Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Five Indian Scientists at a Cookout

I took up residence at my parents house during the Summer of 1962. I had spent the previous year living in a college dormitory at Carson-Newman although I frequently visited home. But that summer I was commuting to classes at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I enjoyed the summer and frequently played bridge with my parents and my brothers, David and Mike. Although I had not realized it at the time, my father's work situation had greatly improved. He was now a senior scientist who had produced valuable work that was appreciated not only at ORNL but with his glove box project in all probability by the AEC as well. Warren Grimes's vendetta against my father was off the table, and my father had an assured position for the rest of his career. He had chosen to work with George Parker who was investigating the fate of radioactive isotopes in a reactor accident. George was another East Tennessean, who like my father was more comfortable in the Laboratory than in the conference room. My father admired Parker's research skills, and modestly spoke of his own role as being primarily in writing up Parker's experimental results. After reading some of their reports however, it would appear that my father was making his own research contributions.

Between 1960 and 1964 George Parker, my father and the group of chemists who worked in Parker's group were doing world c;ass research in the field of nuclear safety. They held an annual conference on nuclear safety in Gatlinburg that attracted international participation, and scientist were coming from all over the world to work in Parker's Laboratory along side them. Those scientists would eventually return to their home countries where the would conduct nuclear safety research. During those years my frequently invited visiting scientists and their families to have dinner or at my parent's home.

Duribg 1962 a group of five Indian scientists traveled to Oak Ridge to work with the Parker group. This was a large number of scientists to send in one group to another country for what amounted to advanced training. At home, my father frequently spoke of the Brahman leader of the Indian scientists, Dr. Kalachandra. Soon the five Indians were invited to dinner.

My family often ate in my parents back yard on Saturday evenings. On such occasions we would cook on a charcoal grill. The fair was most often hamburgers and hot dogs. Soon the Indians were invited to a Barton family backyard cookout. four of the five member group were Hindues. A fifth was a Seik. Not only was Dr. Kalachandra the scientific leader of the group, but he was also the scientific leader of the group, ,but as a Brahman he was the spiritual leader of the groups Hindus. As such Dr. Kalachandra disapproved of the fact that other grouindulged in eating meat while dining with my family. How are you going to keep um on the farm after they've seen Oak Ridge?

i am reasonably sure that the name of Homi J. Bhabha was never mentioned in my patents' back yard on that summer day in 1962. yet Homi J. Bhabha was probably behind their stay in Oak Ridge. Sending a five person team to acquire advanced skills in reactor safety research in 1962 was a sign of vast ambition for a country with so little resources. In 1962 India had one reactor and would not have its first tiny commercial reactor for another 7 years. in August 1954 who was then the leader of thr small Indian nuclear research program sent indian Prime Minister Pandit Nehru in a half page summary of a 13 item program to turn india into a nuclear power. Included in Bhabba's list called for:
Setting up of an Atomic Energy research facility,
Uranium prospecting, mining and processing,
Building heavy water and beryllium production plants,
The construction of a uranium enrichment facility
The development of civilian power generating reactors
The construction of breeder reactors and a plutonium extraction plant.
Bhabba also called for a major initive to train and development of the human resources needed for such a program
And the use of radioisotopes in biology, medicine and industry.

Bhabba went on to direct India's atomic energy program until his death. His basic vision, set out in a three stage plan, has now entered the third stage. The completion of Indias fast Breeder reactor in 2013 will mark the emergance of India as the first nation to manufacture a n economically competative Generation IV generation reactor.

The five Indians eventually finished their work with George Parker's group and went back to India where they began to work with other indian scientists to carry out Bhabba's vision. Today that vision is rapidly becoming a reality. Indian nuclear science is among the best in the world.

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