Stories & Images from the Dawn of the Atomic Age
1st Books library
Bloomington, Indiana 2003
ISBN: 1-4033-9086-X (e-book)
ISBN: 1-4033-9087-8 (Paperback)
ISBN: 1-4107-0333-9 (Dust Jacket)
(Reflections on individual life experiences of a pioneer from the early days of nuclear power)
When I started to read Creating a New World, I knew personally Ted Rockwell as an incredibly knowledgeable individual on all aspects of nuclear power both from the theoretical and practical aspects. He is comfortable functioning both as a scientist and as an engineer; a rare talent. I expected to fill in my own background knowledge (perhaps with a few anecdotes} on all that has occurred in this field in the past 60 odd years. Possibly, some of the mystery behind the paper weights made from one inch lengths of zirconium pigtail that all the old timers kept on their desks would be revealed.
What I found was an interesting, highly personal and eloquent exploration of the policies which produced the nuclear industry as it now exists; presented in a manner such that even the untutored can understand, absorb and accept the facts, if there is a concomitant desire to learn.
His description of experiencing a nuclear bomb test is a vivid and sobering classic that sets the stage for the rest of the book which concentrates on the power production application of this boundless energy source. An energy source presented as it is: misunderstood and under appreciated in the country that led in all stages of the technology development. The first hand description of development at the Oak Ridge facility was typical of so many efforts of the World War Il period with the added element of compartmented security which severely limited individual knowledge of events. Presentation of the actions of the scientists and engineers leading up to the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission establishes the arena in which the myriad organizations have grown up, participated, sometimes flourished, and in many cases then vanished from the nuclear power scene. The background discussion on use of the bomb to end the war adds a personal touch to what seems to be a never ending debate. (As a 17 year old seaman waiting to enter quarter-master school in the spring of 1945 I have never harbored any doubts that the correct course of action was taken.)
The guts of this book rest with Section 6, .Radiation, People. and the Good Earth; and are expanded on in Section 7, The Great LNT Scandal. The coverage on public safety in Section 9 provides the capstone. These sections should be required reading for everyone before they are permitted to either comment or act on any aspect of the use of application of nuclear power. In terms easily understood by any thinking individual, Ted makes the case that the present concept of limiting exposure to radiation to as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) is an anachronism that is long overdue for revision. Regrettably, the roots of this concept, that any radiation is bad, probably rests within the nuclear community based on the early bomb tests and resultant management actions.
Ted’s coverage of The Three Mite Island reactor incident (I use the word deliberately because there was no disaster) is compressed, even handed and factual. Even so, he is charitable to the politicians and regulators that thoroughly botched the affair. The idea that responsible persons watching an incident in a plant designed, constructed, licensed and operated in accordance with established rules cold be so out of touch with reality remains perplexing. In the hydrogen explosion controversy of the incident he points out that naval plants had been and were all riding around with “hydrogen bubbles” while the “incident” events were unfolding.
The section on Norman Cole and water quality seemed out of place even for those of us that knew this very talented individual. However, on reflection it illustrates what might occur if the correct individuals were to be placed in certain key positions with some degree of permanence. On further reading and reflection, recalling he struggle experienced within the Department of Energy during the Bush administration (first), and how quickly revised quality efforts were allowed to atrophy following that period it is probably irrelevant. In this regard, Ted cites the disastrous tenure of Bill Richardson at the Department of Energy. This individual is now a serving state governor and an influential television talk show performer. The book confirms that supposedly knowledgeable but uninformed individuals have continued to make decisions regarding nuclear power based on what they think people want to hear rather than on what the facts are.
Old mossbacks will find this book interesting and entertaining; newcomers to nuclear power in all areas should be required to read it in an attempt to inculcate a basis for future examination of where this industry should.go. It is probably futile to hope that politicians and regulators would approach the book with openness. Even with standard designs and some of the innovations that Ted discusses (e.g., The Institute of Nuclear Power, INPO) it is difficult to envision any private utility willing to invest in the tortuous and unrewarding path of constructing a new commercial nuclear power plant. Only the Navy with its totally contained development, construction, training and operation system has been able to make nuclear power work with complete success. In conclusion, the book leaves one with the feeling that nuclear power has survived only because of dedicated individuals such as Ted Rockwell.
A few typographic errors and the degraded printing quality of some figures was disconcerting but easily worked around. Ted did touch briefly on zirconium production, but the metallurgy of nuclear power is probably an entire book of its own.