Nuclear Power/A world without nuclear fission?
QUESTION: Dear Doctor Osman Kemal Kadiroglu,
I am writing an Alternative History novel, and for reasons of plot, the invention of nuclear weapons in the 1940s is highly inconvenient.
I’m not a physicist, though I have tried to research into this field, but it is so vast that I fear I will never truly be able to answer my question on my own!
Obviously, I am aware that eventually – because fissile material exists – someone, somewhere will discover nuclear fission. All I want to do is delay that process for a few decades (around 70 years or so).
If Ernest Rutherford had never existed – had never been born, or even had died in early childhood, say – would that put the discovery of nuclear fission back suitably?
Would it also be necessary to “kill off” (as it were) Arthur Dempster, Francis Aston, John Cockcroft, Ernest Walton, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, Fritz Strassman, Enrico Fermi, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Leo Szilard, too?
What’s the furthest link in the chain? With whom does nuclear fission really start? And how can its development be pushed back? I’d rather not "kill off" too many people.
Also, what does this mean for medicine, and other inventions? No nuclear fission means no nuclear power plants or atomic weapons, but what about things like radiotherapy? In what other ways does the development of nuclear fission affect our lives?
I’m so far from being an expert in science of any kind that I’m afraid I can’t even begin to imagine what consequences the loss of someone like Rutherford would have on our world.
I would be so grateful for your help. Thank you so much for your time!
I am away from home for New Years, may I answer your question when I go back home sometime towards the end of this week.
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QUESTION: Dear Doctor Osman Kemal Kadiroglu,
That's absolutely fine -- I hope you enjoy your vacation!
Thanks for waiting for my return to home. If you are writing a novel, may I suggest a title such as "Chainsaw Massacre in Physics and the Eternal Damnation of Physicist" since this is what you need to postpone fission for seven decades.
It all started when physicist became unable to explain certain phenomena when they studied light. They discovered that classical physics, mainly Newtonian mechanics was powerless to explain their observations. Then an atheist Jew made things even worst by introducing theory of relativity. Early 1900's was a bee hive for physicist with all sorts of wild ideas and some of them even explaining the observed data. Mainly, they were trying to explain the character of matter, how atoms behave. If you "kill" Rutherford, (He was a very big guy!) someone else would pick up his place. You see, the lively hood of physicist is their publications. They have to publish so that they won't perish. In a lab if you are bored with what you are doing you try something else, so sooner or later someone will send alpha particles onto nuclei and find the "atom". You can delay such an activity for few years at the most.
In 1932 a British guy, named Chadwick, found neutrons and physicist went haywire and start bombarding anything they got their hands on with this new toy. You have to add Chadwick to the "kill" list as well as Meitner.
Nazi Germany, even though they had the best minds in physics at that time did not involve in fission research. What you may do is get hold of Leo before he escapes the Nazis then may be there would be no one to advocate the fission power to the Allies. Or if Nazis were bit smarter and had only one front and used their power so that Allied forces were bogged down then US military will not fund fission research. Manhattan Project cost was 2 billion (WVII) dollars, US may use that money for other weapons if Leo was not agitating physics community during the war.
May be if you picture Nazis as science loving party and keeping their scientist and especially Jewish scientist in Germany then US will not be aware of fission power for a very long time. At the beginning of WVII US physicists were not to the standard of European scientist. Still seven decades is a very very long time for keeping natural secrets from scientist.
If you look at the history of science you will see that most of the inventions and discoveries were done by more than one scientist at differing times and places. So it is almost impossible to keep a secret for a long time.
Assuming that only the discovery of fission process is missed we still can have medical uses of radiation. In the beginning of the last century people were taking uranium and thorium salts in their bodies for therapeutic reasons with fatal results. In UK, up to 1950's, medical radiation gadget were still in use at homes even though they were very dangerous. Without fission you may not get many radioactive isotopes that are used for medical purposes, but still there would be other radiation devices like X-Ray machines, scanner, etc.
Nuclear fission and fusion (H-Bomb) gives us the A and H Bombs, Nuclear Power Plants, radioactive isotopes used in medicine, industry, agriculture and, some space power units. Also my beloved profession is based on fission :)
If I could be any help please let me know.