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UNITED STATES ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION
II ATOMIC POWER ENGINEERING
F. C. Von der Lage
This document consists of 20 pages.
Date of Manuscript: March, 1947
Date Declassified: March 31, 1947
This document is for official use.
Its issuance does not constitute authority
for declassification of classified copies
of the same or similar content and title
and by the same authorss.
Technical Information Division, Oak Ridge Directed Operations
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
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Universlry of Florida. Gecorge A. Smathers LlibrlleS Wil~h support from LYIRASIS anid the Sloan Founidation
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ATOMIC POWER ENGINEERING *
By F. C. Von der Lage
ATOMIC ENERGY AND ITS SOURCE
Atomic energy and ordinary heat energy derived from the burning of ordinary fuels are by
nature essentially the same. They differ in the source from which they are obtained. To make this
clear, it is necessary to review briefly some essential, elementary knowledge of the structure and
.behavior of atoms of which all matter is composed.
An atomilpntains a very small, dense central structure called the nucleus'around which there
circulates one or more minute elementary particles, called electrons. The electron weighs about
one millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a pound and carries with
it one unit of negative electric charge. The nucleus is about one millionth of a millionth of an inch
in diameter and the radii of the electron orbits range up to about one hundredth of a millionth of an
inch. Contained within the nucleus are a number of protons each weighing about 1840 times as much
as an electron and carrying one unit of positive charge. Normally,-an isolated atom has as many
electrons circulating about its nucleus as there are protons contained in its nucleus so that the atom
its a whole is electrically neutral.
Species of atoms are classified into elements. Atoms which have the same number of protons
in their nuclei together form an element. Thus, hydrogen contains one proton in its nucleus, carbon
contains six protons in its nucleus, and uranium contains 92 protons.
Nuclei contain a second kind of elementary particle called neutrons. Neutrons are very much
like-protons except that they have no electrical charge. Light nuclei have about equal numbers of
protons and neutrons while heavy elements have about one and a half neutrons per proton.
Atoms having the same number of protons may have different numbers of neutrons, so that
atoms of the same element are further classified into different isotopes. Isotopes of an element are
distinguished by numbers which give the total number of elementary particles in the nucleus. For
example, the isotope of uranium containing 92 protons and 143 neutrons is known as Uranium235
(92 + 143 = 235) and isotope, Uranium238, has 92 protons and 146 neutrons. With this elementary knowl-
edge we are prepared to distinguish the source of ordinary heat power from the source of atomic power.
Man ordinarily produces heat energy by burning fuels, such as coal. This is an example of a
chemical reaction. In this process, atoms of oxygen contained in the air join with atoms of carbon
contained in the coal to form molecules of carbon dioxide. When these molecules are formed,
energy is released. This is the source of energy for an ordinary steam power plant. The energy
is derived from the rearrangement of some of the atomic electrons so that they become shared
between the atoms of the molecule. The nuclei remain distinct and essentially unchanged. Thus-
one would expect, as is indeed the case, that it would not matter whether an atom contained more
*'A monograph on the past, present, and probable future development of atomic power engi-
geering for reading by young persons considering a career in this field.
MDDC 792 [1
2 ] MDDC 792
or less neutrons in its nucleus so long as it had the same number of protons and electrons. The
particular isotope of an element entering into a chemical reaction is unimportant so long as it be-
longs to the same element.
The source of atomic power, however, is quite different, and is the result of a nuclear reaction..i
In a reaction of this type, the group of protons and neutrons forming a nucleus is broken up into two
groups, thus forming two new atomic nuclei. If the two fragments are nearly equal in weight, this
process is called fission. In such reactions the nuclei lose their identity and the rearrangement of ,
protons and neutrons into the new nuclei releases the energy. In this case the structure of the orig-
inal nucleus is important, and different isotopes, even though they belong to the same element, will
behave quite differently.
We see, therefore, that the source of nuclear energy lies in the change of grouping of protons
and neutrons into nuclei, while the source of ordinary chemical energy lies in the change of the
sharing of electrons about nuclei. The energy produced in both cases is the same in nature. The
energy emitted from a nuclear reaction differs from that emitted from a chemical reaction essen-
tially only in intensity and amount, a nuclear reaction emitting an amount per atom about a hundred
million fold greater than that of a chemical reaction. It perhaps would have been better if atomic '
power had been named nuclear power since its source is in the nuclei of atoms, but the name is al-
ready well established and we shall stick to the established terminology. .
