Atomic Insights 1995

Why Did The NS Savannah Fail? Can She Really be Called a Failure?

(Post was originally published on July 1, 1995. It was updated on April 2, 2011 to include information and videos that were not available in when it was first written. The title has also been revised to open up a new discussion – was the NS Savannah a failure or a successful demonstration of a technology whose time has not quite arrived?)

On Friday, March 23, 1962, the N.S. Savannah became the first nuclear merchant ship at sea. In 1972, after ten years of demonstrations and operations, she was laid up in an effort to reduce spending by the Maritime Administration.

In the lore of the nuclear industry, her early retirement proved that nuclear power was not a viable option for commercial shipping. Once again, Atomic Insights will discuss why we believe that the conventional wisdom is wrong.

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In the news: December 1995

Watts Bar Receives Low Power Licence (November 11, 1995) TVA’s Watts Bar nuclear power plant has been under construction for more than 23 years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just approved a permit that will allow the Tennessee Valley Authority to begin loading it with fuel for low-power testing. The fuel has been stored in […]

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Protection for Fuel Elements: Ensuring Saftey

Once Rickover’s team selected water as their primary reactor coolant, other material criteria became readily apparent. Though pure water at room temperature is a relatively benign environment, water at high temperatures is quite corrosive. Because radioactive fission products can be dangerous to human health, prudent reactor designers must devise methods to ensure that the fission […]

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Controlling Power: Temperature and Rods

Pressurized water reactors turned out to be extremely stable power producers. Because of the fact that water is used to moderate the energy level of neutrons, making them more effective in causing fission, the concentration of water in the core is an important part of determining the reactivity of the core. Temperature control An increase […]

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Technical Hurdles: One Step at a Time

Though water was chosen partially because it was a familiar fluid for power engineers, the choice almost doomed the nuclear submarine program. Laboratory testing of the pumps, bearings, valves, and piping demonstrated to Rickover’s team that the simple, familiar fluid was not so simple at high temperatures and pressures, particularly when exposed to neutron radiation. […]

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Letter from the Editor: A History of Success

The United States Navy submarine reactor program has a record of achievement and respect dating back to the early 1950s. In a field full of failed projects begun with high expectations, the Naval Reactors program is worthy of admiration and study. In this issue of AEI, we will focus on several early technical decisions that […]

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Pressurized Water: Best Choice for the 1950s Subs

When Rickover first began studying nuclear technology, he found a program in severe disarray. The Army’s Manhattan Project had accomplished its mission of completing a workable bomb before the end of the war. Many of the key scientists and engineers had left the program, eager to leave the security restrictions and poor working conditions behind. […]

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In the news: November 1995

Russian Delegation Visits Cuba (October 10, 1995) Russian scientists and businessmen visited Cuba to discuss the future of the VVER-440 pressurized water reactor at Juragua. According to an official at Cuba’s National Center for Nuclear Security, construction was halted when the reactor was 90 percent complete. Cuba’s government is investigating the possibility of completing the […]

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Prefab Reactors For Off-Grid Users

At the top of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, for example, electricity for the weather station is provided by a diesel generator using fuel that must be moved by small tanker trucks struggling up a very steep grade.The Army Nuclear Power Program was established as part of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1954. It was charged […]

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Army Nuclear Power Plants

Designation Description of Reactors SM-1 This stationary military reactor was the Army’s prototype and training facility. It began operation in April 1957 at Fort Belvoir, VA, several months before the Shippingport reactor. SM-1 has the distinction of having been the first nuclear power plant to be hooked to an electrical grid. 2,000 kw. SM-1A Built […]

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ML-1 Mobile Power System: Reactor in a Box

At Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. we like the concept of the closed cycle gas turbine enough to be developing an updated design that builds on the lessons learned from past experiences.The ML-1 experimental reactor was unique. It was not a pressurized water reactor with a steam energy conversion system. Instead, ML-1 was the first nitrogen […]

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Letter from the Editor: Portable Nuclear Reactors

The United States Army ran an innovative nuclear power program for more than 20 years. The men involved operated a series of small, nuclear heated generating plants in some of the world’s least hospitable environments. The story of what those diligent heros did has been all but lost. Though the Army was the lead service […]

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