Thursday, February 21, 2008

Milton Shaw: Part I

Shortly before Alvin Weinberg’s 80th birthday, Bill Cabage and Carolyn Krause, Journalists associated with ORNL, interviewed him.

During the interview Weinberg was asked to comment on Milton Shaw. Weinberg responded, “Milton Shaw had a singleness of purpose. In many ways I admired him, and in many ways he drove me nutty. He had a single-minded commitment to do what he was told to do, which was to get the Clinch River Breeder Reactor built. My views were different from his. I think the Commission decided that my views were out of touch with the way the nuclear industry was actually going.”

Milton Shaw was actually a Knoxville boy. He was born on Oct. 5, 1921, in Knoxville. His father, William Shaw, was a professor of agricultural chemistry at the University of Tennessee. There were fewer than 1000 Jews in Knoxville when Shaw was born, and in some respects the Knoxville Jewish community was typical of the South. The Knoxville Jewish community had contributed on major voice the Nation, Adoph Ochs, the the founder of the Ochs-Sulzberger dynasty that still owns the New York Times grew up in Knoxville, and began his journalism career there.

Shaw studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tennessee, and probably received a draft deferment, because his field of study made him more valuable to the military with a complete education, than as a grunt. Upon graduation Shaw joined the Navy. He was sent to the Navy Propulsion School at Cornell University in 1944. The Navy then assigned him to the Pacific where he served as an engineering officer for the rest of the war.

Mr. Shaw served in the Navy as an engineering officer in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the war Shaw continued his career with the Navy, working at the Naval Engineering Experiment Station and Testing Laboratory (EES) in Annapolis, Maryland. He sought out Rickover, and Rickover took him on, first sending Shaw to the Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology in 1950-51, where according to Alvin Weinberg, he was an average student. Now average at Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology in 1950 probably meant very, very bright. To be above average in that crowd you had to be a genius, of which there were more than a few of those floating around Oak Ridge at the time.

Shaw had had the quality of relentless determination. to get whatever job he was assigned done. He was the perfect executive officer, which Hyman Rickover recognized.

Rickover managed to insinuate himself into the AEC bureaucracy while also working for the Department of Defense, and holding Naval rank. These multiple hats gave Rickover great power, and he brought Shaw into the system. Shaw learned the use of power, an an abrasive, autocratic leadership style from Rickover. From 1950 to 1961, he reported directly to Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, known as the "father of the nuclear Navy" and who was serving in the Office of Naval Reactors for the Atomic Energy Commission. When Shaw left Rickover in 1961, it was to serve as a technical assistant to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research and development.

Shaw had worked on the development of the nuclear submarine, and then was Rickover’s man in charge of surface nuclear systems. He was responsible from conception to completion for the aircraft carrier prototype plant and the nuclear propulsion plants for the Enterprise and the Long Beach, as well as for all other surface ship propulsion plant projects.

The Shippingport reactor was really a Naval aircraft carrier reactor that had Shaw had developed. When President Eisenhower proposed his Atoms for Peace project, Rickover donated a spare aircraft carrier reactor that had been built for experimental purposes. The reactor was hooked up to a turbine and a generator, and thus became the nations first “civilian” nuclear power plant. Of course Rickover’s boys continued to run experiments on it.

Shaw understanding of technical issues, coupled with his management skills made him the supreme bureaucrat. During his three years as a senior assistant to the Navy assistant secretary, Shaw was actively involved with the management of all research, development, test and evaluation matters to the Navy and Marine Corps. He was also responsible for coordination and direction of the scientific and technical efforts of the Navy's bureaus, laboratories and offices. Needless to say, Shaw had a position in which he yielded great power, over the Navy’s scientific and engineering establishment, and he undoubtedly chose to do so.

In 1964 Shaw left the Navy Department, and joined the AEC as director of reactor research and development. That position gave him oversight of research the reactor programs of all the national laboratories including ORNL. Shaw did not flinch at using his authority to the utmost. In the case of ORNL he was accused of using his authority to destroy the Lab. I do not know is that was his intention, but he certainly succeeded in destroying the Reactor Chemistry Division.

4 comments:

Kirk Sorensen said...

Milt Shaw was the director of the AEC who not only drummed Alvin Weinberg out of ORNL when he had the temerity to question the safety of the light-water reactor (a reactor Weinberg invented).

Shaw was also the one who ordered the review of the MSBR called WASH-1222, or as I like to call it "Whitewash-1222", because that biased review ignored all the safety, performance, and efficiency advantages of the fluoride reactor but harped on three issues that had already been solved by the time the report was issued in 1972.

(tritium management, tellurium cracking, and fuel reprocessing)

Go ahead and read WASH-1222 at your leisure. Be sure to pay attention to how little it has to say about the safety features of the fluoride reactor. Shaw didn't want the fluoride reactor contrasted with his wicked baby, the liquid-metal fast breeder.

Charles Barton said...

I intend at another time to discuss Shaw's role in the shutting down of Molten Salt Research at ORNL, and the decision to go with LMFB technology, which was made by thed Nixon Administration. When Shaw had orders he followed them, when he did not he was a loose cannon.

Phil Choong said...

From all I can read in the web, Milton Shaw was a student of Dr. Weinberg in Oakridge in the late 40's. Mr. Shaw should have learned a lot from Dr. Weinberg on reactor technology. He should be grateful and respectful of Dr. Weinberg. How come in the early 70's, Mr. Shaw, as Director of USAEC Reactor Technology, he was one of the key persons to destroy Dr. Weinberg's career and US nuclear industry. Was he a mean person in character? How does he look like? Is there a photo of him with Dr. Weinberg?

Phil Choong said...

I have recently read a lot about Dr. Weinberg and his many contributions to nuclear reactor technology. I never met him and knew him only indirectly because he hired my thesis adviser, Prof. Ed Mason of MIT, to be in charge of the nuclear-agro complex project in 1967. So I had to compete with Dr. Weinberg for my professor's time. I didn't pay much attention to his MSRE work at the time. 40 years later, I was surprised to learn that we, the entire nuclear industry, missed out a lot for not heed his visionary advice. I particularly place the blame on Milton Shaw who was instrumental to Dr. Weinberg's fall. Mr. Shaw was once the Dr. Weinberg's student at Oakridge. He helped him on the naval reactor development. How could he not showing any gratitude and respect to his teacher and mentor? Was he a mean person? How did he look like?

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