1. Although I like the concept of these small reactors……

    Gawd forbid the army gets an inventory of them, considering the history of their ability to be responsible stewards of the environment. Their idea of hazardous material disposal is “out of sight, out of mind”. Either dump it in the ocean, or dig a hole. And how many would we simply abandon to the “enemy” when we turn tail and run from one of our disastrous military misadventures?

  2. The date at the end of the film is 1963, not 1969.

    The irony is that fuel is an ever-more-costly part of military operations, and advances like custom zeolite absorbers appear to make it feasible to harvest CO2 from the atmosphere to produce hydrocarbon fuels… yet the military’s nuclear program is AFAIK dead outside the Navy.

  3. It certainly does seem strange that the promise of the film was totally unfulfilled. Makes me wonder whether some other country not controlled by fossil fuel and environmental folks can pick up this ball and run with it. The science is largely public domain. The expiration of the patent is one example.

  4. “I remain convinced that the fission gas turbine is an attractive way to use an emission free, compact, low priced fuel with a simple power conversion system. The combination should result in zero emissions, long refueling intervals, passive safety, moderate capital costs, extreme simplicity, compact size and reasonable system weight.”

    I agreed back when I first read your articles about this, and I still agree today.

    The concept of reliable, portable nuclear power seems too good to ignore. One imagines that such reactors are installed in developing countries in remote locations instead of the conventional alternative: diesel gensets. Then, when the grid finally arrives at such locations, the atomic engine can be picked up and moved further downrange to await the arrival of the grid once more.

    In this era where greenhouse gas emissions are increasingly coming from developing countries desperate to increase electricity access as quickly and cheaply as possible, it seems obvious that this kind of compact, portable, emission-free technology has an essential and bona fide role to play. Therefore I continue to think that sooner or later the Adams Engine – or something similar – will become a commercial reality. There are indications that it will.

    1. That would work only in developing countries where the political environment is stable. You don’t want small reactors around in countries where there is a lot of sabotage activity. Those countries that have active guerilla warfare would be a bad choice because assets like power generation and transmission are usually the first targets of those groups.

      1. On the other hand, there is a general trend to increasing political stability with increasing access to electricity. It’s not by any means universally valid, but as a broad generalization I think it holds water.

  5. Rod,

    Other than this video, do you have any of the other history of the ML-1? Were more than 1 ever made? Did any ever get used in military service? At what point did the Army decide they “didn’t need” it? Who was involved in the decision within either DoD, the Administration, or Congress to not fund this program? I think that would be interesting stuff to know.

    I don’t know if any of that info is even still available, but because it’s been so long, perhaps some of that information could be obtained through FOIA requests?

    1. @Jeff S

      There is not too much information available.


      Only one was ever produced. I have a couple of papers in my library. One of those hard to find papers is now available online: http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/4673605

      I also came across a guy who was an engineer on the project soon after graduating from college. We exchanged several emails that provided interesting details, but he also reminded me that he was in his seventies and he had worked on the project when he was just 23 years old.

      1. A good way to kill off the antiproliferationist lobby in DC would be to revive this proposal – the thought of 93% enriched uranium driving around through the countryside on flatbeds would make their heads explode.

  6. Roughly what kind of capital cost per watt would you envision for the “Adams Engine” if if could be made today in small production quantities?

    1. @Godel

      We envisioned a system where the capital cost might eventually approach that of a complete combustion turbine power plant located in an area without existing natural gas pipelines. (Complete meaning that the capital cost of plant specific fuel supply infrastructure is included.)

  7. I loved the video and am saddened that this technology never took off. I have dreamed of a power source like this. Thank you for sharing this information.

  8. The video is interesting, though a bit short on technical details for the gas turbine, but don’t show it to any antinukes! It makes it look like the best purpose for an SMR is to keep endless columns of huge military vehicles trundling round the planet – the word ‘ Vietnam ‘ even made an appearance. I was reminded of Freeman Dyson’s account of working on the concept of a ship-sized spacecraft powered by small fission bombs shoving on a pusher plate. Their motto was ‘Saturn by 1970’. Unfortunately there was no military use at all for it. Somebody made a model of the thing loaded up with nuclear missiles, as a sort of 1960’s Death Star, and showed it to President Kennedy, who promptly killed the program.

  9. ML-1 design details are about non existent on the internet. I’m wondering how decay heat is removed when the thing is moved? If it requires AC power it about has to be tethered to an electric power source for several years. If it’s by natural circ, I’d like to see how. This would seem to be the pinch point in any mobile SMR design. If you can’t “walk away” it is impractical. Once it was operated, and generated a power history, it would be an albatross around the neck of the owner.

    1. @mjd

      Spoken like a true “big plant” operator.

      The thermal power of ML-1 was just 3 MWth. Getting rid of less than 1% of that through conduction to and convection with the surrounding air is not a big hurdle. The surface of the reactor shield might have been a little warm to the touch, but the hottest points inside the core would be well below operating temperature limits.

      It’s true that not all technical reports on the device have been scanned onto the internet, but there are reports and reasonably detailed design papers on dead trees available in dusty library basements.

      1. Thanks, good perspective, and I considered that possibility. I also qualified (and taught) on S1C in 1967, at 20MWt. And I put it through a refuel where they snatched the whole core in one lift, but still needed externally supported DHR capability. If you don’t need much electric power direct conversion works, like for space vehicles. I still think it is a trade off issue for SMRs. Some applications may be OK, but to be truly portable, if it won’t “naturally cool” DH it doesn’t seem practical. But without a market, it won’t be developed. I’m not saying it can’t be done, just saying the potential market niche seems small at SMR level. Especially considering the outrageous certification costs.

        Even the dead tree archives are becoming rare. NRC is digitized only back to 1980, pre-that, you pay ~$0.85 per page for a copy of a microfiche page. Not much I want to know at that price. What is a real shame is the few folks who created that history, and are still with us, are not being debriefed more. And there is no central location point to capture the information for reference. In about a decade the first hand history will be lost forever.

  10. You make me think of two things.

    The first is, of course, the “Report of the Three Wise Men”, more officially known as “A Target for Euratom”, which I think everybody who’s interested in energy policy should read. Of course, the Suez Crisis was certainly uppermost in the minds of the foreign ministers of the six powers when they called for the preparation of this report!

    The second is something called the “Brayton Isotope Power System”, a closed-cycle gas turbine developed for NASA in the 1970s. It wound up not being used for anything, & in the 1990s the parts were dug out of storage & converted into a solar-dynamic system, using a molten-salt heat reservoir. It performed admirably in ground tests, & was on the schedule to go to Mir, but was “de-manifested” for reasons not entirely clear.

      1. I don’t, but I know someone who might. My best guess is that the components went back into storage at NASA Lewis Reseach Center (now NASA Glenn).
        The last document I’ve been able to track down about it is NASA/TM-1999-208840, “800 Hours of Operational Experience from a 2 kWe Solar-Dynamic System”, by Richard Shaltens and Lee Mason. If my acquaintance who worked on the project (and first informed me about it) can’t tell me, tracking down one of them might shed some light on the question.

  11. With passage of time, the people got used to other energy devices but more scared of nuclear energy. Today you will not be permitted to do what was routine in your working days. Perhaps Russia or China may take some rational decisions and get blackballed.

    1. @Jagdish

      Nuclear fear did not naturally arise with the passage of time. It was the result of a multi-pronged partly coordinated effort by people with logical, economic motives to suppress a competitor. Fear campaign can be undone by exposure and openness.

Comments are closed.

Recent Comments from our Readers

  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar
  3. Avatar
  4. Avatar
  5. Avatar

Similar Posts