Valuable Tool for Antarctic Research or Costly Waste?

Before the discovery of nuclear fission, the only power source capable of supplying reliable electrical energy in remote locations was a combustion engine. Because of its compact nature compared to a coal fired steam engine, the internal combustion engine was the power system of choice. When engineers realized that a fission power plant could operate […]

Read more »

A Question of Economics: The Answer Depends on the Assumptions

In 1970, President Nixon affirmed that the United States had long term objectives in the Antarctic regions and consolidated responsibility for management and funding of all Antarctic operations under the National Science Foundation. According to the new arrangement, the NSF was to take over the funding of PM-3A as of July 1, 1972. At the […]

Read more »

How Clean is Clean? Blasting Out Frozen Soil

The final disposition of the soil was to spread it out on the ground and cover it with asphalt, turning the expensively gathered Anarctic soil into a parking lot that continues to serve the sailors at Port Hueneme, California. After the decision was made to decommission the PM-3A, the Naval Nuclear Power Unit began planning […]

Read more »

Letter from the Editor: PM-3A, Pioneer in Anarctic Research

Recently I took my family to the Tampa, Florida Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), which had a traveling exhibit on Antarctica. The display included a great deal of information about the dedicated explorers and unique wildlife indigenous to that remote land with one of the harshest climates on earth. Several of the exploration groups […]

Read more »

PM-3A Design and Construction: Rapid Pace to Fulfill a Need

Between January 1 and March 1, 1962, the plant was assembled by a team of contractors and military technicians. On March 4, 1962, the plant reached initial criticality. The U. S. Navy began intensive involvement in Antarctic research missions during 1955 in preparation for the International Geophysical Year. The Department of Defense assigned the Navy […]

Read more »

Letter from the Editor: RTGs, Batteries That Last and Last

It is almost as if NASA, ever cognizant of the need for taxpayer support of its programs, put this useful device “in the closet”, using it when necessary but maintaining an unofficial policy that technical details were best kept from public view.This issue was inspired by a request from one of our Internet readers for […]

Read more »

Nuclear Batteries: Tools for Space Science

The Apollo missions to the moon are famous for heroic astronauts, exciting first steps and incredible pictures that fired the imaginations of a whole generation of scientists, engineers and school children. Mixed in along with the hoopla about sending men into space on huge, fire spewing rockets, however, was some serious science. Each time the […]

Read more »

Earth Bound RTG Systems: Uses Closer to Home

Tiny, milliwatt capacity RTGs found a home inside the chests of middle aged people in countries like France, Russia and even the United States. These devices – about the same size as a AA battery – were designed to power cardiac pacemakers. Not all of the RTGs that have been produced have been designed for […]

Read more »

RTG Heat Sources: Two Proven Materials

Strontium is not associated with nuclear weapons and has never been called the most deadly element known to man. There is a precedence in the United States for widely licensing small quantities of sealed Sr-90; it is used in some aircraft ice detection systems.Essentially all RTGs that have been produced have been designed for long […]

Read more »

Cassini: Near Term Use of RTGs

The only planned use of RTGs in the US space program in the near term is the unmanned, 1997 Cassini mission to explore Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft will be powered by three General Purpose Heat Source Radioisotope Thermal Generators (GPHS RTGs) each designed to provide 276 W of electrical power at the beginning of the […]

Read more »

New Nuclear Power Barges: Russians Build on Ice Breaker Lead

The northern coast of Russia is an area endowed with rich natural resources and vast mineral wealth but burdened with a limited infrastructure. Because of the extremely cold winters, transportation is difficult and infrequent. During the Soviet era, finding workers to exploit the riches was not difficult; they had little choice in the matter. Once […]

Read more »

SL-1: Designed for Remote Power and Heat

SL-1′s mission was to provide power to radar stations along the northern perimeter of North America; a series of such stations was known as the DEW (Defense Early Warning) Line. The Army’s designation , SL-1, tells us that the plant was a stationary, low power reactor, and that it was the first of its kind. […]

Read more »