Atomic Power and Electricity


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Scientific laws and principles


The atom and atomic power – see Appendix 1 below

Electricity – see Appendix 3 below

Electric Light – See Appendic 3.5 below


Appendix 1 – The atom and atomic power

2014, Particles called B mesons were observed to decay to leptons in ways that appeared to contradict the Standard Model, possibly suggesting that leptons may consist of yet smaller particles.

4/7/2012, The Higgs Boson was discovered at CERN.

17/11/2010, Scientists at the CERN Large Hadron Collider announced they had trapped anti-matter for the first time in

human history.

9/9/2003. Edward Teller, the scientist known as the father of the H-bomb, died aged 95. Teller was born in Hungary and fled Hitler’s rule to work on the Manhattan Project in the USA to develop atomic weapons. He produced the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought about Japan’s surrender and the end of World War Two. However Teller had argued for exploding this atomic bomb high in the skies above Tokyo, where it would do no damage but ‘shock and awe’ the population into surrender. Robert Oppenhiemer, the scientist in charge of building the Japanese A-bombs, disagreed with Teller. Later, Teller persuaded President Harry Truman of the need to develop a more powerful H-bomb. This was tested at 7am on 31/10/1952. The fireball was larger than expected, frightening observers; the entire island of Elugelab, a mile across, vanished. The blast was 500 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast of 1945. Two years later an even bigger bomb was exploded at Bikini Atoll, making it as sparse as the garment it gave its name to. Soon, however, the Russians had their own H-bomb. Oppenheimer, having seen the damage at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, disagreed with building the H-bomb, saying the A-bomb was powerful enough for America’s purposes. This led the USA to suspect Oppenheimer of disloyalty and Communist sympathies at the time of the McCarthy witch hunts. Oppenheimer died in 1967, aged 62. Teller was admired by President Ronald Reagan, whose election Teller described as ‘a miracle for Western civilisation’. The ‘Star Wars’ defensive shield for the USA was Teller’s idea, enthusiastically adopted by Reagan. This was a set-back to the USSR, already suffering financially from its efforts to keep up militarily with the USA, and Star Wars may have even hastened the break-up of the Soviet Union. Teller saw his native Hungary suffer first Fascist, then Communist, tyranny; he saw the USA as a bastion of freedom, and the H-bomb as its ‘trusty sword’. At the time of his death, Teller, father of two, was a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institute in Stanford, USA. Although Mr Teller lived modestly, liking playing the piano and tennis, he persuaded the USA to spend billions on nuclear weapons, on Star wars, and on nuclear shelters in case of nuclear war. Most of this is now scrap, but the dividend for the USA was the collapse of Soviet Communism.

30/4/1986, After unusually high radiation levels were detected in Scandinavia, the USSR acknowledged that an accident had taken place at Chernobyl.

26/4/1986. The nuclear power station at Chernobyl, near Kiev, suffered a major fire, explosion, and radiation leak. 31 were killed directly, but many thousands more were exposed to radiation. Unseasonably warm weather on 25/4/1986 led to number 4 reactor being shut down; with coolant systems down, an engineer ordered more power to test a turbine; this caused the no.4 reactor to explode.

9/8/1981, In the USA, President Reagan announced the decision to proceed with the neutron bomb.

23/3/1980. In a referendum, Sweden approved the use of nuclear power.

22/9/1979, Otto Frisch, Austrian-British nuclear physicist, died aged 74.

9/4/1979, Officials declared Three Mile Island nuclear power station to be safe, see 29/3/1979.

29/3/1979, Valves in the cooling system at Three Mile Island nuclear reactor malfunctioned, and due to staff error part of the reactor was left without coolant and melted. Radioactive steam escaped outside. A meltdown was averted. This pushed public opinion in the USA and Europe strongly against nuclear power. See 9/4/1979.

1974, A team led by Martin Lewis Perl discovered an even heavier version of the electron, called the tau. This had a mass 3,400 times the electron,

1974, The Dounreay nuclear reactor, Scotland, began operations.

