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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, enlightening, and emotional journey of a nuclear pioneer
As a young nuclear engineer, I was enchanted by Alvin Weinberg's autobiography, The First Nuclear Era. He took me through a very personal history of concepts I have studied, and struck many chords by recounting such things as the day the term "breeder reactor" was thought up. Weinberg discusses pioneering neutron transport, working with the Manhattan Project, the origins...
Published on September 30, 2010 by Nick Touran

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dry, but has interesting details.
The book is not at all in the class of Richard Rhodes' Pulitzer-winning "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", but it's not meant to be. It's a memoir of a man was active in all phases of atomic energy, from engineering to government bureaucracy. (He only spent a year in Washington D.C., and was happy to leave.) Most interesting for me was the explanation of why the U.S...
Published on November 26, 2011 by Wayne Farmer


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, enlightening, and emotional journey of a nuclear pioneer, September 30, 2010
By 
Nick Touran (Ann Arbor, MI United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer (Hardcover)
As a young nuclear engineer, I was enchanted by Alvin Weinberg's autobiography, The First Nuclear Era. He took me through a very personal history of concepts I have studied, and struck many chords by recounting such things as the day the term "breeder reactor" was thought up. Weinberg discusses pioneering neutron transport, working with the Manhattan Project, the origins of the national labs, how he influenced today's dominance of light-water reactors, and a history of the various goings on that brought nuclear power to where it is today.

He remains philosophical throughout the narrative, interjecting his personal views on what went right and what went wrong, who was hard to work with and who did it right. As he journeys through his days as a researcher, a national lab director, a think tanker, and a committee member of the national academies, he discusses encounters with the leaders of the anti-nuclear movement (Nader, Lovins) and provides insight into how he dealt with the issues society raised about nuclear power, going so far as to call it a Faustian bargain (a deal with the devil).

Weinberg makes clear the excitement and optimism he and his peers originally had about nuclear power -- they thought they had provided humanity with limitless, cheap, and emission-free energy! Well aware of the shortfalls (proliferation and waste in particular), he offers succinct discussions of each issue and his personal (and convincing!) perspectives.

The discussions of the atomic bomb, national defense, and the end of war as we know it are very stimulating. After so many years in the APS, AAAS, NAS, NAE, RNAS, etc., he offers exciting perspectives into these topics that are not so commonly discussed since the Cold War ended.

Weinberg's incredible life is well documented in this book, and his optimism that nuclear technology will rise again is inspiring on a very personal level for me (a reactor designer). It's like he's a guiding light, speaking to me about my passions from the grave. An eloquent writer, his book is not necessarily targeted towards engineers like myself, but would be very worthwhile to anyone interested in nuclear enterprise, or energy in general. I extremely highly recommend this to my peers and highly recommend it to everyone else.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid eye-witness account of the genesis of nuclear power, October 9, 2011
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This review is from: The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer (Hardcover)
There is increasing interest--post Fukushima--in the early decisions made to adopt various reactor designs in various countries, particularly the U.S. The whole panorama of the physics, economics and politics around these decisions, starting with the Manhattan project thru the next few decades is recorded here in a very accessible way by one of the greats of the field--Alvin Weiner. Alvin was Eugene Wigner's right hand man in designing reactors for the production of plutonium during the second world war Manhattan project. He was crucial in admiral Rickover's seclection of the light water reactor (LWR) for use in submarines, but preferred other fuel cycles for civilian power plant applications for their greater inherent safety, fewer long-lived waste products and lower proliferation risk. It's truly amazing how Weinberg and his merry band of scientists and engineers could design, fabricate, test, generate power with novel reactor types in a matter of months at Oak Ridge in the 50's. This occurred with Alvin's favorite reactor--the molten salt thorium reactor. This was known as Alvin's "3P" or three-pipe reactor, the only one of its type ever developed. It was nicknamed "3P" because of its simplicity. The reactor basically consisted of "three pipes". There were no complex reactor fuel assemblies, as the fission occurred in the molten salt which circulated through a heat exchanger to generate steam. For many reasons, Weinberg felt the Molten Salt "Breeder" would inevitably inaugurate the "Second Nuclear Era." He forecasted the end of the First Nuclear Era while he was still at Oak Ridge (for reasons of safety, stability and proliferation risk) and for this reason was fired by Nixon in 1974. He was soon hired by President Ford to be head of ERDA. His account of this latter period of his career is also of great historical interest. His writing style is very lucid and crisp, and the pages turn quickly. There is only one equation in the whole book.