DEFINITION OF ATOMIC POWER ENGINrEERING AND ATOMIC POWER ENGINEERS t
Atomic power engineering is the science and art of economically producing nuclear energy and
converting it into useful power in a controlled way. The work that atomic power engineering entails
can be judged by reviewing the experience of man in the development of ordinary heat power. i
TIhe first man to induce matter to release energy through a chemical reaction was that prehis-
toric man who discovered how to start a fire. But it remained until the eighteenth century for man
to discover how to convert this energy to a controlled, continuous flow of useful mechanical power.
This was achieved when James Watt and others constructed the crude steam engine. These pioneers
were followed by thousands of gifted and trained men who contributed to the development of our
modern steam plants and internal combustion engines. Jet engines and gas turbines which have not
as yet been perfected indicate that the job in this field is not yet completed. 1.
To give an example of typical problems which were encountered, we can sketch those which have
have been solved in the case of the steam power plant. Furnaces had to be constructed of materials
which would have sufficient strength, would retain heat well, and yet could withstand the high tem- :I
peratures. The heat energy released had to be transferred to the water in the boiler where steam at ;i
high pressure is thereby generated. Effective heat transfer required the development of suitable
materials for the design of strong, thin-walled tubes that could conduct heat well without bursting
under the high pressures. The high pressure steam is admitted into a turbine which converts the
heat energy in the steam to mechanical energy. The turbine, in addition to making str gent demands
upon the materials of which its parts are constructed, requires careful design. This design must be
in accordance with the laws of fluid dynamics and the thermodynamic properties of steam. Beyond
the turbine, the electric generator, distribution system, and other parts had to be developed.. All Of/
this had to be done in such a way so as to permit adjustable control of the amount of power output.
The first atomic power plant will no doubt be analogous to the steam power plant we have just
described. The fundamental difference will be that the coal furnace will be replaced by a pile which
is merely a nuclear furnace. Because of the nature of nuclear reactions and the intensity of the
"fire," the design of the pile will be radically different from that of a coal furnace. A new design for'
the boiler and probably also for the turbine will be required. Clearly, this design and research
engineering requires all the well established engineering principles superimposed upon basic knowl-
edge of nuclear physics and chemistry.
Today, if a company desired a new steam power plant, they would seek the services of a me-
chanical engineer who was experienced in heat power engineering to design all but the electrical
parts of the machinery. His work and that of his staff would be largely one of selecting many suit-
able units to be assembled into the whole, with possibly a few detail designs of improved parts not
hitherto built into such plants. It would be possible for him to do this only because heat power
engineering is well developed and standardized as a result of many years of research and develop-
ment. Even now, however, mechanical and other engineers are constantly engaged in development
work so that a plant designing engineer must always be on the alert to keep abreast of improved
developments in his field.
It is re unablee to suppose that most of the atomic power engineers of the distant future will be
mechanical engineers who have sufficient background in nuclear physics and who will be specially
trained in atomic power engineering practice. However, during the development stage and until
design becomes somewhat standardized, the design of an atomic power plant will require a team of
many kinds of engineers and scientists. So, for the near future at least, we will not have one type
of engineer who might be called an atomic power engineer, but many types, all of whom are engaged
in atomic power engineering.
HISTORY OF ATOMIC POWER AND THE POWER PILE
Atomic power, a continuous controlled flow of nuclear energy, was first produced by man at the
Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago in 1942 by a group of eminent scientists. As
a result of the war, their normal work of studying and discovering the laws of matter and energy
was interrupted and they were gathered together along with other groups elsewhere for the purpose
of producing, if possible, an atomic explosive. Their success is now well known and it resulted in
an atomic bomb. The production of a continuous flow of nuclear energy, however, was only inci-
dental to their main purpose. In fact, one of their problems was to dispose of the energy produced in
the atomic explosive production plants later built at Hanford, Washington.
