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 USS Von Steuben. That was nearly 23 years ago.

I hope that my questioning attitude and continuing curiosity about exploring all aspects of nuclear energy that are not actually related to Navy nuclear propulsion is obvious to anyone who reads Atomic Insights, listens to the Atomic Show, hears me speak, or reads the comments that I have been sprinkling around the web (often under the nom de plume of Atomicrod) since the days when the Usenet was the “social media” service where all of the cool kids hung out.

One of the legends that we learned in the Navy nuclear program is that Rickover really started clamping down on sharing information after he returned from a trip to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1959. Through the amazing technology that we now have at our fingertips, I recently found a contemporary newsreel account of one of the key events that led Rickover to decide that the US needed to draw a veil around our Navy’s atomic energy program.

Rickover’s participation on Nixon’s trip to the Soviet Union and his two to three hour tour of the Lenin is also described in Francis Duncan’s Rickover, published by the US Naval Institute Press in 2001. With more time and space available, Duncan provides a deeper background about the trip and the tour.

As he tells the story, there was a brief thawing in US – Soviet relations in 1959. As part of the high level discussions taking place during that time, Frol Kozlov, First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, visited the US at the end of June and beginning of July. During his visit, Kozlov received tours of US nuclear facilities including the Shippingport nuclear power station and the Camden shipyard where the NS Savannah was being built.

Admiral Rickover, whose Naval Reactors team had led the Shippingport design and construction project, conducted the tour of that facility and developed a bit of rapport with Mr. Kozlov. Soon after Kozlov’s visit, Vice President Nixon was scheduled for a reciprocal trip to the Soviet Union; the agenda included a tour of the Lenin, a newly constructed icebreaker that was the first Soviet ship powered by nuclear energy.

Nixon’s staff consulted with John McCone, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, to find a technical expert who could also be diplomatic to accompany Nixon on the trip. Despite his reputation as someone who was often not diplomatic and was frequently difficult to deal with, Rickover made the short list of people that McCone recommended. Nixon admired Rickover’s ability to get things done, so he was added to the entourage.

Though Rickover initially asked to include some of his Naval Reactors staff, that request was denied because the diplomats planning the trip did not want to make the vist too technically oriented. Here is a fascinating quote that provides some insight into the tenor of the times and the trip.

Rickover talked to Nixon and won his consent to offer the Soviets a wide ranging agreement to exchange information on all power reactors, all reactors producing fissionable material for weapons, and all nonnaval propulsion reactors.
(Duncan, Francis Rickover, US Naval Institute Press, 2001, pg 162)

As described by a US State Department memorandum of conversation documenting a discussion held in Moscow on July 25, 1959, Rickover told the Russians that the US was willing to share information about many aspects of its nuclear energy program, while carefully exempting essentially all of the program for which Rickover had direct responsibility. The Soviets took that offer under advisement for further discussion and review through the bureaucracy.

Here is a quote from the memo, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety.

Admiral Rickover stated that he was authorized to make arrangements for exchanges on all reactors including those for use in aircraft. The United States would be willing to exchange information on reactors in return for similar or other information from the Soviet Union.

Mr. Kozlov said that this was a very interesting proposition and that it could be considered by the Soviet Government.

Admiral Rickover stated that the United States has plutonium-producing reactors at Hanford and the Savannah River plants. The United States would be willing to exchange information on all types of reactors so that the Soviet Union could see for itself that the United States is willing to turn to peaceful utilization of atomic energy. The United States would like to have quick results in the matters of such exchanges and it is offering them in a spirit of true sincerity. Also, the Admiral continued, the United States is developing at Hanford a dual purpose reactor for the production of plutonium and electric power. The Soviet Union seems to be also designing such a reactor and the United States would be prepared to exchange information on all reactors, including the one just mentioned. The United States would be prepared to open the information and technology on all reactors located on land.

Mr. Kozlov replied that the Soviet Government would consider this proposition and inform the United States of its views.

Aside: Just imagine how different our world might be today if that specific offer had been accepted with some follow through. If US design information about our “dual purpose reactor for the production of plutonium and electric power” had been shared, perhaps a few different choices would have been made in the final design of the RBMK dual purpose reactors. Chernobyl might not have had the same consequences even if all of the the ill-advised operational decisions that actually caused the accident had been made. End Aside.

On July 27, 1959, Nixon and Rickover were initially given a superficial tour of the Lenin that did not provide any real access to the reactor or the propulsion plant. Rickover was not satisfied and pressured his hosts into providing additional access. He spent two to three hours in the plant and took notes about what he saw.

The icebreaker had three pressurized water reactors. Inspecting them as painstakingly as he could, Rickover concluded that the Soviets had much to learn. The reactor compartment was poorly laid out and there was not sufficient attention paid to safety. Physicists, he suspected, were responsible for the shortcomings, and he repeated his longstanding conviction that reactor development was more a matter of engineering than physics. The Lenin looked ready to go to sea, even if the Russians said they had not tested the reactor. Rickover was inclined to disbelieve the statement; if the reactor had not been tested, he would have seen numerous instrumentation and cables. (Later sources stated that the icebreaker was commissioned in 1959.) He thought the Russians probably did not yet have atomic submarines.

The Lenin held one major lesson for Rickover; the layout of the plant, components and auxiliaries were important intelligence targets. He determined that Americans must not allow uncleared individuals or foreign nationals to see their naval nuclear propulsion plants.
(Emphasis added)
(Duncan, Francis Rickover, US Naval Institute Press, 2001, pg 166)

Duncan provided a slightly different version of Rickover’s visit to the Lenin in his book titled Rickover and the Nuclear Navy, published by the US Naval Institute Press in 1990.

