In 1946, one year after the unleashing of nuclear forces for destruction at Hiroshima, a Navy group, headed by then Captain, now Vice Admiral H.G. Rickover, was sent to Oak Ridge for a year’s study of all available information concerning production of useful power from the atom. The Navy students decided that the first practical application of nuclear power should be made in a United States submarine. They realized that the installation of an atomic power plant would be much more difficult in a submarine than in a surface ship, but they made the decision—the first example of the daring aggressiveness of Rickover’s methods—because the rewards of success would be greater in a submarine than in a surface ship. A nuclear submarine, not requiring air for combustion of fuel in its engines, would be able to divorce itself from the earth’s atmosphere and thus would be a true submarine rather than a surface ship which could submerge only for short periods. It would be an “underwater satellite.” To many in high places, however, the proposal sounded like a trip to the moon.
We missed the 60th anniversary of the USS Nautilus the other day. Here’s a fascinating 1959 article about the prototype power plant in Idaho that was used to validate the design of the Nautilus’ reactor.