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Coincidences amuse us

Researching Argonne National Laboratory, from which sprang most of the key reactor designs after WWII and into the early 1950s, the following 1992 interview with a Manhattan Project physicist, Albert Wattenberg, piqued my interest: Some people in the U.S. Army wanted to set the National Laboratory up at Baraboo, Wisconsin, because the property was available. Fermi said that he wouldn’t go there. . .

Japan in WWII: An obscure strand

In writing up Japan’s early nuclear power history, I’ve needed to sum up the nation’s World War II efforts to manufacture a nuclear weapon (the main aspirants of course being U.S.A., Germany, and U.S.S.R.). It turns out Japan got almost nowhere towards a nuke, and what it did during the war turned out to have almost no relevance to its slowly emergent post-war interest in. . .

History means ignoring the news … until it doesn’t

News broadcasts should be ignored by historians, at least when they think of themselves as historians, because the news froths with such exuberance that it’s mostly wrong. So when I read a few days ago about a forest fire near the Chernobyl sarcophagus, I glanced at the report (it was mostly benign, yes a fire had started but it was out or nearly out, and no, there was no cause for concern). . .

Did Japan test a nuke?

I’m telling the tale of nuclear energy, not nuclear war, but in writing up the early history of power reactors, the German and Japanese stories need to (in my opinion) briefly refer to their World War II nuclear experiences vis a vis the successful Manhattan Project. In other words, when it came time for the Japanese and Germans to consider nuclear electricity, what was their background. . .

Jill Lepore on writing history

You’d think writing history would be easy. This fact, that event, another quote, an easy conclusion… Not so. I recently read Jill Lepore’s “These Truths: A History of the United States.” Regardless of what I think of the overall arc of her narrative, I found this quote to be true: No one can know a nation that far back, from its infancy, with or without baby teeth kept in. . .

How long should reactor operators be trained?

A fascinating power reactor I’ve delved deeply into is the Shippingport Atomic Power Station built by Admiral Hyman Rickover. (Why was an electricity-producing plant erected by a sailor? It’s a long story.) A second-tier utility, Duquesne Light Company, partly funded the construction and then operated it to add electricity to its grid. In 1959, with no other substantive reactor intended solely. . .

Exciting

One of the pleasures of researching the early years of nuclear power’s history has been observing the idealism of the pioneers. Not that they express it as such, often you have to read between the lines to realize this is a passion. To put it simply: this new technology was seen as a way of improving the world. In today’s spin world, idealism is another social media attribute. . .

Bermuda, December 1953

In researching how Eisenhower got to his December 8, 1953 “Atoms for Peace” speech, I paid a little bit of heed to the five days he spent in Bermuda from the 5th, just prior to his United Nations address. Various historians or writers recount how the U.S. president pitched his upcoming speech to Winston Churchill and the French Prime Minister (very much a bit player). You can see the three of. . .

Impromptu conference

On impulse, I’ve booked to attend an all-day Sydney conference (I’m staying quite inner city) on nuclear. It’s the 13th annual conference of the Australian Nuclear Association. I’ve had little interest in the history of my home country vis a vis nuclear, primarily because it’s the only global continent without even a single power reactor. But something about. . .

Eisenhower – what was he like?

I’ve invested an enormous amount of time and energy into trying to understand the character of Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. president from 1953 to the start of 1961. He was the one who opened up the world to nuclear energy. Historians and biographers and others provide hugely contrasting viewpoints, to the extent that sometimes you wonder if there were multiple Eisenhowers. One historian who seems. . .

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