A decent introduction to the history of controlled fission, although not nearly as in-depth as The Making of the Atomic Bomb, from which it takes a loA decent introduction to the history of controlled fission, although not nearly as in-depth as The Making of the Atomic Bomb, from which it takes a lot of its material. Focuses much more on the "history" element than the "future", which disappointed me. Unlike the author's more recent (but equally alliterative) Atomic Accidents, anyone who's deeply interested in this subject will have already found most of the information. Nonetheless, it's well-written, competently edited, and short enough to appeal to those for whom Rhodes was rather much of a slog.
full disclosure: Dr. Mahaffey and I both studied nuclear engineering at Georgia Tech, and worked at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, though not at the same time. I do not personally know Dr. Mahaffey....more
marvelous! each year brings a new body of pop-nuke printed material, most of it rehashed and a good deal of it wrong. the discerning criticality fetismarvelous! each year brings a new body of pop-nuke printed material, most of it rehashed and a good deal of it wrong. the discerning criticality fetishist is lucky to find a single good book among the dreck. last year's was Schlosser's Command and Control. this year we get Atomic Accidents. too much alliteration.
i knew the basic facts about most of the events in this book (though the history of arranged train collisions was news to me, and delightful), but only because i'm a freak who's familiar with things like Los Alamos National Laboratories' Review of Criticality Accidents and has pored over tables detailing genetic damage as a function of 90Sr / 137Cs fallout in Kahn's On Thermonuclear War and has a shelf titled Oppenheimania. despite that, i was regularly surprised by new information, some of it major elements from the history of reactor engineering (this is a better survey of different reactor types than i've seen in most textbooks, and certainly a more entertaining one), some of it details staggering in their nerdiness (did you know the part number for the neutron generator used in the Mk-28 gravity bomb was MC-890A?), some of it personal reflection (thoughts on DASA/DNA/DTRA logos over the years). Mahaffey goes all the way and delivers the goods: most authors might be content to reference the urban legend that the AMF "candlepin" bowling pin spotter was inspired by fuel rod management technology from the Fermi-1, but Mahaffey is there with patent dates and part numbers. there's a lot of oral nuclear tradition and lore that Mahaffey's preserved in one place, previously unavailable or available only by trawling through the American Nuclear Society's unbearable Nuclear News. if you're a fan of David Lochbaum's "Fission Stories" series at All Things Nuclear (and if you're not, then to hell with you), you're gonna be happy.
i'm pretty sure mahaffey never reveals any currently classified information (nota bene: i have never held the Q+SigmaX (DoE) or TS+CNWDI (DoD) clearances necessary for weapon design work), which is understandable, but the weapons junkie will still find some gems. the marvelous qualities of 237Np, for instance, had escaped my attention. the discussion of melt-castable explosives is at least at the level of Agrawal's High Energy Materials. sometimes he's teasing (what are these alleged evidences for a neptunium test, Herr Doktor? and alluding to Fermat's Last Theorem when discussing "secret Japanese uranium-extraction filter materials" in a footnote doesn't fly. for one, fermat was almost certainly bullshitting or at least wrong. two, we can all go read Seko et al's "Aquaculture of Uranium in Seawater". i suspect the good doctor simply lacks confidence regarding amidoxime chemistry), which is annoying. he toes the line regarding initiator design (pretty much entirely classified), though i bet he knows more than he's saying. there's negligible information regarding thermonuclear design, which makes sense given the book's topic.
minor nits: the bibliography is good, but i'd have appreciated inline references, and plenty of details are presented for which i can find no listed source (i've confirmed some of them via literature checks, but a good number require simply trusting Dr. Mahaffey). the photographs are uninspiring, either iconic early 20th century shots everyone's seen or Mahaffey's own color shots. i understand not wanting to license photographs, too, but there's frankly way better pictures of nuclear reactors than these (i dug the selfie among the CRTs of Baxley, Georgia's Hatch plant). finally, dr. mahaffey doesn't quite seem to understand youtube URIs, which is more charming than anything--the man has forgotten more science than most of us will ever know, despite our new-fangled YouTubes.
