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What. Folder oiled. I was. Told are on. A program produced by Purdue University under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today's program written and produced by Bob McMahon bears the title atomic propulsion. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. These are the sounds of Atomic the simulation. The sound of control rods entering and being withdrawn from the react.
At. The sound of the screaming bellows the reactor is shut down. The sound of the reactor starting running down. These are the sounds of atomic and they say to some extent what
the future will bring. And we can use our imagination for the rest just as one man did once almost 100 years ago in the writing of a book. About the middle of the 19th century fiction which in accordance with the varying tastes of successive generations had in turn been philosophical or historical idealistic or realistic became scientific. At that time a writer by the name of Jules Verne wrote a book called Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea in it and operate the like of which had never been seen by man the brainchild of a certain Captain E.M. was found to be sailing the seven seas and his book Jules Verne described it as a very elongated cylinder with conical and is much like a stick got in shape the length of the cylinder is exactly two hundred and thirty two feet at its maximum breadth is twenty six feet. It displaces 50000 feet of water and weighs 1500
tons of stuff as its lines are sufficient. This operates as it was called in the story was capable of fantastic speed both above and beneath the surface of the water. It was capable of long voyages without refueling. It moved beneath the waves swiftly silently oblivious to all that was going on above it. An independent entity that is no defamation to fear. Well the double hull of this vessel is as rigid as I am. No rigging to be injured by rolling up pitching no sails for the wind to carry away. No boy does for a steam to blow up no fire to dread as the apparatus is made of ion and not wood no coal to get exhausted no collision to free up no tempests to set at defiance as there is perfect tranquillity at some yards below the surface of the sea. The Nautilus is the ship of ships. You Will Burns Nautilus was made to run by means of a mysterious new source of power a power source which at that time held as many mysteries for man
as atomic power does today. That is a powerful obedient rapid and easy agent which lends itself to all uses and the reigns supreme. We do everything by its means it is the light warmth and so all of my mechanical apparatus this agent is. Electricity today's such a submarine for that is the name present day generations of given to operate this actually does exist. Almost a century after it was a figment in the imagination of one of our first writers of science fiction it's named in honor of the name given to that earlier fictional ship is the Nautilus in many ways they resemble each other. The Navy's Nautilus is 300 feet long 30 feet wide and weighs three thousand one hundred and eighty tons of surface. You can submerge to about 1000 feet which is 300 feet deeper than any conventional sub you can run indefinitely and come to a complete and extensive standstill while submerged. She has traveled
1300 miles an 84 hours while submerged at an average speed of 16 miles per hour. She has completed 50000 nautical miles without refueling. She burns fuel at the rate of about a pound a month aboard her every mechanical function as being powered by nuclear fission. It is keeping the quarters warm. The refrigerator is cold. It is responsible for the scalding water in the galley laundry showers and is keeping the air sweet. The light's bright. It is cooking the meals part atomic power plant silently generate steam. There is no great roar of diesel engines. Our nuclear reactor and driver at high speed. How high is still a military secret. Several times around the world without refueling or coming up for air or fuel is Iranian and rich the Iranian the Iranian 235. A pound of it produces the heat equivalent of the combustion of about one thousand three hundred tons of coal
or 300000 gallons of oil and every way she is a worthy companion to her fictional counterpart. And Jules Verne's book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the sea. On the 14th of July 1952. When the president of the United States launched the whole of the first nuclear propelled submarine he made this statement. We are assembled here to lay the keel of a Navy submarine the USS Nautilus. This ship will be something new in the world. She will be atomic powered her engines will not burn oil or coal. The heat in her boilers will be created by the same force that heats the sun. The energy released by atomic fission. The breaking apart of the basic matter of the universe. The Nautilus will be able to move under the water at a speed of more than 20 knots.
