Mar 242011

No, really.

From back in the days when  the atom was your friend and Americans took a whole different view on the topic of radioactive Japanese, in 1961 General Electric started pushing their concept of a compact refractory-metal reactor at the heart of a closed “pod” for marine propulsion. The powerplant was based on work then ongoing for nuclear powered aircraft… a nuclear reactor taking the place of the combustors in the middle of a turbojet. In the case of the 601 power package, the complete system was encased in a submerged watertight pod. It obviously could not use outside air, so instead it simply recycled neon. The pod was ringed with heat exchangers to cool the neon before ducting it back to the inlet. The turbojet was transformed into a turbohaft engine; the back of the pod was filled with gears to step down the RPMs of the shaft into something that could be used by a conventional marine propeller.

Two versions were described, a large (60 inch diameter) and a small (45 inch diameter) version. The illustration of the 601B probably shows the smaller version, based on the L/D. General Electric claimed that these units would make dandy propulsion systems for cargo vessels… basically, since all of the propulsion system was in outboard pods, the ship could be nothing but a big empty cargo hold. Also, they could be used to make hydrofoils and smaller submarines, down to four-man units. Entertainingly, nuclear powered torpedoes were also suggested.

 Posted by at 1:40 pm
  • Michel Van

    ehh wat use have nuclear powered torpedoes ?
    as some extrem long range torpedo with nuke ??

  • Michael Holt

    They’re a bit too heavy for any boats I’ve owned. I like the idea, could learn to live with a much larger boat if I didn’t have to buy gasoline or diesel every few weeks.

  • Jim

    Michel – Why not? Sound travels half of forever underwater, and such a weapon could be launched at a high-value target (enemy aircraft carriers, etc.) from far enough out that the enemy wouldn’t expect an attack. It would also make for a lot of escape time for the launch platform.

    As for commercial use, I think it is a question of economics and politics more than engineering.


  • Pat Flannery

    That’s a pretty clever device; not only could you hang it on pylons under a ship and let the water around it be its shielding and cooling, but if it did screw up really bad and you were over deep mid-ocean water you could just jettison it and have done with it.
    It wasn’t nuclear powered, but the Soviets were supposed to have designed a giant nuclear-warheaded torpedo called the T-15 in the 1950’s that would be navigated into a enemy harbor by coded sonar pings from the mother sub.
    There it would detonate, destroying any ships in the harbor with its underwater shockwave and throwing a radioactive water wave and spray plume over the surrounding land.
    The thing was so big, that it made the November class nuclear sub it was mounted in look like a super sized version of one of the Type A Japanese minisubs that attacked Pearl Harbor.
    A as-usual strange babel fish translation about it here:

  • Michel Van

    so a infernal Navy version of a Cruise missile

    on use of nuclear-warheaded torpedo by soviets during Cuba Crisis
    had the hunter-sub capitans a special order to go into action.
    in case of nuclear war they had to return to special navalbunkers
    like Area 825 a nuclear submarine base, maintenance & repair facility
    there the hunter-sub replace all ther torpedos with nuke torpedos
    and go to attack NATO harbors

  • Pat Flannery

    We may have nuclear Tomahawk missiles on our attack subs, but other than that we ditched our other nuclear weapons for them (SUBROC and the Mark 45 ASTOR nuclear torpedo) quite some time back; they were going to replace SUBROC with a new missile named Sea Lance, but it was canceled.
    The Russians however kept their nuclear torpedoes and nuclear sub-to-sub missiles to the present day.
    Sakharov was involved in nuclear powered torpedo project also, to carry the 100 megaton warhead of his giant “Czar Bomb” into a enemy harbor by using a nuclear reactor to heat seawater into steam to drive it:
    The T-15 was to be powered by batteries, and have a top speed of thirty knots (surprisingly fast for a battery-powered torpedo at the time).
    You can read a bit more about it here:
    Western intelligence must have gotten some info or photos of the thing’s prototypes, as it does get mentioned in books from the 1950’s, though whether it’s a torpedo, manned torpedo, or minisub is a bit up in the air.
    One thing the Soviets were supposed to have at the time was a copy of the German submarine-towed V-2 launch canister (Scott’s got a article on it: ) The Soviet version was supposed to be called “Golem”, but no further info on it has shown up since then on it.
    Given the huge size of the T-15, maybe it was mistaken for the Golem launch canister.

  • R2K

    Pretty cool idea.

  • Jeff Wright

    Project pluto for the gas giant, and now something for Europa. Betther concept than Depth X. Now for the Sea Dragon to launch them.

  • John Nowak

    I like the idea of this being something that can be plugged into existing hulls just by hanging on the outside, but I’ve got to wonder about the power. Small nuclear systems like the NR-1’s reactor tend to be a bit feeble.

  • tps

    You could hang 4 of them on a carrier and get the same power as the normal 2 reactors. The problem I seem with them is that you only get 5000 hours running time. That’s about 208 total days. If you’re doing a deployment you’re going to have to stop somewhere, sometime for a swap out.

  • admin

    If they are designed properly, swapping them out should be a relatively straightforward procedure… undo some plugs, undo some bolts drop; tighten some bolts, plug in some plugs, and away you go.

    If they are designed *really* well, when you disconnect a used one it drops down ten meters and drives itself home. This way the ship at sea doesn’t need to bother with it.

  • Jeff Wright

    Rather like a nautical equivalent of Spacejet. Good way to disable a seajacked vessel too.

  • R2K

    Soft landing 50,000 lbs on Europa… that would be a trick.

  • Robin

    >Soft landing 50,000 lbs on Europa… that would be a trick.

    Gravity on Europa (from Wiki), 0.134g,
    therefore Europa mass equivalent = 6700lbs…

  • R2K

    Sorry, correction: Soft landing 22,500 KG on Europa, that would be a trick.

    (Don’t forget it has to leave the Earth first. That is where much of the Delta V happens.)

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