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HYMAN GEORGE RICKOVER 1900-1986 BY JOHN W. SIMPSON ADMIRAL HYMAN GEORGE RICKOVER the man responsible for the creation of the nuclear navy of the United States, died July 8, 1986, at the age of eighty-six. Rickover retired from the U.S. Navy in 1982, after sixty-three years of active duty. Hyman Rickover was born January 27, 1900, in the village of Makow, about fifty miles north of Warsaw, in what was then a part of Czarist Russia. When he was six, he came with his mother and sister to the United States to join his father. When Rickover started grammar school, he knew only a few words of English, but avid reading of magazines brought to him by his mother soon improved his knowledge of the language. While attending high school in Chicago, where his family settled, he helc! a full-time job delivering Western Union telegrams. During the perioc! he delivered telegrams, he became acquainted with Congressman Adolph Sabath. Through the intervention of a family friend, Sabath, himself an immigrant, appointed Rickover to the U.S. Naval Acact- emy. Rickover entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1918 and in 1922 graduated 107th in a class that started with 896 students. Upon graduation, he began his career as an officer in the navy and after routine assignments to various ships, he was sent to the Navy Postgraduate School in Annap- olis in 1929. He went on to Columbia University, where he 291
292 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES earned an M.S. in electrical engineering. It was at Columbia that he met Ruth D. Masters, who was there pursuing a grad- uate degree in international law. They were married in 1931 ant! hac! one son, Robert. In 1937 he was selected for "Engineering Duty Only" (EDO). In 1939 the navy assigned Rickover to the Electrical Section of the Bureau of Ships, with responsibility for the design and procurement of all of the major electrical equip- ment needed for U.S. Navy ships during World War Il. Although Hyman Rickover is better known for his nu- clear-relatec! activities, he also made a major contribution to the navy's success during World War Il. It became apparent from the experiences of the British that a ship's electrical equipment often did not operate properly during or after being subjected to the explosions that were encountered in the course of battle. Our later experience in the Pa- cific showed that a lack of fireproofing was another major problem. Rickover drove industry and the navy to develop a com- plete new line of electrical equipment that was not only markedly superior in performance to all previous equipment but that was also essentially fireproof and continued to per- form under the severe shock of explosions during combat. The tiara obtained by the navy technical mission to Japan after the war cteterminect that the lack of these improve- ments was a major factor in the outcomes of many of the naval battles that occurred in the Pacific. As the war was ending, Rickover had a short tour of duty on Okinawa; after the war, he served as inspector general of the ~ 9th Mothball Fleet. Although he made a success of over- seeing the mothballing of ships that was occurring now that the war had ended, Rickover saw what he believecl was a much more important challenge. In 1946 a project was begun at the Clinton Laboratory (now the Oak Ridge National Laboratory) to develop a nu- clear electric generating plant. The navy decided to send eight men to this project, including three civilians and one
HYMAN GEORGE RICKOVER 293 senior and four junior naval officers. Realizing the potential that nuclear energy held for the navy, Rickover applied. Al- though he was not initially selected, through the intercession of his wartime boss Acimiral EarIe Mills, Rickover was finally sent to Oak Ridge. Before going to Oak Ri(lge, Rickover spent time in Wash- ington studying all of the available information on the pos- sible use of atomic energy for naval propulsion. He also talked to everyone who had anything to offer. At Oak Ridge, he and the other naval officers hack offices in the same small building with the Daniels Pile group, but they did not take part in the actual development and design effort. The Pile group's objective was the construction of a high- temperature, gas-cooled, beryIlium-moderated reactor for generating central station electricity. Rickover and his offi- cers were busy not only monitoring what the Daniels Pile group was doing but also assisting that group with much out- side organization and studying every aspect of the work at Oak Riclge to determine its applicability to naval propulsion. In addition, they later visited the other facilities under the Manhattan District. In ~ 947 the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was formed, and all responsibility for nuclear energy was trans- ferred to that organization. Toward the end of 1947, it be- came apparent that there was insufficient information avail- able for the construction of the reactor. Nevertheless, while the Daniels group was working on a final report, Rickover unofficially persuader! them to do a conceptual design of a water-cooled reactor for a submarine. Almost single-hand- edly, Rickover then persuaded Admiral Nimitz and the sec- retary of the navy that a nuclear submarine should be built. After enlisting the help of the Military Liaison Committee, he persuaded AEC to formalize the naval reactor study and succeeded in being appointed head of both the navy and AEC naval reactor groups. The naval group was transferred bodily into AEC in 1949. Getting the authorization to develop a nuclear submarine
294 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES was, in itself, a major accomplishment. The reputation Rick- over had gainer! in the industry cluring World War Il for getting things done was of great help in persuading contrac- tors to become involved in his nuclear work, even though he had lukewarm or no support in most areas of the govern- ment. By late 1948 the research on a pressurized water re- actor was centered in the Argonne National Laboratory, and Westinghouse had been given a contract to do the engineer- ing anc! construction of a nuclear submarine prototype and the necessary research, development, and design for the Nautilus. At the same time, General Electric was given a con- tract of the same scope for a liquid metal-cooled submarine power plant. With these objectives reached, the nuclear sub- · ~ marine program was unc .er way in earnest. Because the prototype for the Nautilus propulsion plant was the world's first high-temperature nuclear reactor, a host of reactor physics problems had to be