finally, mahaffey is quite often funny, and always pleasant to read. not many authors could pack this wealth of technical detail into 420 readable pages. mahaffey deploys garrulous, digressive footnotes with all the abundance and profuseness of david foster wallace, and just as in Infinite Jest they're some of the book's best material. mahaffey writes with verve, and--unlike most technical prose--there are few gross lapses in editing. one gets the idea he'd be a good guy to have a beer with, discussing breeder reactors and why Jimmy Carter was a douchebag and pranks one could play on John McPhee.
tl; dr: if you like reading books about controlled fission and its applications, read this. if you don't, you probably won't enjoy it very much. and remember, kids, a day without nuclear fusion is like a day without sunshine!
full disclosure: Dr. Mahaffey graduated my alma mater (Georgia Tech), and we both worked at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, though not at the same time....more
this would get 4 stars if the history of atomic weapons wasn't already so incredibly well-covered by a variety of other books. had the author held thithis would get 4 stars if the history of atomic weapons wasn't already so incredibly well-covered by a variety of other books. had the author held things to the Demascus, Arkansas incident, it also would probably get 4 stars. instead, he alternates chapters of his very well-researched, Sy Hersh-esque Demascus exposé with more general chapters, which while perhaps a nice introduction to the field, won't be anything new for the likely purchasing demographic (obsessive guys who traded in their Clancy for Rhodes and line their libraries with all things nuclear). worth reading for Damascus, though, the tales of life in the silos and command complexes, and the solid coverage of Titan II fueling and maintenance. bibliography is kinda lacking....more
The central lesson I took away from this is that the bureaucrats who ran bomb theory were a far less interesting, inventive, romantic lot than the sciThe central lesson I took away from this is that the bureaucrats who ran bomb theory were a far less interesting, inventive, romantic lot than the scientists who put it together. I'm so glad I do what I do....more
a good book, though i thought there was way more basic background material than one would expect (entire chapters devoted to sophomore undergraduate-la good book, though i thought there was way more basic background material than one would expect (entire chapters devoted to sophomore undergraduate-level nuclear fuel cycle, radiation physics, reactor design etc). they're sufficiently self-contained to let a total novice understand and process the real material, but probably not to extend it. very solid editing -- errors were fewer and further between than one expects from a first-edition science textbook. nice case studies on the oklo gabon natural reactor, the chernobyl cloud and its inference, the czech busts, and detection of RDS-1 ("Joe 1").
incredibly annoying citations of and references to classified reports (all of S, TS, SCI and Q, from what I could tell). "if you have an American Secret clearance, the following paper is excellent: blahblahblah." which doesn't even fucking make sense because, as anyone who's cleared has had drilled into their head:
clearance + need-to-know -> access
and, as i have personally been assured multiple times by Research Security Division, "i'm really really interested in nuclear weapons and promise i'm not doing enrichment in my garage, wizard of armageddon's honor" does not constitute need-to-know, despite claiming "i'll just die if i don't know optimal implosion symmetries for a Komodo-style primary." of course, pages like this probably don't help my pleadings: http://nick-black.com/dankwiki/index..... le sigh.
