Jeffrey LewisGibrat’s Theorem

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about multinational fuel cycle facilities in South Korea lately, which means I am reading a lot about Eurochemic — a multinational reprocessing facility among thirteen European Countries.

When you crack open a dry tome like Jean-Marc Wolff’s Eurochemic 1956-1990, European Company for the Chemical Processing of Irradiated Fuels, (OECD, 1999), take heart: a slight smile may await you.

The truth is that the author was probably just as bored writing it, as you are reading it. That doesn’t mean that the book is badly written or useless — quite the opposite.  But even the best written, most insightful histories of nuclear weapons testing or multinational reprocessing plants are going to be a bit dry. Sometimes an author will leave a small reward buried for the careful reader  — as in the cases of a footnote on the origin of the term “bhangmeter” in one and a little cartoon explaining Baneberry hidden in the frontmatter of another.

I found today’s hidden gem buried in one of Wolff’s footnotes to a  passage about the cost-overruns experienced in constructing the Eurochemic facility:

65. A joke circulating in nuclear circles is highly revealing: known to Pierre Huet and Pierre Strohl as “Gibrat’s Theorem” after one of the Presidents of Indatom and then of the SFEN.  It can be summarized as follows: “To determine the true cost of the project based on estimates from three experts, add the three together.  If there is only one estimate, multiply it by π”. In this “theoretical space” Eurochemic costs remained within reasonable limits…

It is a dry joke, of course, but I appreciated it tremendously yesterday and thought I would share.


  1. Hairs (History)

    Not so many years ago a new administrator of NASA was touting, “Faster, Better, Cheaper” to all and sundry.

    For those of us who actually have to implement the engineering dreams of others this quickly became, “Faster, Better, Cheaper… pick any two of the above”.

    Gibrat was spot on!