Now willing to talk more readily, the Russians told him the Lenin was ready to go to sea at the end of the year. To Rickover, the plant looked rugged, but poorly designed and laid out. The propulsion system consisted of three pressurized-water reactors that would provide heat to the steam plant for four turbine generators. They would provide electrical power to three propulsion motors, each driving a propeller. Rickover thought placing all the reactors in one compartment was bad, for a radiation leak in one would make the others inaccessible. The location of the heat exchangers was poor, and the way the piping ran made some plant components difficult to reach.

After his return home, Rickover testified behind closed doors to a deeply interested joint committee. He thought work on the Lenin was not moving fast; he thought the United States, if it put sufficient effort into the Long Beach could have the world’s first nuclear surface ship. But on a deeper level Rickover was disturbed by the impression he gained, not of the Lenin but of Russian society. He intensely disliked its form of government, but it could decide on a course of action and quickly mobilize the necessary resources. In nuclear propulsion the Americans held the position of leadership; however, there were no grounds for complacency. Convinced that the Russians were far behind, but were able and determined, Rickover saw more reason than ever to protect the technology.
(Duncan, Francis Rickover and the Nuclear Navy, US Naval Institute Press, 1990, p. 177)

Throughout my time as an atomic advocate, I have been careful to avoid discussing any aspects of the Navy’s nuclear power program that were not already unquestionably in the public domain. However, I believe that the basis for the secrecy has been overcome by world events. The excessive classification system should be ended by the people who have the power to make that decision with a few strokes of a pen.

In terms of basic science and engineering, there are no real secrets inside the program, but there is an enormously rich set of tools, knowledgable people, data about complete system performance in unusual situations, understanding about material behavior under extreme conditions (especially high burnup, long life reactors) and carefully designed personnel training systems that could be incredibly useful in civilian applications.

One of the primary assets of the program is ownership of a number of well-proven complete system designs for small nuclear power plants that can be manufactured in factories with proven start-to-finish times measured in a few years rather than a decade or more. These designs have not been licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but they have been approved and operated under a legally available alternative path under the auspices of the Department of Energy.

Like any manufactured product that is built with a very low production rate, naval nuclear propulsion plants are expensive. However, in my opinion, they can be manufactured at a lower cost if built at a more economical production rate with a focus on continuing improvement. I make that statement based on my own experience as an Engineer Officer responsible for training, operations and maintenance of a nuclear propulsion plant, as the former general manager of a small manufacturing facility, and as a former Navy requirements analyst with access to reasonably detailed cost information associated with both initial production and long term maintenance.

With appropriate cost control measures, already proven plants built to Naval Reactors standards can produce reliable power that is competitive in a number of key markets. Examples include: 1) providing reliable, long-term, independent power to remote locations and 2) powering large commercial ships that must currently burn distilled fuel oil. There is an installed base of skilled manufacturing and construction labor that can provide the nucleus for a larger workforce, there are existing, underused manufacturing facilities, and there is a large base of skilled, trained and experienced operators that have proven that they can operate and maintain the plants.

The Cold War ended more than two decades ago. Secrecy about naval nuclear propulsion should be seen as a vestige of a long ago time that is no longer appropriate in a world that could benefit greatly by having access to the flexible, reliable, emission-free systems developed for a valuable commercial application – reliable propulsion and power production that reduces dependence on increasingly costly hydrocarbon fuels.

Just in case you are interested in seeing some of what Rickover might have seen during his tour of the Lenin, I came across a 3-D interactive tour of the ship, which is now a frequently visited museum.

Additional Reading

The Energy Collective (December 2, 2013) Military Continues to Move Forward on Clean Energy by Peter Lehner, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).


PS: I want to task readers with helping fill a gap in documents that can provide additional depth to this story. I found this note at the bottom of the State Department memo about the July 25, 1959 meeting:

An extensive summary of Admiral Rickover’s meeting with Kozlov at Shippingport on July 11, including quotations from their conversation, was published in The New York Times, July 12, 1959. This account notes only that Rickover told Kozlov that all the information at the atomic power plant would be made available to Kozlov, and he gave him a packet of books on the construction, operation, and operating history of the plant.

I am a digital subscriber to the New York Times and frequently use the archive search feature, but when I searched for “Rickover” during the period from July 1 to Aug 1 1959, the only returns were on July 1 and August 1. According to a different State Department memo, there should have also been another article about Rickover’s interactions with the Russians on July 28, 1959. Not finding either article makes me wonder why they are not in the digital archive.

About Rod Adams

66 Responses to “Root cause of Naval Reactors policy of strict secrecy about nuclear propulsion plant design”

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  1. Daniel says:

    Rod,

    Can we say that today, in terms of civil nuclear knowledge, we have a levelled playing field ?

    Russia, France, Japan, South Korea, US and others can all participate and bring new ideas to the table ?

    If you had to rank those afore mentioned countries in terms of civil nuclear expertise, how would the final tally look like ?

  2. Daniel says:

    On a cheery Critmass note:

    Frank Umbach, associate director of the European Center for Energy and Resource Security at King’s College, London, said energy costs in Germany are now driving manufacturing out of the country and to the United States.

    From this article: (Europe is a t risk for energy prices and stability)

    http://www.businessinsider.com/rising-energy-prices-in-europe-could-bring-down-living-standards-2013-12

    • Engineer-Poet says:

      That might explain why there was a spate of hiring for a local manufacturing plant a few weeks ago.

    • EL says:

      From 1999 to 2011, the years with the highest industrial production growth rate in Germany were the last two?

      http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=gm&v=78

      Reuters speaks of a “Revival in German industry” for Q2 of this year. “Immense” by another account. According to Bloomberg, slower economic recovery in Eurozone led to slowing in Q3, but “economy is stable and growing solidly” with an “Upward Trend.”

      Did Umbach pick a bad quarter when he decided to make his assessment? Is business competition or industrial growth rates any better in France (here and here), where energy costs are also rising (primarily to cover large debt and unfunded nuclear liabilities).