The reason that scientists were engaged for this work was, of course, that engineers were not
yet trained in the laws of nuclear physics and chemistry, since only in 1939 had the scientists dis-
covered the possibility of starting a nuclear fire. As with all modern developments, this discovery
was no sudden, lucky achievement, but was the result of 50 years of effort by hundreds of brilliant,
well-trained, painstaking scientists, working all over the world. This brief outline of the history of
this development mentions the names of only a few of the outstanding contributors, and it is inter-
esting to note that, without exception, these workers had only passing interest, if they were aware at
all, in the possibility that some day atomic power plants would be built.
Although the existence of the nucleus of the atom was then unknown, the first to observe the
release of nuclear energy was Henri Becquerel who, in 1896, discovered natural radioactivity.
Following this discovery, natural radioactivity was extensively studied by the Curies for many years.
Becquerel's discovery was followed by the announce ment of the theory of relativity by Albert Einstein
in 1905, which among other things asserts the equivalance of mass and energy and led men to realize
the vast amount of energy stored in matter.
The structure of the atom, that is, the proof of the e:ristence of the central nucleus of the atom,
*was revealed in the experiments of Lord Rutherford in 1911. This was followed in 1913 by the
theories of Niels Bohr which tentatively explained the structure of the atom with its centrally
charged nucleus and surrounding electrons.
The first artificially produced nuclear reaction was achieved by Rutherford in 1919. Then
followed the new quantum mechanics in the middle 1920's as the result of the work of the theoreti-
cians, De Broglie, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli, Schrodinger, and many others, which served to co-
ordinate and explain all atomic phenomena not involving the structure of the nucleus itself.
Through all this time, it was believed that the nucleus was made up of protons and some elec-
trons but this belief was discarded after the discovery of the neutron by Chadwick in 1932. Fol-
lowing his discovery it was established that the nucleus consists of protons and neutrons and that
electrons are to be found in the atom only outside the nucleus.
Nuclear fission was first observed by Fermi and his coworkers, in 19341, but fission was not~
recognized as such until 1939 as the result of the researches of Hahn, Strassman, Meitner, and
Frisch. It was the discovery of nuclear fission induced by neutrons and the emission of neutrons
following a fission which revealed the possibility of producing nuclear power. But in 1940 the
burning question remained, "How can we light a nuclear fire This was the problem that was
solved by the scientists at the University of Chicago. It is so important that we pause in our
historical outline to give its details.
In order that energy be useful for power production, it must be released continuously and in a
controllable manner. This can be achieved by a chain reaction which insures that, once started,
the fire is self-sustaining until the fuel is consumed. In an ordinary fire, a fuel such as coal, for
example, is ignited by a flame. In essence, this supplies a small amount of energy which is nec-
essary to initiate the combination of the oxygen and carbon atoms. This first combination releases
more than enough energy to initiate a second combination, and this in turn causes a third, and so on,
so that once started, the fire is sustained until the fuel is consumed. This process is known as ai
In an analogous way atomic power is produced by a nuclear chain reaction. Man cannot, how-
ever, create an environment suitable for a controlled, energy sustained, nuclear chain reaction.
For this purpose he must use neutrons. Thus, a stray neutron causes the fission of one atom. This
process in turn emits neutrons which under suitable conditions will cause a second fission and so on.
It was the discovery that neutrons would efficiently cause fission coupled with the fact that fission
also produces neutrons which is the key to the establishment of a controlled nuclear chain reaction.
This, however, can be done only in a suitably designed pile and it is the latter problem which was
solved by the scientists at the University of Chicago.
In order to understand the problem of establishing and controlling a nuclear chain reaction, we
can again consider an ordinary fire, and, for our purposes, one in which there is always more than
sufficient fuel (say oil spray and air) present. Such a fire could be controlled, in principle, by ad-
justing the rate of energy withdrawal. The formation of one molecule out of atoms of carbon and
oxygen produces more than enough energy to induce the formation of a second molecule so that if no
energy were allowed to escape, the fire, once started, would rapidly increase in intensity and would
result in an exlosion. If sufficient water were sprayed with the fuel, the water would absorb too
large a proportion of the energy produced and there would not then be enough energy to continuously
sustain the chemical chain reaction and the fire would die even though there were sufficient fuel.
