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The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer Hardcover – May 8, 1997
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The First Nuclear Era: The Life And Times Of A Technological Fixer is Alvin Weinberg's autobiography, the memoirs of an influential American nuclear engineer/physicist. These reminiscences date from the dawning of the nuclear age in the early 1940s to the present day. The First Nuclear Era is the story of one notable scientist's life and times and a look back at one of humankind's most ambitious endeavors: the attempt to harness and safely distribute nuclear power. Weinberg has witnessed and played a major part in many of the defining scientific moments of the nuclear era to date. Nuclear power reactors are no longer being built in the U. S. The first nuclear era is coming to a close. Alvin Weinberg's fascinating account of his seminal role in that era gives the reader an insider's look at how nuclear energy developed, how it faltered, and how and why it may yet rise again. The First Nuclear Era is a well written, informative, insightful and engaging autobiography with observations on critically important events and scientific developments that will have impact and influence well into the next century. -- Midwest Book Review
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The First Nuclear Era is Alvin Weinberg's autobiography, the memoirs of a most influential American nuclear engineer/physicist. These reminiscences date from the dawning of the nuclear age in the early 1940s to the present. It is the story of one notable scientist's life and times and a look back at one of humankind's most ambitious endeavors: the attempt to harness and safely distribute nuclear power. Weinberg has witnessed and played a major part in many of the defining scientific moments of his era. Here he describes his academic career at the University of Chicago, under the tutelage of Nicolas Rashevsky and Carl Eckart. He recalls his wartime days at the Manhattan Project's Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory where he helped Nobelist Eugene Wigner design the Hanford plutonium producing reactors. He then focuses on what would become the abiding legacy of his professional life: his development of and involvement with nuclear reactors. In discussing both great commercial successes (such as the Light-Water Reactor) and unsuccessful experiments, Weinberg offers an objective critique of the technical and political shortcomings that have haunted the nuclear age. He also demonstrates how the lessons learned from unsuccessful reactors paved the way for later triumphs.
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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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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China and India are running away with this technology while we stand mired in political name calling