Feeds

Royal Society unearths top secret nuclear research

Only 66 years late

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

The British government sent the papers on to the Royal Society, but not before leaving them to moulder on a shelf for a while. Peter Blackett, then a scientific adviser to the Ministry of Supply, and later a president of the Royal Society, wrote a covering letter in November of 1940:

"I enclose four short papers on questions concerning uranium fission...owing to the necessity of secrecy, they couldn't be published..."

After this rather stern admonishment, reminding the recipient of the importance of the research, he adds: "I fear I forgot about them for some months and have only now come across them again."

Blackett later said that if it had not been for the war, nuclear power would have been a French invention.

Chadwick's thumbprint - early biometrics?

Chadwick's thumbprint - early biometrics?

While the early papers, written in French, have clearly come to the Royal Society from the British Government, others are in English, and were sent directly to James Chadwick who deposited them for safe keeping. These are sealed with with an impression of the great man's own thumb in red wax. [Early biometrics, you might say - Ed]

Chadwick also stressed the importance of secrecy, writing on 18 December, 1941: "I enclose..a paper entitled Technological Aspects of Nuclear Chain Reactions used as a Source of Power. The paper is such that it would be inadvisable to publish at the present time."

As to why the researchers would send the papers to Chadwick, and then on to the Royal Society, Moore says the scientists were not able to publish their work, but still wanted to make sure they could claim the discoveries as their own. He adds that this is in the oldest traditions of the society.

Dr Brian Cox, a particle physicist working at CERN, commented: "I can see why these papers were locked away during the war - they contain details that could be used to build a nuclear reactor."

Cox says the papers also provide an insight into "the inquisitive nature of scientists working in a field that was moving so rapidly it was almost outpacing them. It is fascinating to read their views on what might come of their research, and how accurate some of their predictions have been".

For instance, the two men hypothesise (correctly as it turns out) that a future industry of nuclear power would rely on uranium as its main fuel.

But what is also striking is what is missing: terminology that we might be used to today, the jargon of nuclear power. A nuclear reactor is referred to as "the boiler" throughout the papers. The moderator, material used to slow neutrons down, encouraging more of a manageable chain reaction and less of an explosion, is rather charmingly called "slowing-down material".

The intention was always that the papers would be unsealed and published after the war. But the pace of research was such that any ideas in the papers would have been quickly superseded. Cold War tensions could also have prevented their disclosure, Moore says. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
LOHAN Kickstarter breaks NINETEEN THOUSAND of your EARTH POUNDS
That's right, OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
Major cyber attack hits Norwegian oil industry
Statoil, the gas giant behind the Scandie social miracle, targeted
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.