If, however, energy were allowed to escape in just the right proportion, the fire would be maintained
at a constant level of intensity. Of course, ordinary fires are controlled in a much simpler way by
regulating the supply of fuel and not primarily by adjusting the critical rate of energy withdratival.
But present nuclear fires are controlled in this way except that control depends upon neutron
economy rather than energy economy.
A fissionable nucleus, upon capture of a neutron, fissions, produces energy, and emits more
than one but less than three neutrons. If the nuclear chain reaction is to continue at the same in-
tensity, exactly one of these neutrons, on the average, must be captured and must cause a second
fission, and so on. Of course, not all neutrons will be captured by fissiodiing nuclei because some
will be captured by non-fissioning nuclei and others will be lost by leakage from the nuclear fire.
This loss must be reduced to a point where at least one neutron per fission on the average is avail-
able for sustaining the chain reaction. In practice, the design must be somewhat better than this so
that the intensity of the reaction may be adjusted by inserting or withdrawing neutron absorbers for
M'DDC 792 [ 5
This problem of neutron economy for maintenance and control of a nuclear chain reaction is a
very critical one. The Chicago group solved this problem by the construction of a pile. A pile,
sometimes called a nuclear reactor, is the furnace which must be designed and constructed of suit-
able materials so as to insure that neutron loss by leakage or non-fission capture is reduced. It
consists of a mass of very pure, neutron non-absorbing material (in their case graphite), inter-
spersed with lumps of uraniuml. In order to insure that not too great a proportion of neutrons be
lost by leakage, it is necessary that it be of a certain critical size. Surrounding the pile there is
a thick-concrete shield to protect personnel from the dangerous radiations emitted from the pile.
Means must be provided to remove the energy produced, and in a power pile this must be done
efficient nd economically. Control is achieved by inserting or withdrawing neutron absorbing
rods through holes in the sides of the pile.
To start the pile these rods are partially withdrawn. A stray neutron causes a fission and,
since with rods in this position, the pile is supercritical (more than one neutron per fission goes
to produce subsequent fission) and the intensity of the nuclear fire increases until a desired inten-
sity is reached. The control rod Is then pushed in to adjust for exactly critical condition and the
pile operates continuously at this level. To shut down the pile, the control rod is pushed in further,
the pile is now sub-critical and the nuclear fire dies.
We see then, that so far as the useful production of atomic power is concerned, man had pro-
gressed by 1942 to the point at which he could light a controlled atomic fire, which is in a sense,
the historical analogue in ordinary power production to the stage reached by prehistoric man when
he first lit his fire. There remains a great deal to be do to to adapt the pile to the production of
economically useful power. Of course, we have all the experience gained in ordinary' power engi-
neering, all the scientific knowledge gained in the last few hundreds of years, plus the knowledge of
knowing why our nuclear fire burnls, so that we feel confident that we will have an atomic power
plant in the near future. Thus, we hope to bridge the gap between the lighting of a nuclear fire and
an atomic power plant in a few years, whereas the corresponding achievement in ordinary power
plant development required thousands of years.
Following 1942, little work was done on atomic power production and progress on design of a
power plant remained static until the end of World War II when work on the research and design of
an atomic power plant w'as initiated. This was approved and financed by the Mlanhattan District.
Corps of Engineers, U. S. Army and more recently the Atomic Energy Commission which assumed
these responsibilities of the District on January 1, 1947. The work is being done in its laboratories
and under contract with other laboratories. Thus, M'arch 19417 finds the counterpart role of James
Watt and his contemporaries being enacted by the engineers and scientists working in these labora-
THE FUTURE OF ATOMIC POWER ENGINEERING
Atomic power engineering is at present in the laboratory stage. It can be said with confidence
that an atomic power plant will be built in the near future, as soon as the remaining engineering
problems are solved. The first plant is apt to be far f'rom a perfect design and in itself will be an
engineering experiment from which technical knowledge will be gleaned for the construction of future
.The units for the immediate future will no doubt be plants designed to produce power on the
larger scale. In the light of present scientific and.engineering knowledge, the atomic counterpart of
our small power units, such as the automobile engine, are not possible, and if they are developed in
the future, they will rely on knowledge not yet known.
