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“No time for political baloney!” : The first years of the Dutch Ultracentrifuge Program 1955–1961

  • Room 24-213 77 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA (map)

Abel Streefland

Leiden University

In 1955 Jaap Kistemaker started doing research on gas centrifuges at his laboratory for mass spectrometry in Amsterdam. During the following decades this project evolved into one of the showpieces of the Dutch nuclear industry. But this did not happen overnight. In this talk the early Dutch ultracentrifuge program will be discussed. Cold War sentiments, endless bureaucratic dealings and unexpected visitors went hand in hand.

From the start, the program had a complicated organizational structure. The research was commissioned by the RCN, the Dutch Reactor Centre. But the execution was in the hands of the FOM, the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter. Whereas the competitive nature of the project often required swift action, RCN had a habit of first consulting several advisory committees before coming to a decision, thereby slackening the process. Such conduct proved a habitual irritant to Kistemaker.

Contingencies influenced the project decisively. Soviet centrifuge specialist Gernot Zippe visited Kistemaker unexpectedly in 1957, exchanging valuable knowledge on centrifuge design. And organizational aspects became even more complicated when in 1960 an American delegation of AEC scientists and diplomats visited Kistemaker’s lab. Their request was simple: please classify the gas centrifuge research as secret. The result of this request was twofold: on the one hand it led to considerable practical problems in the execution of the program, while on the other hand it resulted in beneficial financial and organizational changes.