A diary

At the Institution of Mechanical Engineering, overlooking leafy St James’s Park in London, you can get a look at one of the most extraordinary records in nuclear power’s history, namely the diaries of Christopher Hinton, overlord of the first British reactors and the nation’s nuclear arms materials factories. Not all the years are available but what is open to the public is special.

Not that these diaries are easy work. As the sample in the image below shows, the man had flowing but nigh indecipherable handwriting.

Not that these diaries are candid tell-all records. Hinton was careful with what he recorded. He was bound by draconian secrecy laws that inhibited disclosure, even in a diary.

These major caveats aside, the diaries are most useful, especially in mapping out the man’s movements. And snippets such as the following 1956 entry do cast light on what was happening:

There is a smear campaign in Germany against our reactors, I did a draft press release to deal with it.

Hinton, Christopher. 1956. Hinton diary 1956. “A.42,” Box “Hinton of Bankside – A.32 – A.45”. Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, Dec. 21.

At the time, a fierce competitive war was taking place between British firms and American firms for overseas reactor contracts, especially in Europe. When I say “fierce,” there are few documents explicating this; I’ve had to rely on snippets like this and miscellaneous trade press articles and archived official meeting minutes. So the above snippet is, in a sense, “useless,” because I can track down nothing else about the “smear campaign” and failed to find the resultant press release. But as background, that diary entry is worth its weight in gold.

Hinton diary entry