      • Brian Mays says:

        Is business competition or industrial growth rates any better in France … , where energy costs are also rising (primarily to cover large debt and unfunded nuclear liabilities).

        EL – Um … last time I checked, France was part of Europe, no? Perhaps you skipped the title, “Experts Warn About A Looming Energy Crisis In Europe“?

        You don’t happen to be blond, are you?

        • EL says:

          @Brian Mays.

          So Germany is an exception to the rest of Europe (contrary to Daniel’s claim). Thanks for making that point very clear.

          Are you just reading headlines these days, or have anything substantive to say to specific points raised in the discussion?

          • Brian Mays says:

            So Germany is an exception to the rest of Europe (contrary to Daniel’s claim).

            EL – Huh? Where did you get that? Yeah … you definitely must be blond.

            Are you just reading headlines these days …

            No, I read the entire article; apparently, you did not. The article mentions Ukraine, Poland, Britain, Romania, Bulgaria, and Czechia in addition to Germany.

            Hey Blondie, since you were having a “moment,” please let me put this in simple terms. Daniel’s point was that most, if not all, of Europe is at risk because of rising energy costs, including both Germany and France.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Brian Mays

            Name calling – even when it is a non-profane insult – is not welcome. Besides, it is a lousy debating technique that reminds me more of elementary school than anything else.

            I see from skimming my view of the comments that this is not the only one that needs a warning today, so please consider that you have received all the warning you will get. Any new comments involving name calling will be deleted.

          • EL says:

            Daniel’s point was that most, if not all, of Europe is at risk because of rising energy costs, including both Germany and France.

            @Brian Mays.

            Why are you pretending Daniel wasn’t raising a specific point about Germany.

            Can’t read, or just trolling for inane arguments on the site?

          • Brian Mays says:

            Blondie – Please explain how Daniel’s comment distinguished Germany from the rest of Europe. The only comparison that the comment makes is between Germany and the US: “energy costs in Germany are now driving manufacturing out of the country and to the United States.”

            For those blond readers out there, I should point out that the United States is not part of Europe. ;-)

            I, at least, evaluate comments according to their own words. Who is the troll here?

          • EL says:

            Who is the troll here?

            Good question. If you can’t bring yourself to follow the conversation that others have started (as a basic requirement of your participation), and you are only engaging in name calling, I think you have your answer.

            It sounds pretty black and white to me. Then again, with “blond” as your favorite character attack of late, I’m starting to wonder if you might be color blind as well.

          • Brian Mays says:

            If you can’t bring yourself to follow the conversation

            Blondie – In case you haven’t noticed, I was the one following the conversation. You’re the artful dodger. Now please don’t dodge this query again: Please explain how Daniel’s comment distinguished Germany from the rest of Europe.

            If it’s so “black and white,” then please explain it to me. Thank you in advance.

            If I have to resort to “name calling,” it’s because you haven’t bothered to provide your real name for me to use. So, to me, “Blondie” is just as good as “EL.” How is any one fake alias any different than another?

          • EL says:

            Please explain how Daniel’s comment distinguished Germany from the rest of Europe.

            @Brian Mays.

            Are you serious …

            Did you miss the point where Daniel talks about “energy costs in Germany” driving “manufacturing out of country” and to a foreign country (that is not Europe).

            He even provided a quote from Umbach (and the article where it appears) to make this claim, and Umbach specifically contrasts energy polices in Germany and Great Britain as divergent approaches.

            When you are through wasting all of our time, and just reading for yourself (and paying closer attention), please let us know. Some of us actually care about these things, and wish to talk about it in a substantive and meaningful way. Minimizing the inane and senseless back and forth and childish taunts would really help (I’m not sure why this is so difficult for you)?

        • Brian Mays says:

          Daniel linked to an article that begins: “Europe, at present the world’s largest market and largest economic bloc, is in decline and living standards are in danger. That was the sober message at an energy conference here, delivered by a battery of speakers from across eastern Europe.”

          Then, I wrote: “Please explain how Daniel’s comment distinguished Germany from the rest of Europe.”

          EL replied:

          Did you miss the point where Daniel talks about “energy costs in Germany” driving “manufacturing out of country” and to a foreign country (that is not Europe).

          Non sequitur much, EL? If that was your point, then … yes … I missed it, as would any sane person. But if you think that I’m “wasting all of our time,” then you should refrain from responding further to any of these comments on this topic. Go bleach your roots instead.

          Some of us actually care about these things, and wish to talk about it in a substantive and meaningful way.

          Then the “some of us” must not include you. Your only purpose is to spread eristic crap, as you have demonstrated here again and again and again.

          • EL says:

            @Brian Mays.

            Daniel made a comment about rising energy costs in Germany (and this possibly leading to industrial offshoring) … what about the English language do you NOT understand?

            Erstic crap … please look in the mirror.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @EL

        From 1999 to 2011, the years with the highest industrial production growth rate in Germany were the last two?

        Okay, so 2010 and 2011 were pretty good years. Germany was building lots of new renewable energy capacity and had only just – in mid 2011 – decided to shut down 8 of its older and smaller nuclear plants.

        The Llewellyn King article that Daniel pointed to is dated December 3, 2013. It quotes a man who is observing current events and using the word “now”, not someone who is reviewing delayed statistics issued by government bodies.

        I don’t think either you or Daniel is wrong; I am just pointing out that you are not talking about the same time frame. Please feel free to correct me, but haven’t there been at least two substantial increases in retail electricity prices since the end of 2011 and aren’t many of Germany’s smaller manufacturers still required to pay those levies?

        • EL says:

          The Llewellyn King article that Daniel pointed to is dated December 3, 2013. It quotes a man who is observing current events and using the word “now”, not someone who is reviewing delayed statistics issued by government bodies … Please feel free to correct me …

          Correct … and this is why I included articles dealing with 2nd and 3rd quarters for 2013.

