Skip to main content

From Verne to Rickover with the Nuclear Navy

USS-Nautilus Forbes’ takes on an interesting topic that flies under the radar of just about everyone, including many nuclear energy advocates: the Nuclear Navy.

The Nuclear Navy has logged over 5,400 reactor years of accident-free operations and travelled over 130 million miles on nuclear energy, enough to circle the earth 3,200 times. The nuclear reactors can run for many, many years without refueling. They operate all over the world, sometimes in hostile environments, with no maintenance support except their own crew. These reactors can ramp up from zero to full power in minutes, as fast as any natural gas-fired plant.

And a fair number of Nuclear Navy veterans find their way into the domestic industry (not to mention NEI). The Monticello (Minn.) Times features an interview with Thomas Shortell, training manager at Xcel Energy’s Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.

“When you think about rites of passage and academics, you’ve done it in the military,” Shortell said. “If somebody has made it through the U.S. Navy’s program, I have confidence in their capabilities and their ability to make it through our programs. The service guy have been operating under stressful situations. We have the stress of business and the economics and the business plan of what we do, but when it comes down to it, the guys who have been in service have been operating under circumstances where lives are on the line. You can be 3 feet away from something really, really bad happening,” he added.

The Nuclear Navy has been in service about as long as the domestic industry has been. The Navy started looking into powering submarines with nuclear energy as early as 1947, as this bit about the father of the Nuclear Navy, Admiral Hyman Rickover, reveals:

Assigned to the Bureau of Ships in September 1947, Rickover received training in nuclear power at Oak Ridge Tennessee and worked with the bureau to explore the possibility of nuclear ship propulsion.

In February 1949 he received an assignment to the Division of Reactor Development, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and then assumed control of the Navy's effort as Director of the Naval Reactors Branch in the Bureau of Ships. This twin role enabled him to lead the effort to develop the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571). The latter joined the fleet in January 1955.

nautilus-jules-verne The Nautilus was, of course, Captain Nemo’s futuristic underwater craft in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870), so it seems an appropriate name for the first nuclear submarine. (If I remember rightly,the fictional Nautilus was powered by sodium-mercury batteries, but because the sodium was taken from salt water, the Nautilus rarely needed to be refueled, a parallel with the USS Nautilus.)

The United States operates 82 nuclear-powered ships (11 aircraft carriers, 71 submarines) with 103 reactors. Never an accident. Seems an appropriate note on which to end the week containing Veterans Day.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…