Thoughts on THRESHER

As is the case on every 10APR, I find myself – even in the midst of the present national and, really, worldwide crisis – returning to thoughts of the USS THRESHER on this date in 1963. All of us who have been through the Naval Nuclear Power Program and served in submarines are aware to greater or lesser extent what happened; my experience, having served aboard one of the SUBSAFE boats whose development was a direct result of the accident, lends perhaps to more sustained reflection.

Army Off-Road Nuclear Train – 1958

At the end of the 1950’s the US Army was looking at its entire operational sphere to determine in what areas nuclear energy could be of benefit. While many of these are fairly well known today – for example, the small nuclear plants that were to have been installed at remote locations for powering bases like the Defense Early Warning stations – there are a few applications that remain obscure.

Power and Promise: Early Atomic Power in Film!

Our ANS Nuclear Cafe matinee feature this week is a fascinating in-depth look at the fabrication of major components for, and the construction of, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station. In this film you’ll get to see some very interesting, rarely seen things; I will add some comments above and beyond what’s described in the film below.

Experimental Breeder Reactor I: A retrospective

In the not-so-distant 20th century past, our planet was in an uncertain new-world order. The second of two major wars had dramatically reshaped the landscape of the world's nations. It was not by any means assured that the extraordinary nuclear process of fission, which itself had been discovered mere years before the second war's end, would be successfully utilized for anything but the tremendous and frightening powers realized in thermonuclear warheads. In the years following, a humble project materializing out of the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho was to challenge that assertion and demonstrate that nuclear fission could indeed be a commercial, peaceful source of electrical power for civilizations around the globe.

RadioNuclear 22: HBO’s Chernobyl: A Setback or Opportunity?

Episode 22 of RadioNuclear is now available. In this episode, we discuss the recent miniseries "Chernobyl", which recently concluded on HBO. We debunk some of the more egregious articles written in the wake of the show (see links to these articles below). We also discuss good ways to engage with individuals who are captivated with the show, and not necessarily familiar with nuclear technology.

Anniversary Observations

The seismic event was huge and was felt all over the world.  With a moment magnitude of over 9.0, the earthquake and was the fourth largest ever in the more than 100 years of recorded history.  Huge land masses shifted as much as 2.4 meters, and the rotation of the earth was changed so that days were suddenly just a little (but measurable) bit shorter.  It had sped up the world.

EBR-1 in Photos

December 20, 1951 marks an important date in the history of nuclear power; it's the date on which the first useful electric power was generated by atomic fission.  While the now-famous event at that time only powered four light bulbs, the somewhat stunt-like nature of the day obscured the fact that the plant was actually set up to generate considerably more power, and did so.  Let's take a look at this fact and, at the same time, the facility through illustrations from my collection and from photographs that I took myself while touring EBR-1 earlier this year.

Listen: ANS Member Dr. Christopher Morrison on Space Radiation & More

TheSpaceShowANS member Dr. Christopher Morrison was a recent guest on The Space Show. Dr. Morrison covered space radiation, lifetime radiation limitations, legal limits, rodent GCR and radiation experimentation, terrestrial radiation simulations, space nuclear power & propulsion, super-cooling conductivity.

Today in History: Einstein Presented World with Famous Equation in Physics

Albert Einstein is one of the most well-known physicists throughout history. Among other things, he is also known for formulating the world-famous equation E=mc2, the equation that relates that energy and mass as not separate, but rather a single entity. This equation opened doors to numerous scientific advances.

Nuclear Plant Construction Delay and Cost 3

Reactor vessel delivered to Calvert Cliffs; from brochure in Will Davis collection.

The year 1971 saw a continuation of the general trend of rising capital costs for all types of power plants, described by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in its publication for 1971 as having "risen rather rapidly."  According to the AEC, the aggregate major causes for the increases in costs specific to nuclear electric power plants were as follows, with author's analysis accompanying each:

National Nuclear Science Week 2018 Kicks Off

A Small But Nagging Point

SIR Naval Prototype Plant rolled into containment sphere; March 20, 1954.  From brochure "The Seawolf Story" in Will Davis library.