          If the trend is “upwards” for 3 years, “immense” in contrast with the rest of Europe (including France), where is there support for Daniel’s argument (and Brian Mays if he had one)?

          De-industrialization is not taking place in Germany. It’s actually showing robust growth vis a vis it’s Eurozone neighbors. Projections are for positive GDP growth for Q4 (driven by domestic demand and all those folks happily earning a wage and busy at work).

          • ZachF says:

            http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?querytype=view&queryname=90

            German industrial production is flat since 2011. It’s doing “better” than the rest of Europe, but that’s not saying much… Europe is a sclerotic basket case.

            The German economy will likely grow ~0.5% this year, similar to last year. Who knows next year, except that Europe generally continues to disappoint.

            Growth projections have been continually-over optimistic for every European country for the last 3 years. Recent German outperformance is entirely because of a de-facto currency devaluation against some of it’s largest trading partners by forming a currency union with economies who have higher structural inflation rates, who in a few years later became uncompetitive. One way or another this will end, either in a breakup of the Euro with a large appreciation of the new German currency, or a longer deflationary process in the uncompetitive economies, and Germany’s recent industrial growth will reverse as quick as it ascended.

      • ZachF says:

        “From 1999 to 2011, the years with the highest industrial production growth rate in Germany were the last two?

        http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=gm&v=78

        Do the math homie. According to your source German industrial production fell 15% in 2009, Then grew 9% in 2010 and 8% in 2011.

        0.85×1.09×1.08 = 1.0006

        It only grew 0.1% in 2008 too.

        http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?querytype=view&queryname=90

        2012 German industrial production actually fell 0.6% and 2013 looks at best unchanged.

        1.001×0.85×1.09×1.08×0.995×1 = 0.9966

        So German industry HAS NOT GROWN AT ALL SINCE 2007.

        • Bas says:

          ZachF
          I do not understand your point.

          1999 to 2011 is a 12 year period, and you calculate with 3 years?
          Of course those are bad (US delivered us a crisis). Most of the other EU countries did worse (incl NL).

          So what do you want to show?

          • Brian Mays says:

            I do not understand your point. 1999 to 2011 is a 12 year period, and you calculate with 3 years? … So what do you want to show?

            Bas – It’s simple enough to understand — except perhaps for people who are completely innumerate.

            Two of those three years are “the last two … with the highest industrial production growth rate in Germany” that EL mentioned. The third year explains why this production growth rate was “the highest.”

            In other words, EL was cherry-picking. ZackF was merely providing context.

            In the big picture, the overall trend has been flat. During the period from 2002 to 2011, the overall trend is equivalent to a steady growth rate of only 1.3%. Recent highs have been offset by antecedent lows.

          • EL says:

            In other words, EL was cherry-picking. ZackF was merely providing context.

            Ugh. You’re going to turn blue in the face trying to find some far fetched logic to suggest Germany isn’t the strongest economy in the Eurozone, perhaps even an exception, and France is not in economic decline. But keep trying. Anybody want to guess what color comes after blue?

            Excluding his fatalism, ZackF seems to be suggesting that a bit of price inflation in electricity rates, increased domestic demand, and lower industrial exports might be a good thing for Germany (and for Eurozone economies in general). Is this the context you were talking about. Because it sure doesn’t sound like it.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            I am less impressed with Germany’s economic performance than you. Yes, it seems to be doing far better than its neighbors, but I am not sure how that demonstrates anything but the fact that a “beggar thy neighbor” economic strategy can work for a while.

            Germany is supposedly a leader in the Eurozone, but the performance of the Eurozone has been far less than acceptable to anyone. As a guy who took his first leadership class as a freshman in college and held increasing positions of assigned leadership, it’s pretty obvious that Germany is failing. After all, one judges a leader by the performance of the team being led, not by measures that focus on individual aspects of the leader.

          • Brian Mays says:

            You’re going to turn blue in the face trying to find some far fetched logic to suggest Germany isn’t the strongest economy in the Eurozone, …

            Blondie – I don’t know what ADD meds you are on, but I think that it’s time to refill the prescription. I was simply explaining the context of a comment posted by ZackF (a comment that I notice that you conveniently chose to ignore). When it comes to his opinion about Germany and Europe, I think that he summed it up best here:

            “Germany has a stronger economy, yes, but being one of the strongest in Europe nowadays is like being the tallest midget.”

            How the hell you manage to delude yourself into believing that this constitutes some sort of suggestion that “Germany isn’t the strongest economy in the Eurozone” is something that you’ll need to reconcile with your priest or your psychiatrist or your neighbor’s dog or the voices in your head or whatever. Until then, please leave the rest of us alone and seek professional help. Thanks.

          • ZachF says:

            “Excluding his fatalism, ZackF seems to be suggesting that a bit of price inflation in electricity rates, increased domestic demand, and lower industrial exports might be a good thing for Germany (and for Eurozone economies in general). Is this the context you were talking about. Because it sure doesn’t sound like it.”

            No, it shows that your really don’t have a firm grasp of economics. The rebalancing process will be bad for Germany because the entire upswing was artificial. Germany has in effect been generating it’s growth at the expense of it’s neighbors. The rebalancing will be good for Europe but bad for Germany.

            Here is a piece by Michael Pettis of China Financial Markets, easily one of the best economic bloggers out there, and it sums the whole situation up perfectly.

            http://www.creditwritedowns.com/2013/05/excess-german-savings-not-thrift-caused-the-european-crisis.html

            “This has happened not just in China but also in Germany. In the 1990s Germany could be described as saving too little. It often ran current account deficits during the decade, which means that the country imported capital to fund domestic investment. A country’s current account deficit is simply the difference between how much it invests and how much it saves, and Germans in the 1990s did not always save enough to fund local investment.