A few pounds of uranium will give her ample fuel to travel thousands of miles at top speed. She will be able to stay underwater indefinitely her atomics engines will permit her to be completely free of the Earth's atmosphere. She will not even require a breathing tube to the surface. The military significance of this vessel is tremendous. The engine of the Nautilus will have as revolutionary an effect on the navies of the world as did the first ocean going steamship one hundred twenty years ago. Well oblique Idaho desert a great cloud of steam rises from a pond of hot water. Nearby stands a building of blank walled concrete. It looks like a power house but no smoke comes from the six short stacks sticking out of its roof and acting as emergency ventilators. The building nevertheless is a powerhouse. The first nuclear power house of the
atomic age inside is a strange ungainly object. The central half of a submarine. It's after part stands clear and showing its skin like a deceptive whale but its forward part is enclosed in a big tank of water. The building is filled with a rushing sound. My own common goal consulting complicated instruments. A crew of engine room and work inside the submarine checking and tending its machinery just as if it were cruising the sea. Since the month of May 1953 this ship has been cruising steadily in an imaginary ocean. Having no bow or stern no water to float and never moving an inch never the less the long tests of its nuclear power system have been eminently successful. This the nation's first practical reactor power plant the land based prototype of the submarine Nautilus was routinely shut down on August 8th 1956 at the end of what is believed to have been the longest power run ever completed by any type of propulsion plant land sea or air on a single charge of uranium fuel using only
part of that charge. The nuclear reactor located at the Desert test facility operated at an average power of 100 percent for 66 days and 66 nights at the end of the sixteen hundred hour test. The reactor still had many hundreds of hours of operation. DO indicate the significance and magnitude of the operation. Let it suffice to say if the Nautilus itself had made a cruise for this length of time sixteen hundred hours she could have steamed at top speed submerged around the world and many thousands of miles more. She could have left the New London Connecticut some marine base steamed around Cape Horn across the Pacific across the Indian Ocean around the southern tip of Africa returned to the starting point and then continued for an extensive Arctic cruise before the scheduled shutdown. If such a close had been made by a diesel powered submarine of similar power about 1 billion gallons of fuel would have been required and off oil to fill one hundred and
sixty railroad tank cars and enough to make a freight train more than one mile. When this history making prototype of the world's first nuclear powered submarine was refueled for the first time in March 1956 it had been operating for two and one half years on its original uranium charge. The submarine thermal reactor the first nuclear reactor designed for use in a submarine was designed by the Argonne National Laboratory and the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. It constituted a staggering exercise in Pioneer engineering. Much of the credit for its ever having been built and much of the driving force behind the overworked scientists and engineers who designed and built it belong to one man and his name. Hyman George Rickover Admiral United States Navy. Ironically enough Admiral Rickover his career in the Navy was almost ruined because his foresight and imagination were not shared by other members of the Navy brass electric power
was generated in large amounts for the first time from the reactor of the world's first atomic sub. But as we were telling you there is more to the story of designing nuclear power plant for a submarine than putting a reactor in a steam turbine together and producing electric power. Many things have to be considered. Not the least of which are the standard problems of naval engineering the power plant regardless of the type must be located so that the ship will be dynamically stable in an upright even keel position both submerged and on the surface and it must be capable of controlled by adjustment of buoyancy tanks. This is the conventional problem of undersea craft a problem that forces limited patterns of arrangement on both the ship builder and the equipment supplier. For instance weights and centers of gravity must be watched far more closely than in surface vessels. It's too easy to make a nose heavy or a tail have a submarine or one that's heavier than its displaced volume of water even when the design says it isn't. On the nuclear submarine the engine room is filled with machinery that is well known and understood.
The turbans and motor generator sets are so mounted that ship structure dislocations within certain limits won't disturb the alignment of the assemblies. The condensers can withstand submergence pressures and the piping is designed to operate under thermal and mechanical stresses in close quarters. The air conditioning system condenses all the steam that escapes the electric system provides power where it's needed. Proper means are provided for safety release of water pressure at full submergence all equipment is designed to meet a Navy shock requirements and because the life of the vessel may depend on it the response speed of the entire propulsion system is more rapid than for surface vessels and considerably more than for Central Station power plants. The control of all the vital auxiliary rays is centralized to assure quick handling in emergencies. All equipment is designed to tolerate unusually large degrees of pitch and roll because submarines are relatively unstable. Those are problems that must be dealt with in applying well-known types of equipment and systems
to a highly refined product such as a submarine. But when you introduce a radically new type of power plant. Not only do all the preceding problems remain but many new problems also enter the picture. For example in the thermal reactor built for the first submarine the Nautilus high pressure water was used to transfer the heat and so a metal which would resist the corrosion of water at high temperatures was needed zirconium a rare metal produced from the same material as a soft diamond type stone was found to be an excellent reactor construction material meeting all the bridges specifications. The first satisfactory zirconium metal produced cost three hundred dollars a pound. But since that time improved methods of manufacture have resulted in bringing the price down to less than $15 a pound zirconium minerals normally contain another element cofferdam at Tottenham is one of the best neutron absorbers there is a neutron absorption must be kept as small as possible in a reactor since it tends to cut down the rate
