Monday, July 06, 2009

Happy days...happy days...

A critical period of my larval stage was spent as a Navy nuke.  As such I trained in part at the National Reactor Testing Site somewhat near Idaho Falls, ID.  I was there working at the S1W site - the prototype for the Nautilus from November 1971 to May 1972.

This wind never dropped below 50 mph as I recall during that time.  The hour bus ride (one way) and 12 hour shifts also left an impression.

Anyhoo, those halcyon days were brought back to vivid misremembrance by this book (read on my Kindle, I must say):

First, and most importantly, note the titleTres ungainly perhaps, but also using the proper terminology for those science-worshiping days, eg. "ATOMIC"

"Nuclear" is so lame in comparison.

The book is a yawn-producing recount of an unfortunate reactor accident involving Army people in January 1961 that nonetheless had me glued to my engineer seat.  (They were pulling control rods by hand, fer Pete's sake!)  It also had a thoughtful account of Adm. Hyman G. Rickover - a man I'm still afraid of even though he's been dead for decades.  My six-minute interview with him, like most nukes is one of my most vivid memories.  (The book has interesting details of this ceremony.)

What was best about the book for me was the rekindling (heh) of my boyish enthusiasm for THE FUTURE OF SCIENCEMan, was I ever into that vision!

For example, I can clearly recall getting a book called Our Friend, The Atom.  I think it was a birthday gift after we had visited Disneyland when I was in the fifth grade.  Anyhoo, this tome fixed in my mind the concept of atomic energy.

It was a glorious vision too. As the book recounts, I wasn't the only immature mind to be mesmerized.  The Air Force saw nuclear bombers.

Unfortunately, the darn Soviets launched Sputnik and ICBM's took over for bombers and the DEW line.  There were a few technical problems as well, of course.  Like preventing the crew from being fried by reactor radiation and spewing radioactive gasses from the exhaust.

The book may not be ideal summer reading for all. But for those of us of a certain age, with strange proclivities towards the fantastic, it refreshed some memories.


Anonymous said...

The Firecracker Boys by Dan O'neill also a little boring, but makes you wonder how close we were to making some major atomic errors, also a good caution against any "geo-engineering" we might be tempted to try in the future.


Bill Harshaw said...

The Nautilus? According to wikipedia SSN-571 was commissioned in 1954 back when we were regaled with nuclear space ships, Plowshare, etc. etc. Maybe all that radiation fried some brain cells, or it's just a sign of advancing age. :-(

John Phipps said...


Probably right on the brain cells, but actually they kept the prototype running for training purposes for several years after using it to test the systems and train for SSN-571.

My buddies in ID were at the prototype for the Narwhal - one weird system. No coolant pumps.