SIR (Submarine Intermediate Reactor) Naval Prototype Plant rolled into containment sphere at West Milton New York; March 20, 1954. From brochure "The Seawolf Story" in Will Davis library.

We're coming up on another anniversary of the startup of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in early December.  That plant was more or less a Navy plant (at least in terms of the NSSS or Nuclear Steam Supply System) built not for powering ships but instead for powering businesses and homes.  The move to get that done was rapid and fluid - and now there's maybe a hint of evidence that it could have been a returned favor to Admiral Rickover.

Historic Idaho Reactors Detailed at ANS Winter Meeting

Installation of SPERT-II reactor vessel.  From IDO-16050, published 1959, in Will Davis library.

Installation of SPERT-II reactor vessel at National Reactor Testing Station, now Idaho National Laboratory. From IDO-16050, published 1959, in Will Davis library.

The history and lore surrounding the dozens of reactors constructed and operated at the Idaho National Laboratory could fill a book - and has filled at least one whole book and parts of many others.  Today, at the American Nuclear Society's 2016 Winter Meeting a unique presentation was given in the early afternoon by Harold McFarlane, who retired after 44 years working with Argonne National Laboratory (which operated a number of the reactors built in Idaho.)

In an Era of "Firsts," an "Almost"

Powder Metallurgy Facility, Sylvania-Corning Nuclear Corporation, Bayside, New York.  From Will Davis' collection.

Powder Metallurgy Facility, Sylvania-Corning Nuclear Corporation, Bayside, N.Y.     From Will Davis' collection.

The era of the "first nuclear build" in the United States (from the Manhattan Project of the Second World War at the earliest, through the final commercial plant orders in 1978) was by nature one of nearly continuous "firsts" in its opening decades, as nuclear energy moved from being a thought to a possibility to a reality and took on many forms and nuances.

Elk River - Rural America's First Atomic Power Plant

Elk River Generating Station, Rural Cooperative Power Association, Elk River, Minnesota.

The Elk River reactor, as it was generally known in the AEC parlance of the day, was a pioneering effort in America's nuclear energy history.  Hailed widely as "Rural America's first atomic power plant," the intention was to provide a pilot installation of a small, simple, and inexpensive nuclear steam supply system that could be duplicated at many far flung locations.  Unfortunately for the concept, the Elk River plant in the end proved unable to meet the task for technical reasons; yet, it remains firmly in history as one of the well known early nuclear energy installations.  What follows is a brief history of the project and its major players.

Nuclear Energy for Puerto Rico

BONUS nuclear plant as it appears today;  photo courtesy US DOE

BONUS nuclear plant as it appears today (Photo courtesy US DOE)

Among the many different reactor concepts being investigated in the late 1950s and early 1960s was the idea that the steam produced by a boiling water reactor, which normally goes straight to the turbine building, could be superheated (or have further heat added once it was already steam) by nuclear energy. This would greatly increase the efficiency of the plant, as well as make dry steam at a high pressure that would allow the use of (less expensive) commercially available equipment in the steam plant. Two reactors were built to investigate the idea of performing both processes in essentially the same reactor-one in South Dakota and (perhaps incredibly to today's readers) another of a very different design on the island of Puerto Rico.

Chernobyl Through the Mist of Decades

Courtesy SSE ChNPP.

In the administration building of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a number of stained glass windows (as seen to the right) recall the optimistic tone of industrial Soviet-era art that can still be viewed today at power plants around the former USSR. That these are well preserved is not the result of a specific effort, but instead because of the essential abandonment of large parts of the facility, and even the entire region, after the most serious nuclear reactor accident in 1986 in history.

National Nuclear Science Week 2015 - Nuclear Energy

NSW logoWednesday during National Nuclear Science Week is devoted to the topic of Nuclear Energy.  Do you know how we use the energy obtained by splitting the atom to produce the electricity that charges up your phone, powers your TV and router, and lights your way?  Click on the link below to see the basics.