Welshmen Who Worked with Father of the British Bomb; Nuclear Weapons Pose Very Difficult Ethical, Scientific, Engineering and Industrial Problems. at a Time of Renewed Interest in Nuclear Arms Control and a New Drive, Supported by President Obama, to Try to Move towards a Nuclear Free World, Professor John Baylis Looks Back at the Early Years of the Nuclear Age, in Which Wales, and Some of Its Leading Scientists, Played a Significant Role

Article excerpt

Byline: John Baylis

BRITAIN was the first state to undertake urgent research into the development of atomic weapons. Seventy years ago it would be possible to develop weapons of immense power.

In those dark days of the second world war when Britain's very existence seemed to be at stake, the scientists warned that Germany might be developing these weapons and recommended that Britain should undertake its own atomic weapons programme.

These recommendations were accepted and Britain began a highly secret project, using the name "Tube Alloys".

Information was passed on to the United States, whose research at this stage was behind that of Britain, and, after a number of false starts, British scientists joined their American counterparts on the Manhattan project in 1943.

This led to the development of the first atomic weapons in 1945 which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Despite wartime agreements that Britain and the United States would continue to collaborate after the war ended, the US Congress passed the McMahon Act in 1946, cutting Britain off from all access to American atomic research.

Feeling itself to be a great power and fearing the growing power of the Soviet Union as the ColdWar got under way, the Labour government of Clement Attlee took the decision in January 1947 to develop a British nuclear deterrent force.

Whatever one's moral position on the issue, the development of Britain's atomic and thermonuclear weapons in the late 1940s and 1950s was a major scientific achievement.

With very little external help and with limited resources, British scientists and engineers solved some of the most difficult scientific problems of the day. In the United States, the scientists involved in the American nuclear programme became household names - especially Oppenheimer, Teller and Kistiakowski.

In Britain, few of those involved in Britain's nuclear programme are well-known.

Even less well-known is the fact that significant numbers of those involved in the work at Aldermaston, which produced British nuclear weapons, were from Wales.

Indeed, according to one source, there were so many Welshmen at Aldermaston that they "could turn out a full cricket side of native Glamorganshire men". There were also a number of Welshmen on the Aldermaston rugby team.

Of these "Taffy's men", as they were called, three in particular played crucial roles in the atomic and H-Bomb projects.

These were Ieuan Maddock, David Lewis and Graham Hopkin.

Maddock was a miner's son from Gorseinon who attended Gowerton County Grammar School and went on to Swansea University,where he obtained a first class degree in physics, before going on to get a PhD.

David Lewis, or "DT", as he was known, was also the son of a miner.

He was brought up in Brynmawr, and did his first degree and PhD in chemistry at Aberytwyth University.

And Hopkin, also from Swansea, trained as a metallurgist, graduating from Cardiff University.

Maddock is perhaps the best known of the three. He is said to have made an "outstanding contribution" to the bomb programme with his work on the design and development of electronic instrumentation and telemetry.

William (later Lord) Penney had been given the task of building the British bomb and he recruited Maddock to his High Explosives Research team in the late 1940s at Fort Halstead in Kent, prior to the development of Aldermaston the early 1950s.

Maddock became the leader of the group, which provided key measurements that were an essential part of the work leading to the first test of a British atomic device in the Monte Bello Islands, off the north-west coast of Australia on the 3 October 1952.

At this test, codenamed "Hurricane", and later tests, he was put in charge of the countdown to the detonation, earning him the nickname "The Count of Monte Bello". …