24/7/1974, Sir James Chadwick, physicist and discoverer of the neutron, Nobel Prize winner, died aged 82.

18/5/1974. India exploded its first nuclear bomb. Pakistan, which lost its third war with India in 1970, was nervous.

21/7/1973, France resumed nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll, despite protests from Australia and New Zealand.

24/8/1970. Radioactive leak at Windscale, Cumbria.

19/1/1970. India’s first nuclear power station opened.

1968, Protons were found to contain smaller particles, known as quarks.

25/8/1968, The French exploded their first Hydrogen Bomb.

18/9/1967, Sir John Cockroft, British scientist who along with Ernest Walton split the atom, died.

1964, China exploded its first nuclear bomb, near Lop Nor, Sinkiang.

5/4/1963, Bradwell nuclear power station opened in the UK.

5/12/1962, Britain exploded a thermonuclear device underground in Nevada.

15/6/1962, Berkeley nuclear power station in Gloucestershire began operating.

21/1/1962 . It was announced that, 20 years after the birth of the atomic Age, the world now possessed 280 atomic bombs, 40 of them in Britain

10/1961, The USSR set off the most powerful anuclear explosion ever. The ‘Tsar Bomba’ (King Bomb) was detomated in the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya. It yielded the equivalent of 59 million tonnes of TNT, some 3,000 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. There was nothing to be gained from more powerful nuclear bombs as they would simply punch up through the Earth’s atmosphere and most pf the yield would be lost to space.

1960, Radiocarbon dating was discovered by Willard Libby.

13/2/1960. France exploded its first atom bomb, in the Sahara.

14/11/1959, The Dounreay fast breeder reactor in Scotland began operating.

2/5/1959, The first nuclear power station in Scotland, at Chapelcross, began operations.

8/12/1958, The last of the four nuclear reactors at Calder Hall began operating.

28/8/1958, Ernest O Lawrence, US nuclear scientist, died aged 57.

17/8/1958, Britain announced plans to resume Atom Bomb testing on Christmas Island.

8/4/1958, President Eisenhower of the USA proposed mutual inspections as a means of enforcing the mutual Test Ban.

17/10/1957. A fire at Windscale (now Sellafield) nuclear plant shut down one of the piles producing Plutonium and released radioactivity into the air. Thousands of gallons of milk from some Cumbrian cows had to be dumped, due to radio-iodine contamination, despite government assurances that the radiation had been carried out to sea.

10/10/1957. A major radiation leak was detected at Windscale after an accident three days earlier.

2/10/1957, Poland, along with Hungary and East Germany, outlined its Rapacki Plan for a denuclearised central Europe to the UN General Assembly.

29/7/1957. International Atomic Energy Agency established.

23/4/1957, Albert Schweitzer write to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, urging mobilisation of world opinion against nuclear tests.

15/5/1957. Britain’s first H – Bomb was exploded on Christmas Island in the southern Pacific Ocean.

10/5/1957, The USSR appealed to the US and Britain to cease nuclear tests.

1956, The neutrino was first detected at Los Alamos laboratory, USA. The anti-neutrino was detected at California University, USA.

17/10/1956. Calder Hall, Britain’s first nuclear power station, in Cumbria, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II.  Generation of power had begun on 20/8/1956.

22/9/1956, Frederick Soddy, English radiochemist, died aged 79.

20/8/1956. Calder Hall, the world’s first large-scale nuclear power station, began operating.

15/6/1955, The USA and Britain signed an atomic energy agreement, providing for the exchange of information between them.

18/4/1955. Albert Einstein, born 14/3/1879, died in Princeton, New Jersey, of a stroke. He became an American citizen in 1940 after having signed a famous letter to President F D Roosevelt warning that Germany might try and build an atomic bomb.

17/2/1955, The UK Government announced it would proceed with the manufacture of H-Bombs.