of the chain reaction. These are Conium therefore had to be separated from the chemically similar Hafnium. And this in itself was an expensive operation requiring new chemical engineering developments a host of new metals and materials had to be manufactured and made available so that the Nautilus and its sister ship the sea wealth could be built. The power plant of the submarine Nautilus cost about fourteen hundred dollars a kilowatt to build. This is about 10 times the amount of ordinary commercial power plants cost. But economically feasible power on a submarine is not the controlling factor in its development and matters having to do with national security military value accounts hire and the military value of the atomic submarine as its ability to travel submerged for thousands of miles. The power plant of an ordinary submarine as its storage batteries when it operates under water it can travel under water for only a short period at high speed before its batteries need recharging in order to recharge it must use its diesel engines and to use its diesels which require
oxygen and produce exhaust that must surface and when it surfaces it is no longer a submarine. The leaders of today's Navy say the Nautilus as the forerunner of an all nuclear fleet. Already the second nuclear submarine the seawall which uses a reactor of a completely different type is ready for commission. Seven more atomic subs are under construction or authorized Another six are scheduled in the budget now before Congress that budget makes a pair of historic requests. One is for a construction start on the first nuclear power surface vessel a missile cruiser of about 11000 tons. The other is for funds to begin design and procurement on the nuclear power plant for an aircraft carrier. Best estimate of the time required for the Navy's complete nuclear conversion 20 years. What are some of the advantages of an atomic powered Navy atomic fuel task forces will be able to operate for months perhaps even years without refueling. About 70 percent of its cumbersome vulnerable train of tank ships can be
eliminated. Atomic powered ships will be faster and more streamlined ships will be teardrop stacks made obsolete by nuclear engines will be gone for castles will be rounded off missile tourists may be mounted on elevators kept below deck while cruising and run topside only for firing. Perhaps there may even come a time when the entire nuclear missile armed Navy will run under water. Since it would a lot have to worry about fuel conservation. The nuclear taskforce will be able to sustain speeds of more than 30 knots over long ranges with one tenth as many ships as World War Two massed Armada. It will have much greater firepower. A few decades ago the diesel engine was new. No commercial organisation could afford to pay the costs of its development. It was first tried out and successfully developed in a submarine. Its peculiar properties made it especially attractive as a means of propulsion for undersea craft. Today the same is true of
the atomic engine. Once we have become better acquainted with what the atomic engine can do in naval vessels it will be an easy step to bridge the gap between a naval fighting ship and a peacetime freighter or a passenger vessel. These two will be developed and built. They will be fast with enormous amounts of extra space for cargo and there holds a space that once held fuel for the many coal or oil furnaces that fed the bladders of the ship. Thirty years ago this made us run to our windows to peer up at the sky at a passing airplane. And they it's the sound of jet aircraft. And tomorrow will usher in the sound of the atomic airplane and rocket ship. A bare stretch of land of the Oak Ridge National Laboratories stand for spider like
towers connected by an interlacing of heavy cables dangling down is an object looking for all the world like a transplanted cable car pulled slowly into an endless variety of positions beside it varying didn't distances hangs a test reactor inside a concrete bunker below. Engineers watch TV to guide the cable cars motions the cable cars actually a shield for a nuclear reactor. The problems the engineers solve in their bunker are complex exercises and shielding. All designed to test the seldom explored problem of radiation in an airborne container and how much shielding is necessary to absorb it. One of the basic steps in determining the weight size and shape of an atomic plane closely related experiments are going on elsewhere. At the atomic energy Commission's reactor test station that ARCO Idaho where the reactor for the nuclear submarine was developed. Construction is started on a plane proving ground near Fort Worth Texas the Convair Division of General Dynamics Corp. is
idolizing the effects of airborne radiation in another form through a small research reactor aboard a B 36 bomber. Consuming less than a pound of enriched uranium for every 100000 miles of Flight eight planes could make obsolete all of the various problems of refueling of today's jet planes. And the field of the nation's defense the troublesome and vulnerable network of American bomber bases overseas could be abandoned. Aerial refueling close to enemy borders could be forgotten once again. We must realize that although it seems somewhat ironic that it should be so all our recent peacetime boons to mankind seem to be an outgrowth of preparation for war. It would appear that this is the only way that sufficient money and manpower can be brought together on one project to make great strides forward in its development. As long as no private industry is able to furnish the money and manpower to put an atomic plane into the skies. The Army and Navy will do it. And once they have
done so. United States industry will learn and benefit from their experience to build a planes that will move at three times the speed of sound cling to ceilings of 60000 feet and still be safe enough for crews to stand up to the engines great insurance is no small feat. There's a tremendous amount of coordinated technical work yet to be done. At every point the problem of heat bases the plane's engineer inside his reactor he needs tough light metals to withstand heat in the neighborhood of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. They must also stand firm under a constant exposure to neutrons fission fragments and corrosive gases and liquids. If the A plane is going to roar along at 2000 miles an hour and skin will start to cook those several metals comforted by a cooling systems could take this 700 Fahrenheit heat for a time and the erosion from dust in the air would eventually wear them down. The answer may be it's amalgamation of metals and ceramics sprayed and then
