One of the features of early British atomic history was an almighty battle between the scientists and the engineers. Mostly they worked well together but John Cockcroft and Christopher Hinton, the mighty titans who presided over a remarkable nuclear expansion, were so different in temperament that their organizations reflected them and, frankly, often went to war. In 1951 Hinton, sick of what he. . .
In late 1951 Ben Lewis, the core physicist leading Canada’s reactor efforts, proposed the nation build its first power producing prototype. It would take another decade for what would be called NPD (Nuclear Power Demonstration) to start working, but in the meantime, Lewis went calling on his mother country, the United Kingdom, hoping to obtain assistance. None was ever forthcoming and one. . .
A coded message
At the end of 1950, Christopher Hinton, the head of UK’s atomic factories, wrote to a Miss Lowrison, who I presume is personal secretary of Lord Portal, Hinton’s overlord in the Ministry of Supply. The very first of the nation’s military plutonium production reactors had just sputtered into life after experiencing half a year of difficulties, and everyone desperately hoped that. . .
A minor but surprisingly crucial U.S.-U.K. scientific interaction in the early history of English reactors was a June 1948 trip to the mother country by Walter Zinn, who ran Argonne. I was amused to discover from this letter, four months earlier, from an English diplomat in Washington to John Cockcroft, presaging Zinn’s journey, that it might not have even occurred if Zinn’s allergies. . .
Few scientists in the late 1940s were as powerful as England’s John Cockcroft and few were as mild in manner. Thus the following brief letter to a London public servant, quaint as the language is, shows how tough he could be in protecting Harwell, his creation: You might like to see the attached cutting about Sir Ralph Glyn, who is apparently still make rude remarks about Harwell. I think. . .
The Harwell organ
British physicist Terence Price had a way with words as well as numbers. In his autobiography, he recalls the start-up of what we would now call a minor research reactor, but was then significant. Bepo—British Experimental Pile 0—clicked into life on July 3, 1948. Price recalls his amazement that it was “painted in a colour that I had not previously encountered—heliotrope” (I too had. . .
Sometimes it almost seems too easy to find idiosyncratic outbursts from Christopher Hinton, chief builder of early British reactors: Thank you very much for sending me the photographs of the charge machine which you have built for Calder Hall A. It looks very nice and I only hope that it will work. If it does, it will be the first of its kind to be successful. Complicated machines were designed. . .
One of the aspects of British reactor pioneer Christopher Hinton that endears him to me is his ethical rigor. Here he is in 1955 writing to Harry Railing, joint managing director of General Electric Corporation (the UK version, unrelated to the American firm), one of the four companies selected to build a big nuclear power reactor push: Thank you for your letter of December 16th. I know exactly. . .
Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Edgworth Morgan was controller for atomic energy during Britain’s crucial period of 1951 to 1953. In a private letter to his successor in mid-1955, we find out what Christopher Hinton thought of him: It is on the question of salaries that I seriously disagree. All of our worst troubles when we were in the Civil Service arose from their unwillingness to. . .
The Atomic Energy Authority in Great Britain briefed its directors in 1955, just before the grand International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, on its “collaboration” with “third countries” (you can see that UK saw itself as number two globally, a conceit that in that period was probably justified). At the end, we find this summary of. . .