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The past 20th century, which saw a breakthrough discovery of nuclear fission, was veritably the age of Anatoly Alexandrov, one of the trailblazers of the atomic era. Unfortunately he has left to tell us about his eventful life. What we have are the tape recordings of his live speech - about his work, family and all. Such recordings are summed up in the book off the press at Nauka Publishers (M., Nauka, 2001) Academician Anatoly Petrovich Alexandrov. Direct Speech and prepared for publication by his son Pyotr Anatolyevich Alexandrov. Apart from personal recollections about his father, we learn what Academician Alexandrov's colleagues and friends have got to say. Here are a few excerpts.
Our country reached nuclear parity with the United States in the mid-1950s. At about the same time, we were also pushing ahead in areas other than nuclear weaponry-just where nuclear energy could be put to good use. All that had to do with nuclear reactors some way. AP* oversaw them as science chief. Nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers, for one. Nuclear-powered planes and rockets as well as nuclear power engineering in general-all that was AP's domain.
Due to the high power-to-weight ratio and large fuel stock (something proper to nuclear power units), nuclear-powered aircraft could have boasted a staggering flight range. This idea was in the pipeline. AP got in touch with the big-name designers of heavy aircraft Tupolev and Myasishchev. A prototype reactor for an aircraft like that was developed and built, and tested at Semipalatinsk in 1960. The formidable problems of radiation protection were taken care of. On the whole, a nuclear-powered plane seemed a tangible reality. But there cropped up the insoluble problems of safety during take-off and landing, which are a hazard to any plane. Add the possibility of terrorist attacks. And considering the radiation consequences of an air-crash, such aircraft were found to be quite a menace. That is why a lid was put on this work both here in this country and in the United States. For one reason only-inadequate security in case of accidents.
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With the commissioning of the world's first atomic power station at Obninsk (in 1954.- Ed.), it was clear that nuclear power engineering could become expedient economically. This job was assigned to the Institute of Nuclear Energy which, after Igor Kurchatov's death, came to be headed by AP.
In fact, AP gave a good deal of attention to the power industry. He looked into a great many specific problems related to power reactors. Like, for instance, selecting the proper radiation-resistant grade of steel for a reactor vessel that has a high pressure (250 atm) within and working at temperature 350C, and should be foolproof for as long as forty years of nonstop operation. And AP did find the required grade of steel: back in the 1930s he had been much involved with the problem of brittle failure. As a matter of fact, the Nuclear Power Institute was tackling a wide range of problems in atomic power engineering, especially at its initial stage. Problems like reactor controllability, radiation resistance of materials, and a strategy line for atomic power engineering.
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Here's what AP's son, Pyotr, recalls: It was in the fall of 1959. The first nuclear icebreaker Lenin was on its maiden trial voyage. AP took me along. The Lenin was still being in the dock of the Admiralty Shipbuilding Yard in Leningrad as its onboard reactors were started. From Leningrad the icebreaker was tugged by the mighty vessel Professor Popov - one did not want to switch on the reactors full tilt within city limits. Full-scale tests were
* That's how friends and colleagues would call Anatoly Petrovich Alexandrov.- Ed.
scheduled to take place in the Baltic, off Tallinn.
The weather was fine, and there were lots of gents standing on the captain's bridge. Leading the convoy were two mine-sweepers to remove mines left over during the Second World War; next came our icebreaker, tugged, and some other ship crawling ahead. All of a sudden AP pointed his finger at the water: the breakers behind the tugboat's stern disappeared, and the tow line started sagging. Moving ahead by force of great inertia, the icebreaker was about to catch up with the tugboat and overrun it, and it was too late to stop and turn aside. AP rushed to the captain who did not notice anything, and told him what had happened. The captain reacted instantly and gave the command, "Full speed ahead! Port the helm!" That was the only way out, no time for stopover. The reactor switched on to capacity, the vessel started making an abrupt turnabout. The steel tug line, of an arm's thickness, snapped like a rotten thread. Thanks God, no one was hurt! All the mechanisms performed roger, and the icebreaker kept heading for Tallinn under its own power.
And this is what Academician Konstantin Frolov recalls:
I had the good fortune to work shoulder to shoulder with A. P. Alexandrov as Vice- President of the Academy of Sciences (Alexandrov was the Academy's President) and learn a lot from him.
He never made haste and always heard people out with much attention. Signing bulky reports, he suddenly became engrossed in them, and perused them unhurriedly even though a few persons usually waited for their turn in the reception room-the Academy's members and research scientists who had come from other cities, admirals of the Navy, heads of government ministries and departments. A. P. did not put his signature to business letters on the spur of the moment but read them carefully and went into their substance. More than that, he corrected the punctuation and mistypes, if any (he put that down to his habit of correcting his pupils' notebooks when teaching physics in his youth, and made it a practice to correct grammar errors as well). Even though seemingly slow during his reception hours, Academician Alexandrov could accomplish a remarkable lot. His visitors left his office elated, full of optimism, enthused by new ideas and new faith in their abilities.
Having his hands full, he often stayed up in his office late into the evening, till 11 o'clock. Saturdays he usually spent with his family, but now and then visited research centers and colleges in line of his duties. As President of the Academy of Sciences, Academician Alexandrov showed his best human side-openness and good nature. He traveled a good deal about this country visiting research centers and learning about the achievements and problems of industries, our military-industrial complex, higher schools and research institutes of the Academy of Sciences. However, he seldom went abroad, he just didn't like such trips.
A. P. Alexandrov was endowed with multifarious talents both as an inquisitive research physicist and designer and engineer. Spreading drawings on the floor, he looked into them with a kind of ingenuous interest akin to children only. He feasted his eyes on brilliant engineering solutions, but fished out shortfalls. Somehow it was fun to him-crawling on all-fours and taking a close look. The authors of such records and reports grew on him-no blackboard with drawings on it, no pointer. No official routine and rigmarole!
Prepared by Olga BAZANOVA.
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