations.

We are busy, mostly on small projects. We all hope one of the small ones becomes a big one.

Zinn, Walter H. 1957. Zinn to Ramey, Apr. 22, 1957. “Reactors General, Vol. 1, Jan. 1956 through Dec. 23, 1957,” Box 720, Series 1, RG 534. NARA II, College Park, Maryland.

There are a number of aspects to this letter that stimulate my thinking, but what I would like to turn your attention to is the language in his short closing para. “We all hope,” he writes with casual tone, “one of the small ones becomes a big one.” Can you feel the yearning for success, both his own and that of nuclear energy?

Walter Zinn letter