AuthorAndres Kabel

History can be sweetly written

As with genre fiction, mainstream (i.e. non-academic) history need only possess clear prose. The point is the history, the story, the organization, the data. Virtuosic stylistics, if they arise, are a bonus. So when you find a historian whose writing is a pleasure to read, savor her, my friends, savor her. My go-to paragon of evocative history style is Richard Rhodes but another author I’ve. . .

Say what?

Walter Zinn’s words amidst twelve pages of dense technical verbiage: “It may be acceptable in the early development of the industry to place as the first goal reactor power plants which are competitive in an economic sense with the coal-fired plants. Success in this inevitably will bring a demand for an increased utilization of the nuclear raw material. … It is equally clear that in. . .

Hidden sadness

It’s January 1956. American physicist Walter Zinn is about to leave the laboratory he founded a decade earlier, Argonne, situated on the outskirts of Chicago. Argonne now has 2,314 staff! He pens a formal-sounding memorandum to most of his direct reports, asking them to attend a series of eight 10 AM meetings to be held over three weeks. They’re all busy folks. He is, as always. . .

The inertia theory of technology development

In 1957 Latin American nuclear scientists came to a bonding and education conference at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island near New York. Not much from that conference seems to have survived, at least outside American archives, but Nucleonics, the industry’s trade journal, reported on a speech by Alvin Weinberg, Oak Ridge’s supremo. Weinberg had a searching mind, fine. . .

Can a reactor be simple?

Christopher Hinton was the engineering overlord of Britain’s huge world-leading push into power reactors from the early 1950s. He was a towering personality. Somehow he managed to combine blistering honesty (he battled bureaucrats all his life) with an anxious need to preserve a hallowed reputation. A number of years ago, I came across a classic invited speech he made in 1954, in which he. . .

Gale Young

I’ve been quiet lately on this blog. Why? Because I’ve been wrestling with all the various inventive reactor design strands over the two-plus decades from the first reactor in 1942, and during that time it was never clear how much should live onward in my book and how much I should spit out here. But now I’m gaining clarity (and let me tell you, reactor design is one interesting. . .

H

Ancillary reading Number Gazillion … I came across Super Bomb: Organizational Conflict and the Development of the Hydrogen Bomb by accident but knew immediately I needed to read it. The decision by President Truman in January 1950 to develop an American thermonuclear H-bomb has only a glancing impact in my book, but I’d previously read plenty about that intriguing landmark policy step. . .

To prototype or not?

I’m not an engineer but I’m guessing that a perennially fascinating and relevant debate is how to test a risky new product. In working through the 616-page blur of technical matter in Fluid Fuel Reactors, I came across a pithy, cogent discussion of that issue in relation to a particularly exotic stream of reactor design. The words below get into too much detail for me to use in the. . .

I’m not an animal

In 2018, Addison-Wesley republished a massive Oak Ridge technical tome from 1958, Fluid Fuel Reactors, written by James Lane, a star engineer, and two others. I’d come across it many times but it is technically dense and, until 2018, its 616 pages were only available hardcopy. Where I live, that would have meant spending too long, for too little in all likelihood, in one of two public. . .

Leverett’s letter

Reactor design history over the first three post-war decades is fascinating, if only because so many designs were touted as possible, feasible, or competitive. I’ve found it hard to unwind each design’s history and realistic prospects, partly because of the jargon, partly because no one writing on the subject was ever disinterested. So it was interesting to discover in the archives a. . .

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