Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

By Edward Teller; Judith L. Shoolery | Go to book overview

29
OTHER NUCLEAR AFFAIRS
1949—1955

MY EFFORTS ON the Reactor Safeguard Committee (RSC), beginning in 1947, had gone on during my postwar years in Chicago, and then in Los Alamos, and had continued through my early years in California. The several concerns that simultaneously occupied me during those years—the pursuit of a true hydrogen bomb, the establishment of a second laboratory, the modification of weapons to meet the new needs of rocket delivery, and the development of safe electricity-generating nuclear reactors—suggest a justification for Fermi's having called me a monomaniac with several manias.

During those years, I learned that serving in either the engine or the brake department was apt to produce political complications. Perhaps knowing how to express one's opinions less forthrightly may make it possible to avoid some criticism; but, then again, critics are available for every position. I saw the first clear evidence that our work on the RSC was viewed with displeasure during the fall of 1951, not long after my return to Chicago. The decision we had made at our meeting in late September 1950 was particularly bothersome to the AEC: We had refused to change our minds about the problems of the Hanford reactors. Those water-cooled, graphite-moderated reactors, built during wartime, had several safety problems.

Today, water-cooled reactors are commonly in use throughout the United States and Europe; they are easy to operate and very safe. 1 In this design, if

____________________
1
See Chapter 15, p. 154. Using water for cooling in the reactor has two effects on the fission process: It moderates (lowers) the energy of the high-velocity neutrons produced by fission, which makes those neutrons more likely to be captured by uranium-235, thus enhancing fission; and the water absorbs neutrons, effectively removing them from capture by uranium, and thereby slowing the fission process.

-360-

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