            But this changed in the first years of the last decade. An agreement among labor unions, businesses and the government to restrain wage growth in Germany (which dropped from 3.2 percent in the decade before 2000 to 1.1 percent in the decade after) caused the household income share of GDP to drop and, with it, the household consumption share. Because the relative decline in German household consumption powered a relative decline in overall German consumption, German saving rates automatically rose.

            Notice that German savings rate did not rise because German households decided that they should prepare for a difficult future in the eurozone by saving more. German household preferences had almost nothing to do with it. The German savings rate rose because policies aimed at restraining wage growth and generating employment at home reduced household consumption as a share of GDP.

            As national saving soared, the German economy shifted from not having enough savings to cover domestic investment needs to having, after 2001, such high savings that not only could it finance all of its domestic investment needs but it had to invest abroad by exporting large and growing amounts of savings. As it did so its current account surplus soared, to 7.5 percent of GDP in 2007. Martin Wolf, in an excellent Financial Times article on Wednesday on the subject, points out that:

            ‘between 2000 and 2007, Germany’s current account balance moved from a deficit of 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product to a surplus of 7.5 per cent. Meanwhile, offsetting deficits emerged elsewhere in the eurozone. By 2007, the current account deficit was 15 per cent of GDP in Greece, 10 per cent in Portugal and Spain, and 5 per cent in Ireland.’

            It is tempting to interpret Germany’s actions as the kind of far-sighted and prudent actions that every country should have followed in order to keep growth rates high and workers employed, but it turns out that these policies did not solve unemployment pressures in Europe, and this is implied in the second sentence of Martin Wolf’s piece. Germany merely shifted unemployment from Germany to elsewhere. How? Because Germany’s export of surplus savings was simply the flip side of policies that forced the country into running a current account surplus.”

          • EL says:

            The rebalancing process will be bad for Germany because the entire upswing was artificial. Germany has in effect been generating it’s growth at the expense of it’s neighbors.

            @ ZackF

            Germany made a number of strategic choices in it’s labor market at the beginning of 2000 (which the article details well), and other countries did not. Other countries took advantage of the low cost of borrowing and removal of currency risk to run up large deficits, and are currently saddled with very high labor costs. I’m not sure why you are calling these economic conditions “artificial.” There is clearly a monetary argument to be made here (a la Friedman and balance of trade), but there are other factors at play too and strategic choices made at the state level on regulatory, investment, labor, and trade policies.

            German economic growth in Q3 was driven by rising domestic demand. Projections are for current account surpluses to drop in 2014 and 2015 (and economic growth to increase). Rebalancing is already taking place and OECD would already like to see further steps taken: “Structural reforms to deregulate professional services, remove barriers to full-time female employment and further improve access to tertiary education would all strengthen growth and contribute to global rebalancing …”

            It’s fine to pick on the big guy (and Germany is by a significant margin the largest and most dominant player in the room), but there are other players who are also running larger and more persistent current account surpluses (Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway). For one country (Germany) to import more doesn’t make a lot of sense (given the circumstances). It’s unlikely to benefit high debt countries with broken labor markets, and it’s more likely to lead to greater incentives for offshoring and primary benefits to China, Russia, and Japan. To say that Germany is negotiating this terrain poorly is to miss a whole lot of the economic forest (for just a few of the green leafy trees).

            If rebalancing is important for Germany (and for Europe as a whole), I don’t really follow your argument that rising domestic consumption in Germany (energy rates, infrastructure, wage growth, etc.) isn’t a significant factor in the emerging picture? I understand you think the Euro is a bad idea (and what perhaps underpins this from your perspective), but the Euro isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And I’m uncertain why you think something like Energiewende is a problem for Germany (more than it is actually a solution given the picture you have painted and your very relevant and informative grasp of the economics)?

          • Bas says:

            @ZachF
            … the entire upswing was artificial. Germany has in effect been generating it’s growth at the expense of it’s neighbors…
            This story came first from Greece ~2years ago. Real nonsense.

            Germany made its economy more competitive in line with the Lisbon agreements. Southern euro countries did not keep their promises…

            Making Germany less competitive or stimulate more consumption will not help, as Germany then imports more from us (NL) or China or US or … Because the southern EU countries then still cannot compete against UK or Poland or …

            Typical; Dutch tomatoes competed Italian tomatoes off the German market. If the Germans consume more tomatoes it won’t help Italy.

            Only making those weak economies more competitive helps.

            Take Greece.
            Greece raised salaries, etc. so much that tourists (incl. myself) decided that other countries (Turkey for me) offer more for less money.
            Even after 3 years of promised austerity, Greece still cannot compete against Turkey.
            In addition Greece government is a heavy burden for the country due to structural favoritism (high costs, bad services).
            To a lesser extend this also applies for Spain and Portugal.

            Note that before the euro those countries (incl. Italy and to lesser extent France) went in default or devalued their currency from time to time, as they could not organize government finance decently. This is primarily a cultural issue, which may take decades to correct.

            Ireland is an accident similar as Iceland, their banks ruined the country.
            So Ireland is now running well again.

            Btw.
            At the start of the euro, it should have made clear that other euro countries would not help a country that would run into problems. Then the interest rates for Greece, Spain, etc. would have stayed high, preventing such high government deficits. Still, Greece may have gone in default with a deep but short crisis and would now be competitive again (compare the past and e.g. Argentina).
            With the Cyprus crisis we made the first step in that far better direction.

        • Bas says:

          Suggest you consider these economic figures as indicators with limited value.

          My impression as citizen of the Netherlands (NL):

          As far as I can remember, reading the papers here, USA nearly always had better economic (grow, productivity improvement, etc) figures than NL since ~1980 (probably earlier also).

