This week in… 1959

This article from The Engineer trumpeting the launch of the ‘Tehran Nuclear Centre’ highlights a dialogue and exchange of ideas that would be unthinkable today.


Given the parlous state of relations between Iran and the West, it is easy to forget that things were once very different. This article from The Engineer trumpeting the launch of the ‘Tehran Nuclear Centre’ highlights a dialogue and exchange of ideas that would be unthinkable today.

‘Speaking at the opening, [eminent English physicist] Sir John Cockcroft said that the Harwell Establishment of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority would be acting as a parent establishment to the nuclear centre by providing British staff and by helping with the rapid supply of equipment. In addition, there would be rapid communication of ideas and results.’

The article reports that nuclear know-how was unlikely to contribute to the oil-rich nation’s energy mix for at least 20 years, but that it was of great promise for medical and industrial uses. ‘The immediate benefit was likely to come from the use of radioactive isotopes, said Sir John, and the first and well-tried application was to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.’ This application was inspired by success using radioactive isotopes at the ‘Baghdad Pact Nuclear Centre’.

In other applications, ‘Sir John said that already an Iraqi student attached for training at Harwell had been able to develop a radioisotopic method for measuring impurities… in oils and this method was likely to find important applications’, while the staff of the Tehran Nuclear Centre ‘had begun experiments to study the migration of the soum fly pest by releasing insects sprayed with radioactive tracers’.

Sadly, this amicable relationship was short lived. When the West-friendly Shah was toppled by the Islamic Revolution, all such activity ceased.

Jon Excell