Deranged

In early 1957, just before he left the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Association for the electricity sector, Christopher Hinton traveled to the Savoy Hotel in London and gave a rather lengthy speech (some eight pages) at the annual luncheon of the British Electrical and Allied Industries Research Association. Not so fascinating, you might well say. But I like his great ease on his feet, his. . .

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. . .

This old country

A Scottish journo Fyfe Robertson (pictured below), wrote a four-part series major articles about British nuclear matters in the first half of 1957. They came out in Picture Post, a “photojournalistic magazine” that lasted for twenty years before folding in 1957. I can’t get hold of Robertson’s articles but historian Dick van Lente devotes a page of The Nuclear Age in. . .

Busting a gut to compete

At the beginning of 1957, Christopher Hinton was deep within a national experiment to centrally kick-start a British reactor manufacturing industry. Four electrical firms had been encouraged and bullied into teaming up with boilermakers to form consortia that could bid for contracts to build British (and potentially overseas) reactors. The monopoly electricity supplier, the Central Electricity. . .

Hinton’s myopia

Christopher Hinton was one of the three scientist/engineer pioneers who oversaw the build-up from nothing of a massive British nuclear infrastructure over the first dozen post-war years, then he ran the near-monopoly state electricity generator for another seven years, so he can be called the prime architect of that nation’s substantive nuclear energy sector. He was intellectually as sharp. . .

Fiat’s research reactor

Italy’s early (1950s) history is fascinating but weirdly complex. Reflecting a turbulent post-war political landscape, different state and private sector players sought to build different types of reactors, ranging from large to small. In particular, Fiat, the Italian car company we nowadays forget as being a postwar European success story, tried to build a power reactor, mainly due to the. . .

Cathedral

Canada’s second research reactor, NRU, sized at 135 MWt, was large for its day, but by the time it kicked off its working life, in November 1957, there were so many research reactors springing up all over the world, all of them by now peripheral to my central story about power (i.e. non-research) reactors, that I give them scant attention. That said, I relished this evocative picture of NRU. . .

Pride

The early years of nuclear power were suffused with righteous purpose, as befits a new energy source. Yet I’ve been surprised by how little overt championing of nuclear electricity occurred. I mean, it did occur, and regularly, but the degree of fervor feels less than one sees in 2024 among nuclear power proponents. Perhaps the difference is one of context. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, the. . .

Another Rickover onslaught

I know nothing about Rear-Admiral G. A. M. Wilson of Britain’s Royal Navy but my heart goes out to him in this scene recounted by physicist Terence Price: In preparation for that event I was one of a twenty-strong technical party that crossed the Atlantic in the summer of 1957 to gather whatever advice was on offer. We were to spend a couple of weeks with Rickover and his team, and it was. . .

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. . .

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