          Yet:
          - I saw number of US tourists here going down (now more Japanese, Chinese);
          – Around 2000 US business partners were complaining about the high costs here in NL (especially cars and car fuel; fuel tax should be much higher, the US low prices are a shame for the climate)
          – USA once exceptional expensive for us, is now a cheap country for holidays Cheaper hotels with more luxury rooms, cheaper restaurants, etc.
          – In ~1992 the euro was ~$0.90. Now the euro is ~$1.30

          How can this happen??
          Despite:
          – better grow rates of USA and also better productivity grow figures.
          – we having much longer holidays. In general those are now shorter (min.~5 weeks), but during 20years we had holidays up to 8weeks (I arranged some more).
          – in general having better pensions, going into retirement at an av. age of 63-64 now (going up) while becoming 2years older than people in USA (so 2 years longer pension payment).
          ??
          What is the value of these indicators if you try to compare prosperity grow here with that in USA? Are there better indicators?

          • Brian Mays says:

            My impression as citizen of the Netherlands (NL): … USA nearly always had better economic …. figures than NL since ~1980 … Yet: I saw number of US tourists here going down …

            Bas – Have you ever considered that this anecdotal statistic could be the result of a relaxation of drug laws in the US (e.g., the legalization of “medical marijuana,” mostly on the West Coast of the US)?

            I hate to break it to you, but many tourists visit the Netherlands — not for the tulips — but primarily for two things: pot and whores. That’s what you’re known for by the rest of the world. It’s not at all surprising that the East Asians have recently discovered this trove of opportunity.

          • ZachF says:

            “In ~1992 the euro was ~$0.90. Now the euro is ~$1.30″

            Bas, in 1992 the Euro didn’t exist. It was launched in 1999 at a value of around $1.20 US.

            The Dutch Guilder traded at about G1.75 = $1.00 US in 1992, it was exchanged for the Euro at G2.2 = E1.00.

            2.2/1.75 = 1.26

            The exchange rate hasn’t changed that much.

            All you offer is a bunch of anecdotal nothing to counter real figures because your perception bias can’t handle the truth. your fantasies are your reality.

            “we having much longer holidays. In general those are now shorter (min.~5 weeks), but during 20years we had holidays up to 8weeks (I arranged some more).”

            US workers are more productive per hour than any other except Norway and Luxembourg, small countries with outsized resource and financial sectors.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_hour_worked

          • Bas says:

            Brian
            :-) Nice idea. A pity for our weed business and women.
            So you should make your laws more severe.
            Good for our income (the whores and pot business pay taxes).

            But their numbers also went down in Switzerland (Swiss climbing friends).
            Three years ago I went skiing in Switzerland (Zermatt) many Japanese & Chinese, no Americans. Spent a week skiing there also in ~1978, then Americans were the biggest group from outside W-Europe.
            I have same impression in France, Germany, Spain too.

          • Bas says:

            @ZachF
            You are right! Memory served me bad.
            Since 1988 I got involved in business with US HQ companies, all quoted and billed in ECU. That ECU later (~1999) changed into the euro which got real notes and coins. That euro became less than a US$, then revitalized.
            And I remembered that increase, as that hampered our business with US because our prices became ~20-30% higher only through the exchange rate. Did cost me a bonus.

            I know the statistical figures, that is why my experience feels so strange.
            Last year I was 5 weeks on holiday with my family through CA, NV, UT, CO, AZ.
            Cost me ~ same as 3 weeks in France (except the plane).

            While GDP per capita of USA ~46K, NL ~41K, France 34K (2009 fig. in $). So USA should be ~10% more expensive than NL and more compared to France (France is ~10% cheaper than NL).

          • ZachF says:

            “While GDP per capita of USA ~46K, NL ~41K, France 34K (2009 fig. in $). So USA should be ~10% more expensive than NL and more compared to France (France is ~10% cheaper than NL).”

            That’s not how it works…

          • Twominds says:

            Reply to Brian: Come on, are you seriously thinking people will fly 6000 miles for some pot? Ridiculous. Pot and whores are available everywhere, they didn’t need to come all the way to NL for that.

            The Asians are coming for the Grand Tour Europe, they start having the money for it these last decades. Just like the Americans did before them, and within Europe itself, the wealthy English did the Grand Tour of France and Italy in the 18th and 19th century. High and low culture both.

            You can dis the European (and Dutch) economy, because it is still rubbish. You can dis our energy decisions because they’re crazy. But don’t you characterise the Netherlands as just pot, whores and tulips. That’s just as stupid as when I would say that all Americans are fat, junk food gobbling, trigger happy dimwits with base ball caps.

          • Brian Mays says:

            Last year I was 5 weeks on holiday with my family through CA, NV, UT, CO, AZ. Cost me ~ same as 3 weeks in France (except the plane).

            Bas – France has a VAT. The US does not (yet). And that’s before you consider the exchange rate between currencies.

            But geez … you really don’t understand economics, do you?

            Three years ago I went skiing in Switzerland (Zermatt) many Japanese & Chinese, no Americans.

            So what? Several years ago, I went skiing in the French Alps. There were no Americans (other than myself and a few friends) and hardly any French either. Most of the chalets in the valley were owned by Brits, and the local businesses imported help all the way from Australia and New Zealand (seasonal work, of course) to get native English speakers who could speak enough French to get along.

            Who the tourists are depends on where you go. The next valley over, the situation would have been completely different.

            Come on, are you seriously thinking people will fly 6000 miles for some pot? Ridiculous.

            Twominds – Of course that’s ridiculous! But that’s not what I said.

            But don’t you characterise the Netherlands as just pot, whores and tulips.

            You forgot the windmills and wooden shoes, but I was just giving the tourist’s perception. The characterization was not at all meant to be comprehensive. If you’re traveling to Europe, why go to the Netherlands? France is not far away and is much prettier, which is why France is the most popular tourist destination in the world.