Future growth of atomic power engineering rests on the usual economic factors which in turn
are influenced by scientific and technological advancement. Under present conditions, if an atomic
plant were constructed along side an existing coal plant, the cost of atomic energy would doubtless
be greater than that of a corresponding amount of energy obtained from the coal plant. If the cost
of mining and processing atomic fuel and other materials is reduced by increased efficiency and if
atomic plant design is improved, then the cost of atomic power should be reduced. Optimistic
estimates coupled with the expected rise in coal cost predict~that atomic power will compete on
even terms with coal. Such estimates are not based solely upon the initial cost of the fuel. The
necessity of reprocessing atomic fuel from time to time also must be taken into account, and this
requires capital outlay in building and operating associated plants. This is the reason for beLieving
that atomic power will not replace existing power sources for a long time but rather than atomic
powr will supplement our present sources of power.
These estimates do not diminish the urgency for the development of atomic power, however,
for the building of an atomic plant next to an existing plant does not utilize the peculiar advantages
that atomic power has to offer. The chief advantage of atomic power is that its fuel is concentrated.
Thus, atomic powr will have an advantage in localities where the cost of delivery of fuel is high
or impossible. For example, an atomically powered ship could cruise for months without putting
into port for refueling. In a locality accessible only by air, an atomic power plant could be con-
structed and atomic fuel an supplies could be flown in, whereas the cost of transporting many
tons of coal by air would be prohibitive.
One other factor which may influence the development of atomic power must be mentioned.
Atomic power plan fuel, when proerly refined, may be converted into explosives used in atomic
bombs. For this reason, at the present time some scientific and engineering information in this
field is being held secret. Furthermore, the United Nations are currently considering international
atomic energy control. It may develop that design and ownership of those types of plants which
could easily be converted int atomic explosive manufacturing plants may be restricted or entirely
prohibited. Thus, in the interest of national or international security, certain technical develop-
ments in the field of atomic power may be suppressed. It remains for future political decisions to
determie the extent of control, but it appears unlikely that the development of atomic power will
be seriously curta iled.
One aspect of atomic power engineering not directly concerned with power itself is that of the
production of radioisotopes, atoms of elements whose nuclei contain an abnormal number of neu-
trons. There is already a great unsatisfied demand for isotopes for use in scientific, engineering,
and medical research. No doubt the use of isotopes for industrial test purposes will greatly increase.
Isotoes can be manufactured in quantity only in units similar to atomic power furnaces and, indeed,
some isotopes are a by-product in the manufacture of atomic power. It is possible but at present it
appears unlikely that the production of isotopes will be as important as the production of power itself.
TYPES OF PERSONNEL NEEDED IN ATOMIC POWER DEVELOPMENT
Atomic power is at present in its early developmental stage. Because of this, the present need
is for the services of research and design engineers and scientists. These include metallurgists
and metallurgical engineers. chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers,
physicists, chemists, biologists, research doctors, and health physicists. We describe some typical
needs which each must satisfy.
Metallugists and Metallurgical Engineers
One of the most difficult problems is that of producing and fabricating suitable metals for use
in the atomit furnace. The need for materials which can satisfy stringent nuclear requirements has
lead to a feverish search for suitable metals, research on their properties, methods for purification
methods for production, and methods for fabrication. Little or nothing was known about the metal-
largical properties of many of these materials prior to the war and some existed as pure metals
only on a laboratory scale or not at all. Technically, the limit on efficiency of an atomic power
plant is set by the temperatures which can be withstood by its materials of construction and there
is yet a great deal to be done by metallurgists and metallurgical engineers.
In the course of the burning of nuclear fuel the ashes, that is, the fission product nuclei, of
necessity become intimately mixed with the remaining fuel and after a sufficient amount has accu-
mulated the atomic fire will be put out. Therefore, it is necessary to remove these nuclei by
reprocessing the fuel. This must be done chemically by remote control behind heavy, protective
walls because of the danger from poisoning or deadly radiation emitted from the contaminated fuel.
The design and operation of a plant for the separation of unwanted fission isotopes and the recovery
of valuable fission products will require the services of many chemical engineers.
