A diagram from the January 1963 story depicting a nuclear-powered rocket.
It’s Thursday, meaning it’s time to dig through the Nuclear News archives for another #ThrowbackThursday post. Today’s story goes back 60 years to the January 1963 issue of NN and the cover story “Review of Rover: A nuclear rocket” (p. 9), which reviews the first phase of the nuclear rocket program from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Some quick digging online uncovers a lot of information about Project Rover, most notably, a short 20-minute film on the LANL YouTube page that reviews the project (Historic 1960s Film Describes Project Rover). The description of the video notes that the project was active from 1955 to 1973 and led to the design of multiple reactors suitable for testing, including Pewee 1, and that NASA has a modern nuclear thermal propulsion project based on the Pewee design. So it seems fitting to revisit Project Rover, given that there is today a lot of renewed interest in nuclear propulsion for space exploration.
The opening line from the January 1963 article seems to ring true today— “Provided the U. S. continues her space efforts, nuclear-powered rockets are inevitable”—although that probably didn’t seem likely to the nuclear community after the country’s attention shifted from the Space Race to the Vietnam War in the early 1970s when Project Rover was canceled. The introduction to the article lays out the argument for a nuclear-powered rocket and provides a review of the program since its launch in 1955.
The full article as it appeared in 1963 is reprinted below, but don’t forget, all ANS members have full access to the Nuclear News archives that has decades of great content about all topics on nuclear science and technology. Happy reading!
IBA Rhodotron TT300-HE (high energy) electron accelerator. (Photo: Business Wire)
Nuclear medicine company NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes announced that it has successfully produced molybdenum-99 at its recently completed accelerator production facility at its Beloit, Wis., campus. According to NorthStar, the event marks a major milestone in advancing the company’s proprietary electron accelerator technology for the non-uranium–based production of the critical medical radioisotope.
The cooling pipes that snake along the surface of the vacuum vessel thermal shield will be removed and replaced. Here, on a right-hand outboard panel, workers determine the impact of pipe removal on the surface of the component. (Photo: ITER Organization)
ITER’s machine assembly phase began about two and a half years ago. Now, staff are reversing some of that assembly work to make needed repairs. According to a news article published by the ITER Organization on January 9, ITER is “facing challenges common to every industrial venture involving first-of-a-kind components.” Over one year after problems were first detected and less than two months after they were made public in late November, tests and analysis are producing a clearer picture of necessary repairs to the tokamak’s thermal shield panels and vacuum vessel sectors.
“There is no scandal here,” said ITER director general Pietro Barabaschi. “Such things happen. I've seen many issues of the kind, and much worse.”
A rendering of Holtec’s SMR-160 plant. (Image: Holtec International)
Small modular reactor developers Holtec International and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) are both looking to the United Kingdom as a prime location for deployment of their units—the SMR-160 and BWRX-300, respectively.
On December 19, Holtec Britain announced that it is poised to enter the United Kingdom’s generic design assessment (GDA) process for the SMR-160 early in 2023, enabling the start of construction of the first U.K. unit as soon as 2028. (The GDA, developed by the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency, gauges the safety, security, and environmental protection aspects of a nuclear plant design. Successfully completing the assessment culminates in a design acceptance confirmation from ONR and a statement of design acceptability from the Environment Agency.)