15/2/1955, The UK Government announced it would build 12 nuclear power stations in the next 10 years. Nuclear power was expected to be much cheaper than that from coal fired power stations; the costs of safety and the disposal of nuclear waste had been overlooked.

28/11/1954, Enrico Fermi, atomic physicist, died in Chicago, USA.

1/8/1954, The UK Atomic Energy Authority was founded.

27/6/1954. The first Soviet nuclear power station was opened, at Obninsk, 55 miles from Moscow.

1/3/1954, (1) The UK Parliament approved of establishing an Atomic Energy Authority.

(2) A US test of a 12 megaton hydrogen bomb exposed 23 Japanese fishermen, 70 to 90 miles away, to such severe radiation that one subsequently died. The bomb, weighing ten tons, named Bravo, was expected to deliver just 5 megatons and so the 10,000 observers were relatively near and the Marshall Islands, 100 miles away, were not evacuated. Some Marshall islanders also suffered radiation sickness. In the event the bomb delivered 15 megatons, the fireball was 4 miles across, and the heat could easily be felt 30 miles away. America now realised that just one Hydrogen Bomb could obliterate a major city such as New York.

21/1/1954. The world’s first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, was launched from Groton in Connecticut.

1953, CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, was set up near Geneva.

19/12/1953, R A Millikan, US subatomic physicist, died aged 85.

8/12/1953, President Eisenhower made his ‘Atoms for Power’ speech, proposing to the United Nations General Assembly the establishment of an International Atomic Energy Authority to monitor the spread of atmic technology for peaceful purposes.

12/8/1953. The USSR tested its first hydrogen bomb, in the Pacific.  Moscow announced the test explosion on 20/8/1953.  Both superpowers now had them.

22/7/1953, Construction of Calder Hall nuclear power station began.

3/10/1952. The first British Atomic Bomb exploded, aboard a ship in the Monte Bello Islands, in the Pacific off north west Australia. The ship was almost totally vaporised, apart from a few hot fragments which fell on neighbouring islands, starting fires. Watching news reporters felt the blast 4 minutes 15 seconds after the flash, from a distance of 65 miles.

14/6/1952, Construction began on the world’s first nuclear submarine.

26/2/1952, Winston Churchill announced that Britain had produced its own atom bomb.

25/2/1952, The Plutonium plant at Windscale began operations.

19/11/1951, The world’s first atomic central heating plant began operating, in Harwell.

1949, The USSR conducted its first atom bomb test.

15/12/1948. France’s first nuclear reactor began operating.

15/8/1947. The UK’s first atomic reactor, at Harwell, began operating.

1946, The isotope Carbon-13 was discovered. Bloch and Purcell discovered the phenomenon of magnetic resonance.

1/7/1946. The first US atom bomb test at Eniwetok atoll. A second test with an underwater bomb was on 25/7/1946.

1945, The first atom bomb explosion was achieved, at Alamogordo, USA.

6/11/1945. The USSR said it would build its own atom bomb.

29/10/1945. The Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment was set up.

20/12/1942. The US began to produce electricity from nuclear fission.

2/12/1942. Controlled release of energy by nuclear fission was first achieved. The first atomic pile began operating in Chicago.  It was at Stagg Field, University of Chicago, under physicists Enrico Fermi and Arthur Compton.

1941, US chemist Glenn Seaborg isolated Plutonium, a key element in a nuclear bomb.

1940, The critical mass of Uranium-235 was forst calculated. The possibility of a ‘superbomb’ (atom bomb) was now a reality.

30/8/1940, Sir Joseph John Thomson, British scientist who discovered the electron in 1897, died in Cambridge.  He was buried near Isaac Newton in the nave of Westminster Abbey.

18/12/1938, Nuclear fission first achieved. German chemist Otto Hahn succeeded in splitting the uranium atom, releasing energy.

19/10/1937. The New Zealand born physicist Lord Rutherford died in Cambridge, England.. He is regarded as the founder of atomic energy.  He won the Nobel Prize in 1908.