One Fine Day, USDoE...you're gonna want me for your girl. Shoobie doobie doobie doobie doo wop wop!
anyway, if anyone needs nuclear forensic work done at chemical forensic prices, i'm looking to build up a portfolio, and will accept payment in most any form save bitcoin. sell your gold; buy uranium; let's dance the Peppermint Twist!
yet another recent example of good research (we hope; read on) and terrible editing in the Custodians of Armageddon genre (see my Oppenheimania bookshyet another recent example of good research (we hope; read on) and terrible editing in the Custodians of Armageddon genre (see my Oppenheimania bookshelf). there's a tremendous quantity of recently declassified DoD memoranda/letters in here, and while Keeney's rarely really inspired in his explication, he definitely got there the firstest with the mostest. one comes away with at least 3x a Wikipedia-as-of-2011 level knowledge of the various American Air Force nuclear accidents (no coverage of for instance ATR/Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One (SL-1) in Idaho Falls, it being an Army operation), and a fine fistful of facts regarding the Distant Early Warning Line including the Texas Towers. Unfortunately, citations are rare throughout (at one point the phrase "a reporter of the time" is actually used, almost causing me to hurl the book across the room. this seems about as historically admissible as calling to the stand that Ghost Which Never Lies, but Only I Can Speak With but i digress), so verifying some of this stuff is a daunting research task I've not yet had the heart to properly begin.
Despite having read From Whirlwind to MITRE (a thorough detailing of the computing behind pre-MIRV, pre-ABT air defense efforts), I was wholly unaware of Texas Tower Four's loss. Discovering as much was like realizing I had a third arm or that salmon were people. If there's something I thought I knew well, it was disasters/fuckups, from Immunological (the Groninger ziekte malaria outbreak following dike burstings wiped out 10% of Groningen in 1826) to Inescapable (heat death of the universe) to those of Interface (the Therac-25 radiation therapy, which you can read about in Fatal Defect) to the Inadvertently Transmutative (the Castle Bravo shot of 1954-03-01 ran away to 15 megatons rather than a planned 6, and those uninterested in a little bomb science can go ahead and skip on. tritium is difficult to confine and, what with its half-life of 12ish years ((H-3,β−)→He-3), unsuitable for longterm storage. how then to get that sweet thermonuclear ignition, what with Lawson's criterion being minimized for D-T burning? and what the hell are we gonna do with all this heavy water, drink it, douche with it, moderate bloody neutrons? the graphite lobby would have knives in our asses! well come riding to the rescue is n-0 + Li-6 = H-3 + well-behaved He-4 or as we learned in elementary school nuclear physics α, and as Rutherford roared at Szilard in the Cavendish α plays no role in these games, Exeunt. yawns of relief escape and overnight a Li-6 enrichment industry springs up, and yes the Export Control on Goods, Technologies, Material and Equipment related to Nuclear and Biological Weapon and their delivery Systems Act of 2004 article 4(1) does indeed still Control "Lithium isotope separation facilities or plants, and equipment therefor", or so I'm told whenever i attempt to buy refurbished lithium amalgam electrolysis cells or packed liquid-liquid columns for their exchange, damn you congress! but anyway, stick a "spark plug" initiator amidst your heavy hydrogen, this one sans neutron tamper, to feed those fast NILFiRs (neutron-induced lithium fission reaction) and pour just enough tritium gas onto the growing (but much more slowly-growing, and this is important) cataclysm ignited by xray-driven ablation of the womblike high-Z holhraum, now become maelstrom, now become a small star. well that's all well and good but big brother Li-7 has his own plans for n-0, and they involve T+α+n and isn't that something and now you've blown up a significant chunk of ocean there, buddy). So finding out we'd had a DEWL station's ass kicked by a hurricane was, to put it mildly, a shock.
Points for research.
But where was the editor here? Why does the book consist entirely of space-offset paragraphs, the vast majority of which are followed by a pithy one-line newsreel-esque insipidness? examples from random pages:
"And that was that." "The assumption was at some point they would." "They lacked only the bomb." "In the years to come, even remote would be relative."
Agonizing shit. At least twice, not only do we have a cliche "The first indicator of World War III would be...", but we have II where the III ought be. Compound words have spaces where spaces oughtn't be. Acronyms are used without initial expansion, and acronyms which aren't actually used get expanded now and again. I'd have thought the book self-printed. The less said about this, the better.
