Category Archives: Orphaned (Re)source

Orphaned (Re)Source: More “Tickling the Dragon’s Tail”

Prompt Burst

While we’ve already posted lost resources about early super-critical experiments, two additional open-source documents have found their way to Atomic Reporters. They are:

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Orphaned (Re)Source: The Gernot Zippe Files

We’re back after an extended absence with some rare archival material. To make up for our scarce posting, please accept these as Christmas gifts to Atomic Reporters, wherever they may be:

Background to the Zippe Files:

The gas centrifuge has emerged as the most popular and efficient device for enriching uranium in the fissile isotope U235. Uranium-235 is the isotope used for nuclear fission that can generate both electricity and bombs.

Many people have contributed to gas centrifuge development but one name stands out as a major contributor to the technology: Gernot Zippe. Zippe was an Austrian mechanical engineer who was captured by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. He was taken to Russia where he participated in the design of the first generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges based upon subcritical rotors made of high strength aluminum. While the Russians denigrate his efforts, many of his ideas ended up in the Soviet centrifuges that are the basis of Russian uranium enrichment today.

Continue reading Orphaned (Re)Source: The Gernot Zippe Files

Orphaned (Re)Source: The 2005 Iran Proposal — a.k.a. “The Return of the Mummy”

“Iran meets with their P5+1 counterparts November 7-8 in Geneva for another round of talks aimed at breaking the decade-long stalemate over its nuclear program. Digging through our files in attempt to add perspective amid the repetition, we stumbled across these 2005 documents. The first is the letter [EU ROUHANI LET] to Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s current president who was then leading his country’s negotiations with the European Union while his country voluntarily enforced a nuclear suspension. The tension inside the message, created at Rouhani’s request for IAEA removal of seals at the Isfahan uranium-processing facility, is palpable and portends the breakdown that would follow.
The second document [EU 2005 IRAN PROP] is the 32-page EU offer to Iran, made to swap concessions in international relations for a cessation of atomic work. The proposal, with the ungainly title, “Framework For a Long-Term Agreement Between The Islamic Republic of Iran and France, Germany and the United Kingdom, with the Support of the High Representative of the European Union,” is notable for a few reasons. First, from the mere standpoint of historical curiosity, it has a fantastic Alice-in-Wonderland element of style, in which rabbit holes are referred to in terms of trade, pipelines and politics. The proposals are so vast and sweeping, it is possible to imagine the accord would still be under negotiation, even if had it been accepted eight years ago. The paper appears less to solve problems than to swap them for issues potentially even more vexing.

Second, it is interesting to note how the EU proposal refers to future light-water reactors in the future-perfect tense. On page 16, under the sub-head “Fuel Assurances,” for example, the document refers to a fleet of LWRs that would form the backbone of Iran’s nuclear industry. The problem is that there’s no explanation about how those reactors would be obtained and what role Iranian scientists and engineers would play in establishing their presence.

There are other gems inside the document: on page 5, France and the U.K. would reiterate their promise not to drop nuclear weapons on Iran (as long as it stayed in the NPT!); on page 8, the Euros ensure maximum gridlock by referencing the Conference on Disarmament just before pledging support for a Middle East WMDFZ; of course, no EU proposal would be complete without the establishment of a new committee — in this case one dedicated to regular meetings on security and defense on page 12.

So far this year, diplomats have kept details about plans presented during the current phase of negotiations secret. That is widely interpreted as lending credence to the seriousness of these talks. Let us hope that the 2005 European proposal remains under seal in the tomb it must share with “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”


Orphaned (Re)source: Super Kukla Operating Experience, 1964-1973

Prompt burst reactors were developed in parallel with the first atomic bombs.  They were casually referred-to as “tickling the tail of the dragon.”  This is because they were made to go super prompt critical and depended on intrinsic heating of the core to shut them off before they exploded.  The operator completes the shutdown with rapid mechanical disassembly but that is only after heating of the core brings it down to barely supercritical.  Super prompt means that the reactor is highly super critical on prompt neutrons alone and the whole burst of neutrons that results is not actually critical on delayed neutrons.  Delayed neutrons come in milliseconds to seconds after fission and that is a very long time compared to the super prompt burst pulse.

Most prompt burst reactors in the US were essentially the same size and enrichment as a “gun-type” nuclear bomb.  So they were excellent for simulating the physics of such a device.  They were also used to make all sorts of basic neutron physics measurements and one was even used to irradiate chimpanzees to study the effects of a nuclear explosion on aircraft pilots.  Super Kukla was the largest such machine that was built.  It consisted of five tons of 20% enriched uranium with enriched control rods that added reactivity to cause the burst, rather than a poison rod such as used in a power reactor.  It was used to simulate the effects of Soviet ABM systems on US military hardware in a large central irradiation cavity.  The power in Super Kukla could double roughly every 100 microseconds which is certainly tickling the tail of the dragon.

All or most prompt burst reactors have been dismantled as the need for their basic physics experiments and damage to military systems missions have grown old.  The few reports on their characteristics are becoming lost or unavailable. This is one of the few now available for the public record:

LINK: Super Kukla Operating Experience


Orphaned (Re)source: LC 16/INF.2

Dear Readers,

Today we bring you the first in an occasional series of hard-to-find, nuclear-related research in need of a home online. Our first submission, “LC 16/INF.2” comes via the International Maritime Organization, where it was submitted by Russian authorities in 1993. The document, posted in three parts due to its size, provides a comprehensive view of Soviet and Russian disposal of radioactive wastes at sea. It was presented to the IMO in the wake of the 1993 incident in which Russia dumped 900 tons, or less-than 3 curies, of liquid waste into the Sea of Japan.

“Matters Related to the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes at Sea”
Submitted to the Russian Federation to the IMO Sept. 14, 1993

LC 16_INF.2 part 1

LC 16_INF.2 part 2

LC 16_INF.2 part 3