1936, Carl Anderson and Seth Neddermeyer discovered, in cosmic rays, a negatively-charged particle that was bent less by an electric field than an electron was, suggesting it was heavier. This particle was the muon. It had a mass 207 times the electron.

1933, US scientists C D Anderson and Robert Millikin, whilst analysing cosmic rays, discovered positrons (positively-charged electrons).

1932, English physicist Sir James Chadwick (1891-1974) discovered the neutron.

1932, US physicist Carl Anderson (1905-1991) discovered the positron, an electron with a positive charge.

1932, Sir James Cockcroft and Ernest Walton split a lithium nucleus into two alpha particles using a particle accelerator.

29/12/1931, US chemist Harold C Urey of Columbia University announced the discovery of heavy water.

15/9/1929, Murray Gell-Mann, US physicist who researched sub-atomic particles, was born.

1928, The Gieger-Muller Counter was invented by H Geiger and W Muller. It was the first practical version of the Geiger Counter, first developed by Hans Geiger (1882-1945) in 1908. The counter contains a gas, e.g. argon, that is ionised by an incoming radioactive particle. The gas container has two wires connected to a loudspeaker and amplifier. When the gas is ionised a current flows between the wires and an electric pulse produces a click.

1927, German physicist Werner Karl Heisenberg formulated his famous Uncertainty Principle – the more one knows about the position of a subatomic particle, the less one knows about its motion, and vice versa.

3/1/1919, Rutherford split the atom. He bombarded nitrogen nuclei with alpha particles.

10/12/1918, Max Planck won the Physics Nobel prize for his work on quantum mechanics.

11/5/1918, US quantum physicist Richard Feynman was born (died 1988).

1917, Hans Geiger and Ernest Rutherford found that nitrogen atoms contained smalled particles, called protons.

1913, Danish scientist Neils Bohr (1881-1962) described the structure of the atom. British scientis Peter Soddy coined the term ‘isotope’.

1911, New Zealand physicist Ernest Lord Rutherford (1871-1937) discovered the atomic nucleus.

16/2/1910. Madame Curie succeeded in isolating one tenth of a milligram of Polonium, which was more radioactive than Radium. She named the element after her native Poland.

1908, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden found that positive atomic particles could pass through gold foil, suggesting that atoms were mostly empty space with a small nucleus.

17/12/1908, Birth of US chemist Willard Frank Libby, who developed radio-carbon dating.

10/12/1908. Ernest Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on radioactivity and the atom.

25/8/1908, Henri Becquerel, French scientist who studied radioactivity, died (born 1852).

15/1/1908, Edward Teller, who invented the Hydrogen Bomb, was born in Budapest.

19/4/1906, Pierre Curie, French scientist who discovered Radium, was run over and killed in Paris.

15/1/1905, Edward Teller, who developed the Hydrogen Bomb in 1952, was born to Jewish parents in Budapest.

10/12/1903. Marie Curie, aged 33, won the Nobel Prize jointly with her husband for the discovery of radioactivity.

29/9/1901, Enrico Fermi, atomic physicist, was born in Rome, Italy.

1900, In Britain, William Crookes separated the isotopes of uranium.

14/12/1900, Max Planck, in Germany, developed Quantum Theory.

26/12/1898,  Radium was discovered and isolated by Pierre and Marie Curie and G Bemont.

1897, British physicist Sir Joseph Thomson (1856-1940) discovered the electron.

27/5/1897, John Cockroft, nuclear physicist, was born in Yorkshire.

1896, French physicist Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity.

20/10/1891, Sir James Chadwick, who discovered the neutron in 1932, was born in Manchester.

8/3/1879, Birth of Otto Hahn, discoverer of nuclear fission, who received the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1944.

30/8/1871, Lord Rutherford, British scientist noted in the field of atomic research, was born in Spring Grove, near Nelson, South Island, New Zealand.

18/12/1856, Sir Joseph John Thomson, discoverer of the electron, was born in Cheetham Hill near Manchester.  He was the son of a bookseller.