baked on the wings and fuselage but in spite of these problems and in spite of the fact that although the aircraft nuclear propulsion program is generally accepted as being the second most secret project in the country yielding Innes only to the intercontinental ballistic missile project there have still been unmistakable signs in the news the last few months that the program has finally gone into high gear and that 1958 may see the first airplane flying on nuclear power. Many experts feel that the atomic airplane is not more than 10 years off. There is no doubt in the mind of anyone that it is technically feasible. What would it look like according to what we've been told the atomic airplane will be about as large as a conventional aircraft. Its atomic reactor may be used to drive a turbo jet engine turboprop engine or a rocket engine. Bomber planes because of their size and weight will be the first aircraft to use atomic power. We know that the atomic aircraft reactor itself will probably be something on the order of 5 feet in diameter and that will probably be set back in the plane as far away from the
crewmembers as aerodynamically possible. But in addition to atomic submarines and atomic airplanes there are a number of other ways atomic energy may be used in the future. It is possible within the next decade that we will have atomic powered locomotives pulling our trains. If we want them. But this is not so likely. There are special hazards presented by an atomic engine for a locomotive which could preclude its use. One question that will certainly have to be an answer for is what happens if and when an atomic powered plane or an atomic locomotive crashes a plane or train crash under ordinary circumstances a serious enough. But when you put an atomic reactor into one aircraft or a locomotive you run the additional risk of scattering radioactive materials of all kinds over the surrounding countryside. If a crash occurs these are extremely serious considerations in connection with the development of nuclear propulsion. Many times the question has been asked Will we ever be driving atomic powered
automobiles. And here we must admit the prospects are dim. It is not expected that atomic energy will be used for the family car. The very heavy and bulky shielding required today to seal in deadly radiations resulting from an atomic reaction may limit us to much larger objects than an automobile. But one thing we can be sure of the sooner we begin using the atom and other ways to conserve our dwindling amounts of oil and gas the longer they will be around to perform the jobs they're doing at present. We can see an absolute end to our supplies of gas and oil in the next few decades if we're not careful how we use what's left of them. Of course today we're only a mere beginners in the use of the atom. But one thing we don't know is yet how to convert atomic heat the byproduct of atomic reaction and to power except by the indirect method of turning water into steam to drive the atomic engine. Conversion of atomic heat and a conventional steam has been described as.
It's as though the first automobile engine were used not to turn the wheels of a carriage but to prod the horse that was pulling it. But unfortunately at the present time steam is the best we can do when we find better ways of harnessing atomic power. We may be able to use it one day to propel interplanetary rockets or space ships. There seems to be one major drawback here. An aircraft or guided missile using an atomic reactor for power could propel itself through the Earth's atmosphere by taking air in through the front of the craft heating and thereby expanding it and then ejecting it out the rear in the manner of a jet. But in space there is no atmosphere. An atomic spaceship would therefore have to carry along some substance which could be heated and ejected in order to propel itself. The problems of weight and bulk that face the designers of spacecraft are therefore not automatically solved by atomic energy. But we must keep in mind that we are only just beginning to learn what it can do for us.
It might be well to close today's program with a quotation from Gordon Dean's report on the atom. A very well written book on atomic energy. Mr. Dean a former chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission writes on the last page of his report on the atom. Mankind has recently entered their room the door to which is labeled the atomic game. We are in that room and we have found that it is so large and so dimly lighted that we cannot yet begin to perceive what is in it. But. We have crossed the threshold and we cannot. Turn back. All we can do is go forward both. And get his wires as we can. One of the great responsibilities that we in America assume when we bought the atomic bomb into the world last week
the way into the atomic age and to do it well. Our state scientists will need the understanding of guidance. And I help. Every citizen. For power was written and produced by Bob McMahon a radio station WABE for the university under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. Technical Advisor to the program was Professor Donald J tandem of a Purdue Department of Physics. Ranariddh is where Walt Richter and Jim Holston and this is John Bruhns always be speaking. Next week got him for power will discuss the problems of disposal of atomic waste program called health and safety and. Atom for power is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. The radio network.
Atoms for power
Atomic propulsion
Producing Organization
Purdue University
WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Atomic power for ships, airplanes, submarines, locomotives, rockets.
Series Description
This 15-part series discusses the feasibility of atomic power as an alternate energy source to replace depleted fossil fuels.
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: Richter, Walt
Advisor: Tandam, Donald J.
Producer: McMahon, Bob
Producing Organization: Purdue University
Producing Organization: WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
Writer: McMahon, Bob
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-59-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:38
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Chicago: “Atoms for power; Atomic propulsion,” 1957-04-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 13, 2024,
MLA: “Atoms for power; Atomic propulsion.” 1957-04-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 13, 2024. <>.
APA: Atoms for power; Atomic propulsion. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from