            The entire time I lived in Europe, I didn’t visit the Netherlands even once, because (1) I don’t smoke pot, and (2) I didn’t need any professional help to keep my dance card full.

            If people aren’t going there to buy pot, then why are there so many Dutch “coffee shops” along the German and Belgium borders?

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Brian Mays

            You’re exposing a rather unattractive provincialism. There are many sights to see in the Netherlands; my wife and I spent a very pleasant week there a few years ago. I engage in neither of the activities you’re talking about. Besides, I’m pretty sure coffee houses are being phased out.

          • Twominds says:

            To Brian about pot: of course people come to the coffeeshops near the borders, they come specifically for that. Just like Californians go to Nevada to gamble. The effect of different laws and regulations. But they’re not tourists, just customers for this specific stuff. Tourists do gawk in the red light district of course, but the ones that wouldn’t visit a whore or smoke pot at home, won’t do it here either.
            If this part of the reputation of the Netherlands is what kept you from visiting, its a pity that you didn’t try to look further than that. You did miss some things that France can’t give you.
            Rod: the laws and regulations about coffeeshops are complex and sometimes contradict each other. It’s a classical ‘head ache’ issue. They’re not phased out but regulation tries to minimise the negative sides of it without forbidding it altoghether. With mixed results.
            And I think that’s enough off topic on this blog.

          • Brian Mays says:

            You’re exposing a rather unattractive provincialism.

            Rod – Indeed I would be, if my tongue were not firmly implanted in my cheek. :-P

            If anyone is exhibiting unattractive provincialism, it’s Bas Gresnigt. I swear to goodness, I think that he actually believes most of what he writes.

            Besides, I’m pretty sure coffee houses are being phased out.

            Yeah, I see a news article about it every now and then. To tell you the truth, I don’t follow it too closely.

          • Bas says:

            Brian,
            There is some restructuring of coffeehouses in towns at our borders with Belgium, as all the French & Belgian cars driving in- out town, cause trouble.
            Further the ones near schools have to stop or move farther away from school.
            This resulted in ~5% less coffeehouses.
            That is it.

            As far as I know, further discussion/change stopped the moment it became clear that majority of the citizens want to tax and hence legalize the weed.

    • starvinglion says:

      Manufacturing will be leaving Nuclear France too…at least that which is not fortunate enough to have state support. Manufacturing growth requires hydrocarbons and nuclear only produces electricity. Why do you think Japan wastes so much funds on gas hydrate recovery.

  3. John Hughes says:

    I was a Navy nuke, class of 7204. When I and other students got to the prototype S1W for training, we were told that all of our notes had to be written on the school’s paper that had bold red lines, and that all of our notes were to be treated as confidential. No little personal tablets (called “paper brains”) were allowed. There was a story going around that the reason for this policy was Rickover’s visit to a Soviet ship, which might have been the one in your footage.

    • Jim Rogers says:

      Class 70-4 at D1G. Broke my heart when we had to burn all those meticulously taken notes. Best notes I ever had from any class ever. Of course, not having any text books and having the notes dictated to you helped. Also, being required to write it all down helped.

    • Reese says:

      Your comment is at the heart of Mr. Adams’ post. That and Jim Rogers’.

      “In terms of basic science and engineering, there are no real secrets inside the program.” — Adams

      Yet all our meticulous notes are gone. I wish I still had them. (Class 8304, S5G– Damn! That was a cold 6 of 9 months.)

  4. mjd says:

    Rod, I find it interesting that the discussion in the referenced State Department memo points out a major stumbling block in the free exchange of info, as stated by the Russian Mr. Kozlov, was a “trust” issue over the US position on formation of the USSR, specifically mentioning the Ukraine. So 50 plus years later that issue still exists, with the battle for the Ukraine to either become more democratic and join the EU or align with Russia in Putin’s new (old) Russian federation. The more things change….

  5. James Greenidge says:

    I dunno. In my eyes Rickover just acted as I’d think those in charge would believe any advantage against the opposition should be held close to one’s vest. I just can’t Monday morning quarterback him for that. Rather, to me, the chief culprits who prevented nuclear energy from first gaining a peaceful image and inspire power reactors were who clamped security down on CP-1 and its descendants. This was as senseless to me as Yeager thought why his X-1 flight was kept top secret. It didn’t hint how it was done, just that he did it. Such could’ve made a world of difference in atomic perception long before the bomb stained it. I mean we’d “Amazing Story” paperbacks about atom-powered spaceships and robots years before CP-1 (like “Helen O’Loy”) and “formalizing” nuclear power’s reality to the public with that familiar pop fiction backdrop would’ve really made the word atomic gleam instead being taken like a curse.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  6. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Cool post, Rod! I love the newsreel clip particularly.

    I think I don’t agree with your conclusions, but I’d have to spend more time with the post to be sure.

    One thought, provoked by other conversations I’ve had recently: It is very hard when you’re working from historical sources to get the atmosphere – the feelings and expectations current at the time. The martial music on the newsreel is one indicator. I’m seeing things being said or speculated about the late fifties and early sixties (not here) that are tone-deaf, because the people don’t “get” the atmosphere of the time.

    OTOH, those of us who were there might have been exposed to only a portion of that atmosphere. But it is hard to get it from articles and even newsreels.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Cheryl Rofer

      Glad you enjoyed the newsreel.

      I think I don’t agree with your conclusions, but I’d have to spend more time with the post to be sure.

      My primary conclusions are that the Cold War is over and it is time to consider lifting the veil of secrecy. An opinion that follows from those conclusions is that naval nuclear propulsion plants could produce competitive power in certain markets.

      Do you disagree with my main conclusions or the opinion that I shared given those observations?

      • Cheryl Rofer says:

        Sorry I disappeared. Real life intervened, as well as debunking a lot of nonsense being promulgated about the stolen Co-60 source in Mexico. Here’s the post I wrote on that.

