Atomic Show #232 – Against the Tide by RADM Dave Oliver

Though it has been more than 30 years since Admiral Rickover finally retired from his position as the head of Naval Reactors, his legacy lives on in the people he directly trained and in the people that those initial Navy nukes trained and led.

A new book titled Against the Tide: Rickover’s Leadership Principles and the Rise of the Nuclear Navy, by Dave Oliver provides another look at what others can learn from Rickover’s successes and failures.

RADM Dave Oliver graduated from the Naval Academy in 1963 and entered the US Navy nuclear submarine program near the peak of its rapid build up from no nuclear powered submarines in 1954 to more than 140 nuclear submarines by the end of the 1980s.

Though he was not assigned to Admiral Rickover’s staff, he had more than his share of direct contact with the “Kindly Old Gentleman” and is able to share a number of unique experiences that provide insight into Rickover’s techniques for inspiring, cajoling or forcing people to work hard and perform well.

One of the assignments that brought him closer to the Admiral than many of his contemporaries was his tour as the Engineer Officer on the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine. By the time Oliver was assigned to the job, the Nautilus was showing her age and the fact that she was a first of a kind.

Sometimes Rickover’s way of doing business made him a lot of enemies, sometimes it made him a hero in the eyes of the people who controlled the purse strings in Congress and in the White House. Unfortunately, some of the people who served in the Nuclear Navy took drastic actions when they decided they could no longer take the stress of trying to meet Rickover’s standards or work ethic.

In the book and during our discussion, Oliver relates a tragic story about one of his best friends.

To learn more about RADM Dave Oliver and find out what other books he has published, please visit

I hope you enjoy the show.


Nuclear-Powered Trans-Ocean Shipping – 3rd place in New York Advanced Energy contest

I received an update from Benjamin Haas, the SUNY Maritime student who has been working on nuclear powered ship designs from a complete systems perspective for the past three semesters. He and his team have not just focused on the technical aspects of designing a power plant and a ship that could take full advantage […]

Read more »

NS Savannah tours May 18, 2014

Press Release Historic Ship N.S. Savannah Open for Tours May 18, 2014 in Observance of Maritime Day N.S. Savannah Association, Inc. 4/17/2014 The unique, nuclear powered ship N.S. Savannah will be opened for tours at her pier in Baltimore, Md. on Sunday, May 18, 2014 as a part of the annual commemoration of Maritime Day. […]

Read more »

Trip report from visit to NS Savannah

About three weeks ago, I wrote an article about commercial nuclear ship propulsion. That post introduced Benjamin Haas, a student at SUNY Maritime, who has been leading a design team that is developing the conceptual design for a nuclear powered shipping system. Ben’s team is not just focused on the ship itself, but on all […]

Read more »

SUNY Maritime Student Advocates Commercial Nuclear Ship Propulsion

Stimulated by early atomic optimism, naval successes and Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace initiative, four nations built ocean going ships with nuclear propulsion plants. The US built the NS Savannah, Germany built the Otto Hahn, Japan built the Mutsu, and Russia built a series of nuclear powered icebreakers. For reasons that are beyond the scope of […]

Read more »

Antarctic misadventure failed to plan for resilience

I’ve been pondering the misadventures of the Akademik Shokalskiy for several days, thinking about the difference in result between an excursion planned on the cheap by people who depend on things going smoothy and a voyage planned by people who included contingencies and had access to more capable technology. In the summer of 1994, the […]

Read more »

Icebreaker saved by fossil fuels. Nuclear might have been better

Just before Christmas 2013, a diesel-powered, ice-capable Russian research vessel named MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which was carrying scientists studying climate change, got stuck in the Antarctic ice. The scientists on the ship were not in any immediate risk or suffering any hardship conditions; they had plenty of fuel and supplies. The scientists have been evacuated […]

Read more »

Grand Opening of the Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding

Yesterday, on an unusually warm December day, I attended the grand opening of the new Apprentice School building in downtown Newport News, Virginia. It was an event that made me proud to be an American, proud to be a Virginian and proud to be a veteran of the US Navy. I was a member of […]

Read more »

Root cause of Naval Reactors policy of strict secrecy about nuclear propulsion plant design

As a Navy nuke, I was carefully taught to believe that everything we learned about atomic energy had to be strictly protected from release to anyone who was not “cleared”, especially anyone who was not a US citizen. I started to question that policy after I completed my tour as the Engineer Officer on the […]

Read more »

Naval Reactors should be empowered to show the way – again

President Obama should task John Richardson with a mission similar to the one that President Dwight Eisenhower gave Hyman G. Rickover. Richardson is the current leader of Naval Reactors (NR), the organization that Rickover built. If directed, NR could begin a new assignment to show others how to manufacture complete nuclear fission power systems starting […]

Read more »

Why did gullible reporters promote a student paper about nuclear facility security?

There was a flurry of attention in the press last week when a political science professor held a press conference to tell the world that one of his students had written a paper concluding that all of the nuclear power plants in the United States were vulnerable to a terrorist attack. For unpublished reasons, a […]

Read more »

What happened to the NS Savannah?


One of the more frequent inquiries I have received during my years operating Atomic Insights is “What happened to the NS (nuclear ship) Savannah?”. I just learned about a recently completed documentary film by Thomas Michael Conner, a former member of the ship’s crew, that is designed to answer that question in detail using sea […]

Read more »