Nuclear Power from Underseas to Outer Space

By Greene, Jon | Naval War College Review, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Power from Underseas to Outer Space


Greene, Jon, Naval War College Review


Simpson, John W. Nuclear Power from Underseas to Outer Space. La Grange Park, Ill.: American Nuclear Society, 1995. 467pp. (No price given)

In this book, John W. Simpson delivers a valuable, if flawed, history of the development of various segments of the nuclear industry. Simpson's singular perspective comes from his experience as a member of the Westinghouse teams that participated in research at Oak Ridge National Laboratories and also developed reactor plants for application in naval propulsion, commercial power generation, and space propulsion. Nuclear Power begins with a series of largely anecdotal chapters that chronicle early efforts to develop workable nuclear plants. He focuses on Westinghouse's role in development of naval, power, and space applications of nuclear reactors, after which he adds two chapters covering other nuclear activities the company pursued. In a largely autobiographical manner, Simpson celebrates Westinghouse's (and his own) string of remarkable successes in the field. He laboriously pays tribute to the army of engineers, scientists, technicians, bureaucrats, and managers that played a role in these activities, mentioning over 350 names. The work continues with four chapters devoted to the technical aspects of these applications of nuclear power.

The strength of Simpson's effort lies in his unique perspective. As a pivotal player in the development of these technologies, he provides an insider's view of the events and captures the energy and enthusiasm of the early years of nuclear power. His technical pedigree is unquestionable, and he speaks with authority on nuclear technology. Additionally, Simpson reveals some interesting anecdotes, especially concerning Admiral H.G. Rickover.

Unfortunately, Simpson's unique and valuable story is marred by a poor presentation. While a blurb on the dust cover states that Nuclear Power "can be understood by those without a technical background," this reviewer must disagree. The book is filled with technical jargon, and without at least some exposure to nuclear engineering the reader is likely to get lost in references to "metastable gamma phase alloy," "capture cross section," and "negative temperature coefficient of reactivity. …

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