        You’ve done a nice job of presenting the ups and downs of paranoia during the Cold War. First Rickover persuades the President to allow him to offer a wide information exchange. Then he sees what the Soviets have and reconsiders. Very likely the same kind of back and forth was happening on the Soviet side, too. And there were even bigger ups and downs. The thaw of 1959 was rapidly replaced by competitive bomb-testing. But a few years later, both sides signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibiting nuclear tests in the atmosphere.

        The Cold War is over, but some of that paranoia remains on both sides. And both sides still have large nuclear arsenals aimed at each other. Foolish, I agree, but it’s a reality. Most of Rickover’s reasons for wanting to keep the information secret are gone, but not all, and some others have crept in.

        Naval reactors run on highly enriched uranium, bomb grade. Encouraging growth in numbers of reactors using HEU is against current American and Russian policy. Both countries are taking back fuel from research reactors using HEU and helping the owners to convert the reactors to LEU.

        There has been collaboration between Russia and America on small reactors; one of the collaborative projects has been on space reactors.

        Additionally, classification has tightened up in America since 2001. That’s both because of 9/11 and because some of the declassification efforts of the 1990s seemed to have gone too far.

        So, looking at the realities, your preferred declassification isn’t likely to happen any time soon. The way to make it happen, perhaps, would be to increase collaboration with the Russians on small reactors. But Russia is becoming resistant to more collaboration in these areas; they see selling reactors as a moneymaker, and they don’t want to share their secrets.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Cheryl

          There is no reason why cores made of LEU cannot be fitted into the pressure vessels of naval reactors. They would not be lifetime cores, but commercial operators probably wouldn’t want those anyway. Businesses pay more attention to the time value of money.

          If Russians are smart enough to recognize the commercial value of KLT-40′s why shouldn’t we interested in exploring the commercial value of nuclear propulsion plants?

          My method for encouraging the action I want to see is to write about it, talk about it, and engage in behind the scenes actions to support others interested in similar progress.

  7. Mitch says:

    Responses to “Root cause of Naval Reactors policy of strict secrecy about nuclear propulsion plant design”

    Then why bother lifting the ban if all these sub secrets you people know is long obsolete anyway??

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Mitch

      Did you read the post? There is nothing “obsolete” about the technology, the training, and the manufacturing capability. What I said was that there was nothing actually secret about the science involved.

      Take a look, for example, at big screen TVs. Lots of companies know how to make them; that does not diminish the fact that they are useful devices that provide a great deal of pleasure for millions of people and that millions of the devices are being sold every year.

      • Bas says:

        Rod,
        US (and Dutch) subs were far more silent than those of USSR. So our subs could hear and position those of USSR long before they could hear us.

        Apart from things such as the propeller design, I would assume details of the technology of energy generation have influence on vibrations. And vibrations seems to me very important for a sub that doesn’t want to be detected & located.
        So I can imagine it is still important that those stay secret.

        Or do I make a mistake here?

  8. Chris says:

    In retrospect this secrecy may have created a lot of value. If now the US aggressively patented all the innovative features of these reactors it could create a great portfolio. Conversely, in a first to file world, I would be concerned that it may be possible for outside parties to patent these innovations–which seems to raise all sorts of issues. It seems that by postponing patenting for decades, the protected period has effectively been extended into a time where the number of potential licensees and hence the commercial value of the technology has been greatly enhanced.
    None of the foregoing is legal opinion.

    • jmdesp says:

      If the methods are publicly known since more than one year, they can’t be patented anymore.

      I think they are a number of patents already in fact, I saw some time ago a Japanese patent about load following-able plants using “grey” control rods (which I was convinced until then was a fully French idea), and recently was referred to a patent about damage used fuel repair methods (as answer to a question I had if the US had methods to handle damaged used fuel rods, like the ones in the fuel pool at Fukushima, I thought it quite likely Tepco was not the only company to have mismanaged them sometimes).

      • Atomikrabbit says:

        Always glad to help a pro-nuclear francophone J-M! (my second-favorite tongue)

        • jmdesp says:

          Yes, sorry, I could have been more precise and said Atomikrabbit sent me the reference to that patent :-)

          • Atomikrabbit says:

            For the curious, the Westinghouse patent is here:
            http://t.co/pzfItXg6JE

            BTW, Westinghouse PWRs originally had part-length control rods for flux shaping and load following. I think all plants have removed them now.

            The AP-1000s design incorporates “gray rods” for the same purpose.

  9. Tom Bearden says:

    A well researched and well written article about the early days of nuclear energy and how we arrived at the place we are today.

    In my two decade career in the DOE nuclear weapons complex, including five years with a “Q” clearance, I also saw how a slavish devotion to information security can stifle innovation and productive use of technology for peaceful uses. Now that the Cold War has been over for more than two decades, now is right time for the US Government to re-think its policy of absolute secrecy for all things nuclear. Let’s be honest with ourselves. All the secrets useful to potential enemies have already been divulged. We can do better.

  10. Conrad Knauer says:

    I contacted the NY Times regarding the negative search results and sent a brief tweet about the outcome, but for those interested here:


    Dear Reader,

    Thank you for writing to NYTimes.com.

    Yes, this article is difficult to find. I do apologize for the inconvenience. Here is the link to the article that is referenced.

    http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9401E6DD143BEF3BBC4A52DFB1668382649EDE

    Best,
    Jennifer Parrucci

  11. BobinPgh says:

    Rod, let me guess, is your Adams Atomic Engine kind of like what is in nuclear submarines? If it is a secret, how will it ever be marketed?

    • Rod Adams says:

      @BobinPgh

      Bad guess. The Adams Engine has nothing in common with submarine power plants other than fact that both use fission. Different fuel form, different coolant, different thermodynamic cycle, and different method of moving power to shaft.