FYI, I bought this book used via Amazon, and found this wonderful hand-written message on the first page: "To Mr. Olana Strunk, February 6, 2001, who rescued Ms. Weinberg and me on the Solway Road when our car conked out at 10 pm. Best of luck in your program to become an environmental engineer. With best wishes, Alvin Weinberg." This quote reminds me that Alvin stated in his book (copywright 1994) that he felt, way back in the '70's, that wide adoption of nuclear power was inevitable due to the global warming problem associated with fossil fuel combustion. A true prophet for our times!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dry, but has interesting details., November 26, 2011
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This review is from: The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer (Hardcover)
The book is not at all in the class of Richard Rhodes' Pulitzer-winning "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", but it's not meant to be. It's a memoir of a man was active in all phases of atomic energy, from engineering to government bureaucracy. (He only spent a year in Washington D.C., and was happy to leave.) Most interesting for me was the explanation of why the U.S. adopted the pressurized light water design for reactors, as opposed to the several other designs that the author describes, among them reactors that used a molten salt coolant. Answer: Admiral Rickover wanted it that way for his submarines, and once it was demonstrated to work, everybody else followed that design since it seemed to work well.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for the Alvin Weinberg crowd., February 10, 2013
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This review is from: The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer (Hardcover)
After reading the account of Weinberg being pilloried for his support of the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor in Richard Martin's "Superfuel", I was somewhat surprised to find AW relying on someone else's account for his version of the events around the demise of Oak Ridge"s Molten Salt Reactor experiment. McPherson's account is much more detailed and available as a free download if that's your primary interest, but "1st Nuclear Era" does contain troves of insider views on Weinberg's participation at the highest levels of the Manhattan project and the first fission reactor in the handball courts of the university of Chicago.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Physicists - who knew, March 28, 2013
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I read it through as quickly as I had time to read. It bounced around some with different topics through the same time periods which made it a bit odd but still very interesting. I thought he would have focused more on the physics and certain reactors but found that what drove him was the philosophies related to nuclear weapons and power. People are always more complex than what general history makes them out to be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History of the early nuclear industry, May 7, 2013
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This review is from: The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer (Hardcover)
Alvin Weinberg was recruited for the Manhattan Project during WW II to do everything required to make the atomic bomb. Alvin assisted Eugene Wigner during the war in designing the atomic reactors used to produce the Plutonium used to make the plutonium bombs. Interestingly, he looked at all of the different design possibilities, and concluded that there were 1,000 different types of reactors that could be designed and built when the coolant, moderator, reflectors, fuel type etc were considered.

This was a brilliant collection of men and women gathered together in the Manhattan project. After the war, Weinberg was director of the lab at Oak Ridge, in Tennessee. He oversaw the growth in the lab and the evolution of its mission. He recommended to Adm RIckover the use of the light water reactor in US submarines as it would fit in the available space. Rickover accepted the suggestion, and essentially all of the US Submarine reactors were light water. The USS Seawolf got a sodium cooled reactor originally. After the light water reactor was selected by RIckover for the US Navy,

Weinberg led the lab in designing a number of other reactors. Weinberg personally like the molten salt reactor using thorium as the main fuel, for use in the civilian industry. it was called a molten salt breeder reactor at the time. Today, it is more commonly known as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). They built a demonstration one at ONRL, and ran it for a number of years. It has many advantages: smaller footprint, simpler design, essentially self controlling for power level, Unfortunately, he could not sell it to anyone, and when he persisted in advocating for it, he was fired as director of ONRL, as the DC politicians did not like the competition to their preferred design.

He led ONRL getting involved in reactor safety, and the lab had a very positive presence in this area. Unfortunately, Wigner and Weinberg were not successful in selling a safer, smaller and cheaper reactor technology based on Thorium. The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) appears very attractive, and seems that it would address many of todays concerns, both about energy, and nuclear reactors to provide electricity and other energy as required by a modern technological society.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Highly interesting, February 19, 2013
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This review is from: The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer (Hardcover)
Weinbergs book is a unique look into the development of nuclear energy. The description of many people you have never heard about counts to the negative side.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I wrote my Senior Seminar Paper on Nuclear Power., January 4, 2014
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This books explains the history of Nuclear Power and the Manhattan Project from the perspective of Alvin Weinberg. It is very interesting that the US went with Admiral Rickover's decision to use the light water power plant in both submarines and on land in the commercial power plant industry. I seems that many of the problems that we've had (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima Daiichi) were because of that one decision to use light water reactors that require active cooling systems. The light water reactor needs to be replaced with something that has a passive safety system, but the funds needed for R&D are astronomical. It is very difficult to change our current trajectory and there is no smoking gun. India and China are working on MSRs / LFTRs and they will probably lead the second nuclear era if their efforts are successful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Opportunity missed, March 26, 2013
By 
Frederick Zeise "FredZ" (Milpitas, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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A clear history of a path not taken by the US nuclear establishment.
China and India are running away with this technology while we stand mired in political name calling
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The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer
The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer by Alvin Martin Weinberg (Hardcover - August 1, 1997)
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