Memoirs of a Hayseed Physicist by Peter Martel

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Part 158:

Shortly after my arrival a proposal for an intense neutron generator (ING) was turned down by our chief stockholder, the Government of Canada. The proposal was Dr. Lewis’s baby. At that time there was a considerable interest in the project in our branch (Neutron and Solid State Physics) headed by G.A. Burrell. Dr. Burrell had worked night and day on the project and when it was shelved he was rewarded for his loyalty by being promoted to Director of Physics Research by Dr. Lewis. In this position Gil Burrell had reached his level of incompetence. His secretary told me that whenever Gil saw Doug Milton, the flamboyant head of nuclear physics branch coming with a proposal, he became visibly nervous.

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Memoirs of a Hayseed Physicist by Peter Martel

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Part 157:

Dr. Lewis was more of a private  person. He was a remnant of a famous group of U.K. scientists like G. Hanna, C. Westcott and Sir John Cockcroft, who were associated with the British portion of the early scientific effort at Chalk River. As a matter of fact, as I now think back on my days at AECL, there seemed to be an inordinate number of Brits who kept joining our staff. I suppose the reason is that when the predominantly British professionals in place felt the need for new members the tendency was to go back to their professors across the pond. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.  

Memoirs of a Hayseed Physicist by Peter Martel

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Part 155:

When I first arrived at Chalk River the “crown corporation” was a two headed entity. The engineering and overall administration was under the jurisdiction of J.L. Gary. Mr. Gray was quite the flamboyant individual, well liked by all. It was not unusual for the lower ranks to go to to his office to suggest changes that the company might consider. I can’t recall anyone being sacked for misbehaviour and in some cases J.L. was known to stop off at a person’s home to ask a delinquent employee to please shape up.

Memories of a Hayseed Physicist by Peter Martel

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Part 154;

Initially, Rickover’s submarine project was not explicitly approved by Congress but the Admiral would not be denied. He was a demanding boss and one of the things he frowned on was “nesters”. Nesters were scientists and engineers who raised families. This might cut into the time workers could dedicate to their jobs. It followed that P. Martel would have been in Rickover’s bad books because he had four children while employed by AECL. On the other hand, W.B. Lewis, the scientific boss of CRNL, would have been commendable. He never married and worked day and night. I often saw him arrive at work with three brief cases, one in each hand and a third under one arm.

Memoirs of a Hayseed Physicist by Peter Martel

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Part 153:

One might ask: “What on earth was Jimmy Carter doing in Chalk River?” In actual fact he was working for an American Admiral by the name of Hyman Rickover, the “father” of the nuclear submarine. Many of the tests necessary to perfect the “nuclear engine” of the first nuclear submarine (the Nautilus) were carried out at Chalk River. Collaboration with the U.S. had been initiated during the Second World War, when the British and Americans found a common ground there to collaborate on the development of the atomic bomb. Research work initiated and paid for by the Americans persisted until the 1980’s and helped pay for the expenses involved in running our reactors.

Memoirs of a Hayseed Physicist by Peter Martel

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Part 152:

In any case, an explosion occurred and radioactive water spilled out onto the reactor floor to a considerable depth—some say as deep as three feet. The ensuing clean-up took many months. Many men were required for the job because each man had to be replaced after receiving a critical dose of radiation. Among these men were some 150 Americans, led by a navy lieutenant by the name of Jimmy Carter who later became President of the United States.

Memoirs of a Hayseed Physicist by Peter Martel

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Part 151:

However, about a dozen years earlier there had been a real incident at NRX. It involved a partial meltdown largely due to the primitive modes of communication that existed in those days. For instance the supervisor in the control room had to give orders over an ordinary telephone to technicians in the basement beneath the reactor. At a critical time when it became obvious that things weren’t going quite right the supervisor called with alternative instructions, but the technician who initially received the call had put the phone down to carry out the earlier instructions. There was also some evidence of mechanical failure and this too, was probably due in large part to the technology of the day.

Memoirs of a Hayseed Physicist by Peter Martel

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 12.54.31 PM

Part 151:

However, about a dozen years earlier there had been a real incident at NRX. It involved a partial meltdown largely due to the primitive modes of communication that existed in those days. For instance the supervisor in the control room had to give orders over an ordinary telephone to technicians in the basement beneath the reactor. At a critical time when it became obvious that things weren’t going quite right the supervisor called with alternative instructions, but the technician who initially received the call had put the phone down to carry out the earlier instructions. There was also some evidence of mechanical failure and this too, was probably due in large part to the technology of the day.