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FOGBANK – How USA forgot how to manufacture an essential ingredient for nukes (wikipedia.org)
22 points by mmaunder on Sept 25, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 6 comments

This reminds me of an article where people tried to reverse-engineer a rocket engine from the Saturn V rocket, whose manufacturing process was also lost: https://arstechnica.com/science/2013/04/how-nasa-brought-the...

The article and its source notes "almost all the staff with expertise on production had retired or left the agency", they then proceed to spend a little short of 100 million replicating the process.

There's no mention of any attempt to simply find the people that originally made it and asking them how it was made, since protection was halted in 1989 most of them should still be alive.

Surely that would have been more cost efficient than reverse engineering the production process, but of course the government would have had little incentive to save money.

So just reading between the lines this is less of a story of how the USA "forgot" something, and more of a story of how some sprawling bureaucracy couldn't bring itself to pick up the phone, presumably due to some combination of information siloing, the complexities of re-granting some retirees security clearances etc.

It’s not a cooking recipe that you can pass on over the phone. The page also states: “The new production scientists noticed that certain problems in production resembled those noted by the original team”. So the new team apparently had access to whatever knowledge had survived.

To pick up the phone is a manner of speaking. I'm wondering why these former employees seemingly weren't asked to come in as consultants, which reading between the lines of the article wasn't the case, not this was a trivial matter that could be entirely resolved with one phonecall.

My reading of the reference to notes is that they were following some written material left behind by the original team, not that these were notes acquired from ex-members of the team in 2000.

I can barely recall details of projects I worked on last quarter. 1989 is almost thirty years ago, and the people who developed the process were probably long gone when it was shut down.

As the source of the article indicates[1] they realized they didn't know how to make FOGBANK in the year 2000, and what they had was manufactured from 1975 until 1989. There's only an 11 year difference between 1989 and 2000, and a 25 year difference between 2000 and 1975.

It's not at all beyond the realm of possibility that the people who developed the process or were intricately familiar with it were still around.

1. http://www.weeklystandard.com/article/17558

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