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Garden party diversion

Francis (Franz) Simon was a German-born chemist and physicist who emigrated to England. He invented the crucial gaseous diffusion method of uranium enrichment. He doesn’t figure much in my story of power reactors but, to be on the safe side, I dutifully read a fairly recent biography by a Canadian academic. Here’s a fascinating cameo scene in Oxford towards the tail end of 1954. What. . .

Tailings

Illinois historian Eric Mogren now researches bow hunting (according to his university’s web page on him) but in 2002 he wrote an illuminating history of uranium mill tailings (i.e. the sandy residues of mining the mineral). This involves more detail than my general history can cover, but I did enjoy reading this conclusion: Moreover, the AEC’s persistent focus on short-term, high-level. . .

An oceanographer complains about radwaste

Jacob Hamblin, a historian in Oregon, unearths the most fascinating archival material. Preparing for the BEAR meeting of oceanographers, Vine wrote a memorandum in February 1956 outlining what he considered to be the basic conundrum of waste disposal. He captured the uncertainty by describing the problem as “somewhere between nonexistent and insolvable.” Partly this was due to a lack of. . .

A judgment call

If you’re seeking the truth when writing history, rather than expressing a view as in a polemic, it can be difficult to judge your references. Bharat Karnad is a research professor in New Delhi, with impeccable credentials including many governmental assignments and roles. In 2005, he published his 575-page magnum opus on India’s nuclear weapons history and status, titled Nuclear. . .

Messes

I’ve been quiet on this blog over the last quarter of 2021, partly with good reason. The reason: I’ve been drafting chapters that have turned into boggy messes. When I possess a coherent, plotted chapter, I know precisely what research material belongs to the book and what is left over. Some of the leftover “stuff” has inherent interest, in which case I blog it. A messy. . .

Secrecy is as secrecy does

Here’s a throwaway tiny piece of nuclear news from the February 1954 edition of Nucleonics, the world’s first nuclear trade journal, then in its infancy: India, a poor, undeveloped country, was setting up a swanky nuclear institute near Bombay. “A 1.2 Mev Cockcroft-Walton generator is operating,” the article informs us, “in temporary quarters of the Tata Institute. . .

Reactors in cities

When the United Kingdom formally commenced its atomic pursuits at the beginning of 1946, before the expert triumvirate of Cockcroft, Hinton, and Penney established their empires, plenty of naive ideas were tossed around. Here is one expressed in a meeting of a secretive Cabinet committee (called Gen 112) on January 28: The atomic power stations of the future could quite safely be placed in large. . .

A new era of radiation

The following paragraph by Michele Gerber, the official historian at Hanford, the huge plutonium production site in Washington State, is excess to my requirements, but I like it for its concise exposition of something important. The advent of reactors and bombs during World War II led to not only a vastly greater quantity of artificial radiation, the types and varieties of radiation also scaled. . .

Emotion

Sportspeople who achieve are allowed to show emotion. Politicians are expected to emote. But engineers and scientists, even when they do remarkable things, shed no tears. “Butch” Lichtenberger, an Argonne physicist who was instrumental within teams building a number of first-of-a-kind reactors, always struck me from my reading as stolid; for example, he liked to hunt. In 1954 he wrote. . .

1945 ignorance about radiation

A revelatory paper by UCal historian Sean Malloy shocked me. Check out the final sentence of this conclusion to his masterful analysis: This survey of pre-Hiroshima knowledge of radiation effects in the United States makes it clear that most of the immediate and long-term biological effects of radiation on victims of the bomb were predictable at the time of the A-bomb decision, even if still. . .

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