AuthorAndres Kabel

Occupation of Japan

For some reason, I’ve struggled to understand the genesis of nuclear power in Japan. The standard narrative is that the country was and is short of internal fuel sources, so it gravitated naturally towards the atom, and there is good logic in that picture. But the situation was more nuanced and fluid. One aspect was simply that the country was occupied by the United States for over half a. . .

Saint Petersburg’s absence in the history of nuclear power

If you visit both Saint Petersburg (which was called Leningrad for nearly three quarters of a century, before the collapse of the Soviet Union) and Moscow, their differences and rivalry are readily apparent. The “father of the Soviet bomb” and also the launcher of its early power reactor efforts, Igor Kurchatov, began his career at the Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute, which was. . .

Why we longed for the peaceful atom: A flashback of Armageddon

Tuesday’s New York Times contains a William J. Broad article, “New video shows largest hydrogen bomb ever exploded,” explaining that Russia’s Rosatom has released a previously secret video of exactly that. In October 1961 the Soviet Union set off Tsar Bombya in remote Novaya Zemlya, an explosion almost unthinkably stupendous at 50 megatons, over 3,000 Hiroshima. . .

Russian secrecy

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists can always be relied upon to explore unfolding events. On August 21, Cheryl Rofer reported (in an article titled “Radiation detections in northern Europe: what we do and don’t know“) on three minor, puzzling radiation releases detected over the last three years, the latest in mid June, all of them probably (but not definitively) located in Russia. . .

A leader who believed in science

Still trying to understand David Ben-Gurion’s, Israel’s first prime minister. I thought I knew enough but I don’t, so I’m working through two biographies. One is, of course, Israeli historian/journalist Tom Segev’s masterful book from a couple of years ago (see my review of it here, as a book rather than as a reference source). “He saw science as the pursuit of. . .

Imagining hair

Gaining a level of understanding of a historical personage’s motivations is tough for me. I’m tempted to acquire every available biography and pore over them, but that’s an impractical strategy, so I make do with a few books or articles or whatever. A key founder of Israel and its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, is fascinating. Here’s what one historian says about. . .

Travel expenses of reactor pioneers

It’s fun to catch a glimpse of times and individuals’ attitudes from archival research. Many of the world’s reactors descend from initial work done at the Argonne Laboratory over the late 1940s and 1950s (and onwards). An enormously talented group of scientists and engineers found their way there. During the summer of 1951, Winston Manning, head of the Chemistry Division. . .

Wattenberg and Lichtenberger

An enjoyable research moment is when historical actors, who you thought were apart, intersect. Albert Wattenberg was a physicist who helped out during the Manhattan Project but then mostly went into academia postwar. Harold Lichtenberger was a key lieutenant of Walter Zinn in designing and building key prototype reactors after the war. I hadn’t really been aware that they had a time. . .

Penny for an English error

Enrico Fermi “invented” (although that’s the wrong term, discovered might be better, but that’s not quite right either) reactors by starting up a tiny “pile” in Chicago in 1942. He died in 1954 (aged only 53) and was experimenting with neutrons (the initiators of nuclear fission) from the early 1930s, so in a sense his involvement in the history of reactors was. . .

Coincidences amuse us

Researching Argonne National Laboratory, from which sprang most of the key reactor designs after WWII and into the early 1950s, the following 1992 interview with a Manhattan Project physicist, Albert Wattenberg, piqued my interest: Some people in the U.S. Army wanted to set the National Laboratory up at Baraboo, Wisconsin, because the property was available. Fermi said that he wouldn’t go there. . .

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