Never forget the awe

Obsessing over something like nuclear power or atomic energy as it was initially occurred, over time you become blasé. Over the last half decade, a group of friends and I have worked through the epic 3,600-page six-book My Struggle series of novels by Norway’s Karl Ove Knausgaard. In the final book, listen: To split the atom is no minor matter. It is to exceed a boundary never before. . .

Canada’s nuke connections

Navigating the line between the peaceful atom, which is the province of my book, and military nuclear weapons, was always going to be tricksy. On the one hand, I am of course interested in what nexus there is between reactors and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, I don’t want to get caught up in nuclear weapons history itself; the topic is just too big to be. . .

Lego’izing history

At the moment I’m preparing to assemble a narrative of the first visionary period of nuclear power, ranging from 1942 through to 1960. Watching, and subsequently championing Craig Mazin’s superlative HBO series, Chernobyl, has been both a re-immersion in a subject I know half well and an aesthetic distraction. Yet I’m feeling a sense of disquiet. It’s one thing for a key. . .

Silly hubris

A fascinating Twitter presence called Soviet Visuals posted this on June 6, 2017. Apparently it’s an “atomic airship” from a 1960s Soviet magazine. The caption: “Atomic ruler of the sky.” My book barely mentions nuclear-powered flight. The power reactor pioneers I’ve studied judged that notion to be nonsensical. The United States spent a few billion on it before JFK shut it down (rather. . .

For once it’s a case of less work not more

Being a slow historian is frustrating if only due to the continual public release of more information, critical data that needs to be obtained, catalogued, analysed and recorded. For example, just this year, three substantive books and a five-part TV series have been published/released, all on the subject of Chernobyl. I spent hours on them. So it is pleasant indeed to confront my “holding. . .

A report I ignored

January 2, 1959. President Eisenhower, one of the most pro-private-enterprise, anti-government-funding American leaders ever, has to deal with a rambunctious legislature that pushes for AEC (the Atomic Energy Commission) to build numerous reactors. (Why? A complex weave of reasons, often nationalistic, often local-political.) No one seems to know which of many reactor designs is. . .

HBO’s Chernobyl mini-series

HBO’s Chernobyl I’ve written before about the quandary of watching documentaries and historical reenactments of nuclear events. On the one hand, of course I need to see such modern interpretations of past events I’m trying to make sense of. On the other hand, for some reason it’s rare to come across a film that actually contributes firm historical data. I end up spending. . .

The birth of Lucas Heights

A historian friend, Neil Huybregts, pointed me to George Dalton. A New Zealand engineer, he joined Harwell in 1947, worked on the British breeder, then transferred back home in 1949. In 1955 he was snapped up by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission’s chief scientist, Charles Watson-Munro (whom I know quite well through his early role in Canada’s atomic efforts). Dalton returned to. . .

Electricity in Chicago

Anyone who has been to Chicago agrees it’s a grand city but I didn’t know this: On an atlas of worldwide electrical cultivation, the brightest zone, the very most intense buildup, would center around Chicago in the decade from 1918 to 1929, when a majority of homes in the city were wired up. Chicago was the most electrified city in the world, with an average per-capita annual. . .

The many factors in play

In the early 50s, intense negotiations between West Germany and those determining its future – the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, among others. Should any atomic energy activity at all be allowed and, if so, what. The Official Committee on Atomic Energy was a group of British senior public servants briefing their ministers. Among those allowed to observe, and to provide. . .

Archives