There is a degree of arrogance involved in publishing your thoughts at random on the internet. A vain assumption that there are people out there who will be interested in what you have to say (and as an aside: hello and welcome to both of you!) This is perhaps even more apparent when you are dealing with the obscurities and super-specific geekiness of academic history. One reason for this particular blog is the hope that it might interest an audience outside of what is often called ‘the academy.’
That leads into the main question: why in heavens name should you be interested in nuclear history? I for one am not going to pretend that I have all – or even a minority of – the answers to this question. But, I’m enough of a bloviator to think that I might be able to stumble towards a few basic thoughts on the matter.
Oops! Bit of a gap between posts, going against my determination to put up something constructive each week. Excuse? Well, I was down at The National Archives doing research for my thesis. Some interesting stuff came out of that, but there is still a mountain of documentation to assess. Anyway, enough of that…
This story on the BBC (and elsewhere throughout the intersphere) gave me cause for a wry smile. The gist of it is that Professor David Philips (head of the Royal Society of Chemistry) asserts that a huge part of the problem with nuclear energy is the negative associations created by the villains from James Bond films, such as the eponymous Dr Julius No, who had his own personal reactor.
Just the other day, I sent my students (and hello to any of you reading this!) the syllabus for this semester in American History 2 (the second year undergraduate survey course that I’m a teaching assistant/tutor on.) Now that we have covered the broad sweep of American history from the Colonial period to the end of Reconstruction, it’s time to move into the twentieth century.
One thing I am very keen on is giving students the chance to take classes that appeal to them, as long as they fit within the overall course. So at the end of last semester, I offered some choices in what classes to take. Populism was quite roundly rejected in favour of a more detailed study of Progressivism. Which is something of a shame, as I had just managed to pick up a bargain priced second hand copy of The Populist Vision by Charles Postel! Both tutorial groups were almost universal in their desire to have a class each on the early Cold War abroad and the early Cold War at home, as opposed to the somewhat challenging task of rolling the two into one. Classes on Nixon and Reagan were also universally popular.
Nuclear history is chock full of the strange, the never-quite-adequately explained, and the conspiratorial.(1) A fascinating example of this is the September 1979 ‘Vela Incident.’ This is kind of vaguely related to my thesis work, as it impinges on nuclear proliferation (kind of.)
The Velas were a series of U.S. satellites designed to detect clandestine nuclear testing. They used what are known as ‘bhangmeters’ (plus a bunch of other uber-scientific doohickeys) to pick up the unique ‘double flash’ given off by a nuclear explosion. The satellite in question, Vela 6911, was over ten years old in September 1979. On the 22nd, it picked up a double flash in the South Atlantic, far, far away from any land (apart from the remote, French-owned Kerguelen Islands.) Heads were scratched on a global scale, committees were convened, much sweat poured forth.(2)