Appendix 3  – Electricity

15/10/1985, Sir Clive Sinclair, maker of the C5 electric tricycle, called in the receivers.

10/1/1985, Clive Sinclair launched the C5, a battery-powered tricycle. Priced at Ł399, the C5 could be driven by 14 year olds without a licence, insurance or helmet, and was not subject to road tax. A factory that could produce 200,000 C5s a year was to open at Merthyr Tydfil in June 1985.

26/11/1966. Charles De Gaulle in Brittany opened the world’s first tidal power station.  It was in the Rance Estuary, in the Golfe de St Malo. The station, first planned in 1955, cost French Francs 420 million (UKŁ 42 million) to build.

15/12/1963, In the UK, the CEGB's 400 kV Supergrid was first tested when High Marnham Power Station was connected to Monk Fryston substation, near Selby.

1956, The Tesla was declared to be the official unit of strength of a magnetic field.

1950, Over 75% of US farms were electrified, up from 33% in 1940.

7/1/1943. Nikola Tesla, the Croatian-American scientist who developed alternating current, died.

29/10/1937, The first truly national electricity grid was created in Britain. Before 1926 private generating companies supplied power, all at different standards and voltages. A standard national system would have been better, but the Conservative Government pf the time was against ‘socialist’ nationalisation, so a compromise was reached. A ‘National Gridiron’ of power lines was to be created, connecting up the most reliable power companies; in fact several regional ‘grids’ were established, with emergency connections if needed. This ‘gridiron’ was set up under the Electricity Supply Act of 1926, and the regional Grids were completed by September 1933. On this day in October 1937 electricity engineers, without authorisation, connected up all the Grids to make one national grid. Everything worked fine, and the Grid has remained National ever since.

18/10/1931. The prolific inventor, Thomas Alva Edison, died in the USA, aged 84. He was most famous for inventing the light bulb, but he also invented  the phonograph, the ticker tape machine, much of the technology of moving pictures, and some 1,300 other items. Born in 1847 in Ohio, Edison was bottom of the class in school and left to be a newsboy at 12. He moved to Boston in 1866 and became very interested in electricity. He set up a laboratory in New Jersey and worked on improving telegraphy. In 1878 he worked on electric light and produced a commercially viable bulb in 1879. By 1900 he was also researching in chemistry.

1907, The Hurley Machine Co of Chicago began selling the first electric washing machine in the US.

20/12/1901, Robert Van de Graaff, inventor of the Van de Graaff generator, was born.

1900, Magnetic tape was invented.

1888, Electric sockets incorporating an on/off switch were patented by the English inventor David Salomons.

1887, Electric power first appeared in Japan.

17/7/1883, A boat powered by stored electricity ran from the Temple Pier, London, to Greenwich in 37 minutes.

1882, Nikola Tesla discovered that atoms have a magnetic field.

30/9/1882, Water power was used to produce electricity for the first time, at a plant on the Fox River near Appleton, Wisconsin, USA.

6/7/1882, The first electric iron was patented, by Henry Seeley of New York.

1/10/1881. The world’s first electric power station was built at Godalming, Surrey, and began operating this day. It supplied Godalming town council and a leather mill on the River Wey.

25/8/1867. Michael Faraday, scientist and inventor, pioneer in electromagnetism, died at Hampton Court.

1859, Gaston Plante, French physicist, invented the first rechargeable battery (see 1800). His lead-acid battery could be recharged by reversing the flow of electricity through it; it was the precursor of modern 12-volt car batteries.

21/2/1858. The first electric burglar alarm was installed by Edwin T Holmes of Boston Massachusetts.

7/7/1854, George Ohm, German scientist who pioneered work on electricity, died in Munich.

29/3/1853, Elihu Thomson, English inventor who co-founded the General Electric Company with Thomas Edison, was born.

4/12/1850, William Sturgeon, who devised the first electro-magnet, died at Prestwich, near Manchester.

11/2/1847. Thomas Alva Edison, American inventor, was born.

