Nuclear weaponry

Atomic bomb launched in Hiroshima, Japan

Nuclear Submarine Nautilus

Nuclear submarine Nautilus

One of the uses of nuclear energy is the propulsion of vehicles. This application is used especially in the military field.

The Nautilus is the first nuclear submarine in the world. It was built in 1954, in Groton, Connecticut, on the east coast of the United States. Thanks to the use of nuclear energy, all the technological records of submarines have been surpassed to date. It had a higher speed and did not need to climb so often to the surface. It was the first submarine to reach the North Pole, in 1958. In 1980 it became a Museum.

So far, the submarines were generating electricity through diesel engines. This energy could be stored in batteries and then used to power the electric motors  once submerged. As diesel engines need oxygen to burn the fuel, they forced the submarines to emerge periodically.

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

Origins of the Nautilus nuclear submarine

Hyman Rickover was a young captain of the US Navy. He studied nuclear physics and, motivated by his compatriot Philip Albelson, he realized the potential that nuclear energy could have to drive a nuclear submarine through a small nuclear reactor. Initially it did not have the support of its superiors who, seeing that the existing nuclear reactors occupied a couple of hectares on the ground, did not see it possible to put it inside a submarine. However, Rickover managed to become the head of the Nuclear Energy Division of the Navy's Ship Office and, at the same time, head of the naval reactor arm of the Atomic Energy Commission.

These positions allowed him to launch his project and in January 1954 the first nuclear submarine in the world was built. They called it "Nautilus" as a tribute to Jules  Verne, the author of "20,000 leagues of submarine travel". A year later, with the helmet number SSN-571 painted in white, it was launched and sailed for the first time.

Characteristics of the Nautilus nuclear submarine

The Nautilus nuclear submarine is powered by a pressurized water reactor manufactured by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. The Nautilus measures about 97.5 meters long, 8.5 meters wide and 7.9 meters deep. It is equipped with 6 tubes torpedo launches, weighs more than 3,000 tons. When it was operational, its normal crew consisted of 13 officers and 92 crew members.

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

The next major target of the Nautilus nuclear submarine was the so-called Operation Sunshine in which it was proposed to cross under the ice floating on the North Pole.

Nuclear submarine NautilusThe submarine sailed from Pearl Harbor towards the Pole With 116 men on board (including four scientists specially chosen for this trip) and commanded by William  Anderson. The Nautilus nuclear submarine would travel more than 1,600 kilometers below the Arctic ice sheet to reach the North Pole. After crossing the Bering Strait, the submarine submerged to 150 meters and began to navigate 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 for the first time to the Atlantic 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.

Of course, a few years later the Russians would develop their own nuclear submarines and the balance of the Cold War would 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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Last review: March 8, 2019