Finally, the book isn't really about Curtis LeMay at all -- certainly don't go in expecting amusing vignettes of the acerbic General. It's more like listening to a character from a Primus song, some grizzled old nuclear weaponeer whose mind and teeth have been addled by too many nights playing Choctaw Bingo with a lil' bit of vodka and some of that ol' bathtub tweak:
ps early on he uses airburst to refer to an exploded but undetonated dropped weapon, and i was for a few seconds like whatwhatwhat how the fuck did i not know about a goddamn random airburst and wouldn't that violate the atmospheric test ban RISC architecture is going to change everything until i calmed down and realized he's a lunatic idiot or at the very least very loose with his terminology.
---- haha curtis lemay was an awesome madman. this promises to ring with joy....more
Great reporting and research -- I'd barely heard of the Biopreparat, despite The Doomsday Men's emphasis on biochem (particularly Shirō Ishii's Unit 7Great reporting and research -- I'd barely heard of the Biopreparat, despite The Doomsday Men's emphasis on biochem (particularly Shirō Ishii's Unit 731). Pretty crappy writing, though. The whole thing has a definite air of being hustled together on a bunch of adderall....more
somewhat depressing that they could print a book called, like, "nuclear octopodes" or "atomic calamari" and sell it for $155 and it would be poorly edsomewhat depressing that they could print a book called, like, "nuclear octopodes" or "atomic calamari" and sell it for $155 and it would be poorly edited plagiarism from Brighter than a Thousand Suns and Richard Rhodes plus a bunch of cephalopod jerky high in mercury content, which rotted during delivery, and attracted bugs which destroyed other, better books, and i'd just be like "mmmm mercury sweetest of the transition metals please sell me more nuclear weapon kitsch" and they will sell it to me, the fuckers aughghghghhg
social historians will be first against the wall.
also, i heard about this from approximately 40 sources at once. i need a new hobby/fascination.
Most of what's in here has been diced and reserved numerous times in the Manhattan canon, though some of Groves's highly right-wing asides are delicioMost of what's in here has been diced and reserved numerous times in the Manhattan canon, though some of Groves's highly right-wing asides are delicious, and were new to me. More valuable than anything is the conversational detail we learn of the Major General.
I was reading this as I heard of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami, prompting me to comment "Tonight Japan's gonna party like it was 1945." Given the resulting Fukushima partial melt, I suppose 1986 might have been more apt....more
highly idiosyncratic for sure. hastings *hates* douglas macarthur, chiang kai-shek and "bull" halsey (and most japanese people), loves william slim, ahighly idiosyncratic for sure. hastings *hates* douglas macarthur, chiang kai-shek and "bull" halsey (and most japanese people), loves william slim, and (like the rest of us) feels a reverent but dirty awe for "hap" arnold, the same awe one feels regarding jose canseco(**) or kim kardashian(*). great vocabulary, though it's marred by repeated, clustered use of "guesstimate" and gratuitous puns involving "haversack". more deeply scarring are at least a dozen grotesque grammatical errors (they seem damning of the history-copyediting complex in its entirety. i mean, this is not a technical book, or a serial romance, or the ravings of some southern newspaper columnist regarding the nighttime vociferousness of Varsity chilidawgs; it's an "acclaimed historian" and his invisible dog team of grad students, and surely well-bearded copyeditors versed in military history and the Queen's English both? froth!). we'll see how Armageddon goes.
points for nice coverage of the Soviets' Manchurian excursions following Hiroshima, detailed coverage of Burma and the Hump, the unimportance of Leyte Gulf, graphic and intense coverage of island battles, and repeated emphasis on the central oversight of Pacific Command: island hoppers ought have leaped faster; the majority of japanese garrisons were utterly immaterial. also, no nauseating anti-Bomb platitudes.
