AuthorAndres Kabel

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. . .

Digging into the past is fun

I’m researching and writing about the peaceful atom but the thought did occur to me when reading up about the Manhattan Project, how did they come up with the colossal amount of money needed? Well, a New York Times reporter has recently done a deep dig into just that subject, namely: It turns out that when Congress voted to fund the bomb, there was no debate and no discussion. Only seven. . .

What is an energy box?

Walker Cisler, an energetic, debonair electricity utility executive during the early years of nuclear power, penned a biography of sorts in 1976. He writes engagingly but I haven’t ended up using his material much, simply because other sources trump his. At one point he writes about the new Japanese market, which he obviously claims to have opened up for America, and refers to the Lucky. . .

Misinformation in the 50s

History professor Brian Balogh wrote a readable, academic 1991 book (most obscure in Australia) about nuclear debate, covering the three decades to 1975. In 1956, he writes, based on National Security Council papers (which I now wish I’d sighted): …the OCB [Operations Coordinating Board] warned that “there are signs that the early emotional over-optimism on peaceful uses may turn into. . .

When nuclear engineering was not a profession

Key reactor pioneers in the 1950s spearheaded the creation of a new profession, that of nuclear engineering. A historian of science in Scotland, Sean Johnston, wrote a book on just this topic (he gave the academic book an evocative title, something I admire). Intriguingly, one of his key protagonists resisted the notion of a new profession, as Johnston writes (pp. 181-182): Hinton was averse to a. . .

Divining passion

The reactor pioneers of the 1940s and 1950s were, above all, practical. They politicked, they campaigned, but few of them could be said to display overt passion. Sometimes I had to divine their emotions from ephemera. In October 1956, just before the grand royal launch of Calder Hall, Christopher Hinton sent Mrs. Marr of Durdar, Carlisle a photograph of the plant as a memento, writing: “As you. . .

Testimony of Luntz

An intriguing minor personality in the 1950s was Jerome D. Luntz, editor of the new trade journal Nucleonics. Until the British, egged on by Christopher Hinton, established their own trade journal later in the decade, Nucleonics was avidly read around the globe by anyone remotely interested in the new science and technology. Luntz’s editorials were bold and unrestrained. He was as much a. . .

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