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Nuclear weaponry

Atomic bomb launched in Hiroshima, Japan

Nautilus Nuclear Submarine

Nautilus nuclear submarine

The Nautilus is the world's first nuclear submarine.

It was built in 1954, in Groton, Connecticut State, on the east coast of the USA. Thanks to the use of nuclear energy, all the technological records of the submarines to date were achieved.

It had a higher speed and did not need to rise to the surface as often. It was the first submarine to reach the North Pole, in 1958. In 1980 it became a Museum.

Until now, submarines have generated electrical energy using diesel engines. This energy could be stored in batteries and then used to power the electric motors  once submerged. Since diesel engines need oxygen to fuel combustion, it forced submarines to periodically emerge.

In times of war this was a great disadvantage because submarines are very vulnerable on the surface and the engines produce a lot of noise that makes them easily detectable.

What are the origins of the first nuclear submarine?

Hyman Rickover was a young captain of the US Navy. He studied nuclear physics and motivated by his compatriot Philip Albelson realized the potential that nuclear energy could have to power a nuclear submarine using a small nuclear reactor.

Initially, Rickover did not have the support of his superiors who, seeing that the existing nuclear reactors occupied a couple of hectares on the ground, did not see it possible to put him inside a submarine. However, Rickover managed to become the head of the Nuclear Power Division of the Navy Ships Office and - at the same time - head of the naval reactor branch of the Atomic Energy Commission.

The Nautilus project

These charges allowed him to launch his project and in January 1954 the world's first nuclear submarine was built.

They called it "Nautilus" as a tribute to Jules  Verne , the author of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." A year later, with the hull number SSN-571 painted in white, it was launched and sailed for the first time.

What was the nuclear submarine Nautilus like?

The main characteristics of the Nautilus nuclear submarine are the following:

  • Nuclear reactor: It is driven by a PWR pressure water reactor manufactured by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
  • Its dimensions: about 97.5 meters long, 8.5 meters wide and 7.9 meters deep.
  • Military equipment: it is equipped with 6 tubes launches torpedoes
  • Weight: more than 3,000 tons.
  • Trupulation: When operational, its normal crew consisted of 13 officers and 92 crew.

60,000 nautical miles

On January 20, 1955 the Nautilus nuclear submarine goes to sea. And in 1957 it achieves its first great feat: living up to its name, the Nautilus nuclear submarine manages to travel 60,000 nautical miles submerged, a distance equal to 20,000 leagues (or 111,100 kilometers) from the title of the famous novel by Jules Verne Nautilus.

Operation Sunshine, below the North Pole

The next major objective of the Nautilus nuclear submarine was the so-called Operation Sunshine in which it intended to cross underneath the ice that floats above the North Pole.

Nautilus nuclear submarineThe submarine set sail from Pearl Harbor for the Pole with 116 men on board (including four specially chosen scientists for this voyage) and commanded by William  Anderson.

The Nautilus nuclear submarine would travel more than 1,600 kilometers below the Arctic ice cap to reach the North Pole. After crossing the Bering Strait, the submarine submerged up to 150 meters and began to sail under a layer of between 3 and 15 meters of solid ice until it managed to cross from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.

Strategically it was very important for the US because it crossed the Atlantic for the first time by a different route to the Panama Canal or Cape Horn.

The construction of the Nautilus nuclear submarine had made it possible to use the route from the Bering Strait to Greenland below the ice.

What finally happened to the Nautilus?

Of course, a few years later the Russians would develop their own nuclear submarines and the balance of the Cold War would once again be balanced, forcing both sides to continue developing new technologies.

The Nautilus nuclear submarine was on duty for 25 years. It then became a museum moored at the Naval Submarine Base New London in the city of Groton, Connecticut, and receives more than 250,000 visitors each year.

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Published: January 25, 2013
Last review: April 6, 2020