25/2/1837. The first practical electric motor was patented, by Thomas Davenport of Rutland, Vermont. However in 1850 it was pointed out that power from these motors was about 25 times more expensive than steam power.

10/6/1836, Andre Ampere, French scientist noted for his work on electro-magnetics, died.

27/10/1831, Physicist and chemist Michael Faraday, 40, invented a device to convert mechanical energy into electrical current, by spinning a copper disc between the poles of a magnet. This was the origin of the dynamo.

17/10/1831, The physicist Michael Faraday proved that a magnet inserted into a coil of wire and moved would cause a current to flow in the wire. This showed that mechanical work, or motion, could create a current; the dynamo principle by which much power is generated today.

29/8/1831, Michael Faraday demonstrated the first electrical transformer.

5/3/1827. Death of Count Alessandro Volta, aged 82, at Como, Italy.  He was born on 18/2/1745.  An Italian, he made the first battery, and gave his name (Volt) to the unit of electrical power.

1826, Ohm announced the Law of Electrical Resistance.

1800, Alessandro Volta invented the first battery. Made of layers of zinc, cardboard soaked in salt water, and silver, it generated electricity when a wire was joined to each end, but it was not rechargeable. See 1859.

22/9/1791, The chemist and physicist Michael Faraday was born at Newington Butts, London.  He was the son of a blacksmith.

1789, Luigi Galvani discovered galvanic current.

16/3/1787, Georg Simon Ohm, German scientist, was born in Bavaria. In 1827 he discovered the laws of electric current.

22/5/1783, William Sturgeon, English scientist who made the first practical electromagnet, was born in Whittington, Lancashire.

22/1/1775, Andre Ampere French mathematician and scientist, and founder of the science of electromagnetics, was born in Lyons, son of a wealthy merchant.

15/6/1752, Benjamin Franklin demonstrated electricity, by flying  a kite in a thunderstorm.

18/2/1745, Alessandro Volta, Italian scientist, was born in Como.

1742, Musschenbroek discovered the Leyden Jar.

1600, The term ‘electricity’ was used for the first time, by Gilbert, who also discovered that the Earth has a magnetic field.


Appendix 3.5  – Electric Light

9/5/1932. Piccadilly Circus first lit by electricity.

22/12/1882, The first string of Christmas lights was made by Edward H Johnson, a colleague of Thomas Edison.

4/9/1882, The Edison Electric Illuminating Company began producing electricity at Pearl Street, New York, USA. It had a total of 85 customers.

12/1/1882. The Edison Electric Light Company at 57 Holborn Viaduct established London’s first electric power station. It supplied the area between Holborn Circus and the Old Bailey with street lighting from 12/1 and with domestic current from 12/4/1882. In New York, USA, electric power was switched on from 4/9/1882. However the UK Parliament then passed the Electric Light Act; this discouraged private building of power stations because it empowered local authorities to take them over after 21 years. This made it impossible for private investors to recoup their money, in such a short time span, The Act was amended in 1888 to make the period of private operation 42 years. However even as late as 1890, major UK cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham and Edinburgh had no electric power.

20/1/1882, A drapers shop in Newcastle on Tyne, England, became the first shop to be lit by electric light.

4/9/1881. The Edison electric lighting system went into action in New York as a generator serving 85 paying customers was switched on.

21/10/1879. Thomas Edison successfully demonstrated the first durable light bulb.

20/12/1879, Thomas Edison privately demonstrated his ‘incandescent light’ at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

27/1/1880. Edison patented the electric filament light (the electric light bulb).

1/10/1880, The Edison Lamp Works began operations in New Jersey to manufacture the first electric light bulbs.

20/12/1880, Charles F Brush demonstrated his arc lamps along Broadway, preceding Edison’s lamp in commercial use.

1878, English physicist Joseph Swan ran electricity through a carbon filament encased in a glass bulb from which the air had been evacuated. His prototype incamdescent light lasted for several hours.

31/10/1828, Sir Joseph Swan, inventor of the electric light bulb independently of Edison, was born in Sunderland.


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