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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. . .

James Mahaffey and beginnings…

Here’s a simple (perhaps simplistic) point made by nuclear historian James Mahaffey (from his Atomic Awakening): K-25 enrichment plant at Oak Ridge At the end of World War II, the United States had the only uranium enrichment plant in the world, turning out U-235 in any desired concentration in quantities limited only by the amount of material loaded into the front-end. The availability of. . .

Technology’s march

In 2011 I went through the website of the Atomic Heritage Foundation and ordered three DVDs at great cost. They duly arrived and in 2013 I laboriously watched them and transcribed the parts that seemed useful. On this particular DVD were interviews with seven very old men who had begun their careers in the Manhattan Project. Five were interesting but irrelevant. Ralph Lapp, a physicist with a. . .

The politics of tech siting

I was writing up the highly politicized selection of Thurso, up in the very top tip of Scotland, for the Dounreay Fast Reactor, back in the early 50s. Remoteness was necessary: the DFR would be a fast reactor, very dangerous. But from all the remote sites on the island of Britain, Christopher Hinton, overlord of new reactors, was told to go for remote Scotland. Why? Job, jobs, jobs. Just as I was. . .

Joys and mires of American archival work

I limited my archival work to two forays of a fortnight each in the United Kingdom and three U.S. trips, ranging from two to three weeks. The National Archives in College Park, Maryland were the mainstay but I also went to Chicago’s branch of the National Archives, and I visited the Library of Congress in Washington a couple of times. I blitzed my visits, trying to extract as much archival. . .

The fine writers I read…

This jumble of book offcuts has been silent lately. I’m in Darwin, working on the reactor design ferment in the 50s, and it’s not a field that has attracted much attention, so nearly everything I have goes in the book rather than this blog. But here’s a thought: one of the pleasures of history reading is discovering fine writers waxing on about my topic. One such is American nuclear. . .

Occupation of Japan

For some reason, I’ve struggled to understand the genesis of nuclear power in Japan. The standard narrative is that the country was and is short of internal fuel sources, so it gravitated naturally towards the atom, and there is good logic in that picture. But the situation was more nuanced and fluid. One aspect was simply that the country was occupied by the United States for over half a. . .

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