Italy in 1952: Far behind

In December 1952, the recently established trade journal Nucleonics surveyed the world’s nuclear power prospects as best it could. I guess it figured its American readers desired to know how quickly other countries were progressing towards nuclear-generated electricity, and I’m sure the magazine hit a sweet spot that month. But 1952 was before the Americans, followed by the British. . .

Bartering nuclear materials

From 1948 to 1951, the small nation of Norway leveraged its heavy water factory’s precious output (it’s one of the best moderators of nuclear fission, this “moderation” being essential for controllable nuclear power). It played the British and French off against each other (U.S.A. refused to offer any assistance) in order to build its first research reactor. In May 1951, John Cockcroft in England. . .

Belgium rejects England

On September 6, 1954, President Eisenhower announces, as a side note, that USA will build a power reactor in Belgium. This is a body blow to the British, who are fostering nuclear connections throughout Europe and who have contributed their design to Belgium’s first small research reactor, currently under construction. I like this snippet (but consider it too detailed for my book) from John. . .

Watch what the politicians do

The United Kingdom Cabinet, chaired by Winston Churchill, met on June 16, 1952. Amongst much weightier issues addressed, it resolved as follows: Authorised the Paymaster-General to make available to the Belgian Government a suitable expert to superintend the construction in Belgium of an experimental pile. Why did the nation’s top politicians care whether or not a techo geek visited the small. . .

Something new on North Korea

I thought I had North Korea sussed (I won’t spoil my pleasure by telling you now what I think about it in my book’s context) but a new data source is revelatory. Not only is Van Jackson’s “On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War” brilliant in bringing my understanding up to date over the 2010s, the author chronicled his writing task over six months, in a blog series titled “Nuke. . .

Looking back isn’t straightforward

I constantly need to exhort myself to try to see things as they were seen back then. Reminders about this requirement from historians or others are always welcome. One of my most useful memoirs/autobiographies/histories is that of John Simpson, who held senior roles in Westinghouse’s nuclear business for decades. Summing up the construction and launch of the seminal Shippingport nuclear power. . .

Not easy to photograph something underground

I’ve been busy with another type of book recently but am now back with the reactor pioneers in the 50s. In May 1956, Lewis Strauss, controversial in history as a most aggressive chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, took his British civil service counterpart on a tour of the construction site of Shippingport, also controversial at the time because of its great expense. What interested. . .

60 Minutes says Australia should adopt nuclear

Tom Steinfort, 60 Minutes reporter, dominated the October 21 show with a segment titled “Going Nuclear: The Champion.” He visits Fukushima and dons protectives to go in as far as the spent fuel pool, full of accident rubble, of the melted-down Number 3 reactor. He visits the Darlington power station in Canada. He tells an Adelaide householder with large power bills (she clearly. . .

Exploring future reactors . . . David Schumacher’s The New Fire . . . get it and watch it

Filmmaker David Schumacher just released a doco on all the work being done on new reactor design, focused, I gather, on the young people involved. This is an enormously important topic for me and one that carries echoes all the way back to the 1940s. The purpose of this post is not to comment on the movie itself – I won’t do that because I’ll address it in the book and I. . .

The reckless days?

The New Yorker, one of my favorite magazines, has published several long articles on my subject over the last three quarters of a century. Mostly I’ve found them readable, as ever, but of not much practical use to me. Such is the case with Daniel Lang’s 1959 article “A most valuable accident” (which I had trouble sourcing and is hard to read in my files). That said, it. . .

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