(*) hottest woman on earth. i brook no disagreement. (**) the 1988 A's remain the greatest team of all time, nevermind shitty stupid herschieser and his LA slimfast dodgers...more
very well-written survey of the events culminating in WWII's end, but definitely disappoints in terms of new material; despite numerous references tovery well-written survey of the events culminating in WWII's end, but definitely disappoints in terms of new material; despite numerous references to coveted interviews and esoteric primary sources, there's absolutely nothing within these 338 pages I didn't know beforehand. I'm hardly the only Oppenheimaniac driving this unceasing train of nukeporn out of our bookshelves and into the streets, and similarly-fascinated individuals will notice numerous direct reproductions of material from Rhodes, Kay+Sherwin, and the swarm of Project-spawned biographies (particularly those of Szilard and Fermi).
walker's science is pretty admirably on for a documentary-maker. i recall wincing only twice (over four hundred isotopes of plutonium? that was news to me! maybe it's accurate -- too bad there's NO FUCKING CITATION argh!!)
This book appears difficult to get hold of in America at the moment...perhaps one of my goodreads friends might be able to help me out (fHah! Awesome!
This book appears difficult to get hold of in America at the moment...perhaps one of my goodreads friends might be able to help me out (for that matter, I'd be deeply indebted for a copy of ASIN B0006S2HWK (good review here))? Information wants to be free!
and just remember...MC Ahmadinejad seyz the rims keep spinnin’ even after the centrifuges stop!
Just wanted to note this title, which could be the first volume in the Reader's Digest Shorter Works of Awesome along with "Introduction to Skiing MagJust wanted to note this title, which could be the first volume in the Reader's Digest Shorter Works of Awesome along with "Introduction to Skiing Magma Flows" and "Principles of Velociraptors and Velodromes", a comprehensive text for advanced undergraduates and first-year graduate students that'll have you giving those uppity Daystar-worshipping circle-fetishists all the workout they want. Wouldn't this self-improving asswipe be more tolerable if he were hauling ass and bike alike away from a pack of dromaeosaurids? They're drinkin' PBR and making merry like Christmas, and then SMACK he runs right into the point man -- they say it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for, and he hasn't said shit for a few minutes now -- and obviously it ends with his head atop a pike ripped from the cycle, so that they might be united forevermore the end....more
2009-08-18, GT bookstore. This is, by far, the best nuclear engineering textbook I've ever seen or read. It's not for the faint of heart with regards2009-08-18, GT bookstore. This is, by far, the best nuclear engineering textbook I've ever seen or read. It's not for the faint of heart with regards to differential equations, power series, tossing integrals like salads and stochastic theory, but then again neither is the design of a nuclear reactor. And the physics! Even though Duderstadt makes a pretense of "this is not a nuclear physics textbook", he seems to understand the overall crappiness and incompleteness of current offerings (Kenneth Krane's Introductory Nuclear Physics is coming down a star after this read -- my hat's off to you after all, forgotten goodreads friend (Dr. M?) whose negative review of Krane led to our initial pairing), and has more good radiation/neutron physics mixed in here than I've collected from several classes. The treatments of multigroup diffusion theory and neutron transport are, so far as I know, best of breed. Duderstadt introduces all kinds of Feynman-like calculating tricks, clearly the output of many decades' experience doing real-world reactor calculations (the "infinite cylinder" fantasy reactor geometries of nuclear physics textbooks are quickly dispensed with, the hallmark of an excellent engineering text). Everything Duderstadt touches, he handles elegantly, and he touches far more than I've seen anyone else reach for.
Having studied this over the past two weeks, I feel my knowledge of nuclear physics to have at least doubled, and my nuclear engineering to have progressed from naive to workable-in-a-pinch. I'm not yet capable of designing a fast-neutron breeder, or even a very elegant PWR, but if someone put a straining zirconium-cladded fuel rod to my head and gave me some foolscap, a slide rule, and some fission poisons, I could figure out whether a McGuyver-like escape was possible or, barring that, how long I had to live....more