solved. Not only were the basic data that were needed for the reactor design un- available, the reactor design methods also had to be devel- oped. In addition, there were no available engineering data on the performance of metals in high-te~r~perature and high- pressure water; neither had a steam propulsion plant ever been (resigned for operation in a modern submarine. The necessity for deep submergence compounder! the problems. New design methods had to be created, and new materials such as zirconium and hafnium had to be developed. During this same period, the parallel development of a liq- uid metal reactor propulsion plant was being undertaken by General Electric under Rickover's guidance. This program led to the construction of the Sea Wolf. During the summer of ~ 953, just as the Nautilus prototype was being successfully tested, the navy cancelled the require- ment for a nuclear carrier. But Rickover was undeterred. He was able to persuade the Atomic Energy Commission to be- gin a program for the development and construction of a central station electric generating plant. He saw this not only as an opportunity to transfer technology to industry but also as a way of continuing the development of larger reactors
HYMAN GEORGE RICKOVER 295 that might solve some of the problems of reactors of the size that wouIc! later be required for carriers. On January 17, 1955, the signal "Underway on nuclear power" was flashes! from the Nautilus, marking a dramatic moment in naval history. The invention of the steamboat hac! led only after many years to commercial steamships and even later to a steam-driven navy. Prior to that time the Nautilus submarines had really only been ctiese} surface ships that couIct submerge for brief peri- ocis and travel at slow speeds. The new Nautilus revolution- ized naval warfare immediately. From the clay she was put to sea, she was the most important naval vessel in the woricl, with the capability of inflicting great damage on an entire enemy fleet. This capacity was demonstrate in maneuvers many times. Yet many new technical problems remained to be solved. Shippingport was the first large reactor with a containment. Uranium oxide was developed as the fuel for the slightly en- richecI reactor, and a new zirconium alloy, Zircalloy Il. was clevelopect for the fuel cladding. A new control system had to be developed. The long life required of the nuclear core brought out many problems in the reactor physics area. Compatibility with a utility system had to be ensured. Despite these problems, Shippingport, the first U.S. nu- clear electricity generating plant, was synchronized with the Duquesne Light Company system in December 1957, just four and a half years after the start of the project. The build- ing of Shippingport was the step that made central station nuclear power possible. Until his retirement in 1982, Rickover was responsible for the propulsion plants of all ships in the nuclear navy. His contribution was not confined to design, however; it also in- cludecl the selection and training of personnel. The people who were involved in the nuclear submarine program, both in industry and in the navy, today are spread throughout most of the important places in the nuclear industry as well as in the government. In addition, there is little doubt that his attention to detail
296 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES and his insistence on quality, rigorous maintenance, safety, and the reduction of radiation exposure all worked together to make our nuclear ships superior. In addition, the transfer of technology that was begun with Nautilus and Shippingport was a major factor in the preeminence of the United States in the nuclear power fielct. This transfer must be regarded as another of Rickover's important contributions. Rickover was strongly backed by many influential mem- bers of Congress. He was skilled at keeping these men knowI- edgeable about what he was cloing by taking them on visits to the various project areas ant! by providing demonstrations. Yet probably the major reason he received such strong back- ing was that he was succeeding at a time when major suc- cesses were rare in this country. The confidence that the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had in Rickover was a key fac- tor in the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, a most important piece of legislation that has been little changed even now. Rickover took great interest in high school and college education cluring most of his professional life. He empha- sizec! the need for rigorous preparation in mathematics anct the sciences. When the Naval Academy undertook a pro- found overhaul of its program, it sought his counsel, among others, and followoct his advice in offering a wide (liversity of fields of concentration in place of the former stanciarcI cur- riculum for all. The actual research, development, and design of the nu- clear plants Rickover had caused to be built were performed largely by contractors. These activities, however, were con- ducte(1 under the careful eye of Rickover's staff, who ap- proved almost every design detail. All of the major technical decisions were approved personally by the admiral. The es- sential element of this aspect of nuclear clevelopment was Rickover himself. The people doing the actual work could have been replacect by others, but there was only one Rick- over. Without him, there might have been a nuclear navy and industry in time, but they wouicl have been delayecl many years, perhaps clecades.
HYMAN GEORGE RICKOVER 297 Rickover received many honors anct awards cluring his ca- reer. Most notable were the Distinguished Service Mecial with Gold Star (1946) and the Legion of Merit with Gold Star (19521; the Most Excellent Orcler of the British Empire (1946~; the Egleston Mecial Award of Columbia Engineering School's Alumni Association (1955~; the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' George Westinghouse Gold Medal (1955~; the Cristoforo Columbo Gold Medal (1957~; the Mi- chae! I. Pupin lOOth Anniversary Medal (1958~; the Congressional Gold Medal (19591; the Institute of Electrical ant! Electronics Engineers' Golden Omega Award (19594; the Atomic Energy Commission's Enrico Fermi Award (19651; the National Electrical Manufacturers Association's Prometheus Awarc! (19651; the Presidential Medal of Free- clom ~ ~ 9801; and numerous honorary degrees. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1967. He was also the author of several books. In 1974 he married Eleanor Ann Bednowicz, a navy nurse. It cannot be stressed too strongly that Rickover was the sine qua non of all the developments with which he was as- sociated.