Mechanical engineers must not only aid in construction of the nuclear furnace but must also
design, construct, and operate suitable heat engines to accommodate the heat energy in the form it
is produced. In addition to usual problems found in ordinary heat engine design, suitable materials
developed by the metallurgist must be chosen. The dangerous fission products and deadly rays must
be guarded against by foolproof leakage prevention in the unprotected portions and by construction
of suitable shielding about the parts which contain the dangerous products.
Electrical engineers must design and operate suitable electronic and electrical devices used in
control of such a power plant in addition to designing the generating unit.
Physicists and Chemists
Leadership in the design of the first power piles must undoubtedly come from these scientists.
After the initial development stage is past, it will be necessary to continue employment of physicists
and chemists to investigate engineering details requiring scientific techniques which they alone by
training are capable of handling. This will be in addition to those scientists who are engaged in
studying matter and energy on a very fundamental and non-engineering basis. The latter will con-
tinue to supply the basic knowledge which is the root of all new technological advancement.
Biologist and Research Doctors
Nuclear radiations and poisons are suspected of being very insidious and their effects on living
matter are, in many cases, not at present known. Biologists are needed to study their effects on
living organism. Research doctors must develop methods of treating patients who have been irrad-
iated or poisoned.
Amounts of fission isotopes as little as one hundredth of a millionth of a pound, amounts which
cannot be seen because of their small size, can be fatal when taken internally. If great care is not
exercised, laboratory spaces may become contaminated with these substances. As a result, instru-
ments must be developed for detecting these materials and methods for preventing contamination
must be devised to prevent injury of personnel. This requires the services of one trained in nuclear
phenomena, the instrumentation methods of physics, and the biological effects so that he may detect
the presence of dangerous contamination, set up safe tolerance standards, and thus protect personnel.
Such a hybrid physicist-chemist-biologist is known as a health physicist and must be employed
wherever radioactive substances are produced.
The foregoing listing of engineers does not exhaust the list of contributors to the development
of atomic power plants. But it does list most of those who will be required to augment their con-
ventional engineering knowledge with training in nuclear phenomena. "-2r.,l8pfbu
PRESENT LOCATION OF ATOMIC POWER DEVELOPMENT EMPLOYMENT
At present there are several laboratories in the United States which are engaged in the design
of an atomic power plant. One, the Clinton Laboratories, at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is owned by the
Commission and is administered under contract by the Monsanto Chemical Company. Another is the
General Electric L~aboratories at Schenectady, New York, which has a contract to conduct research
on design of such a plant for the Navy. Additional work is being carried out at the Commission-
owned sites located at Los Alamos, New Mexico, Hanford, Washington, Brrookhaven near Patchogue,
Long Island, Ne~w York, and the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. The Commission has
laboratories under contract for related work, the largest of which is the Radiation Laboratory at the
University of California, Berkeley, California. Many firms have evinced interest in the development
of atomic power and some are conducting preliminary investigations in this field.
The development of an atomic power plant is a huge task, requiring large laboratories with
many staff, members. In addition, it requires a number of other laboratories which investigate
specific problems such as, for example, the metallurgy of a specific metal. Because of the secrecy
imposed in the interest of national security, all research and development requiring restricted
information or materials is under the license restrictions of the Federal Atomic Energy Commission.
The total cost of developing atomic power runs into tens of millions of dollars per year so that the
government or large industrial firms alone can afford to assume the risk of financing it at the pres-
FUTURE REQUIREMENTS FOR ATOFIUC' POWER ENGINEERING PERSONNEL
The engineering personnel needs for the anticipated atomic power industry are closely parallel
to the existing power industry. At present the research and development aspects are accentuated.
The young engineer who is well trained in a conventional field of engineering and who, in addition,
has had adequate training in nuclear physics and chemistry is and will continue to be in great demand
for work in this field.
At present there is a great shortage of competent personnel for atomic power development.
Reliable estimates predict that this shortage will continue since the need for development will per-
sist for many years, and the supply of brilliant, highly trained personnel will not be sufficient to
satisfy the need. As atomic power enters the industrial stage, the need for development personnel
will continue and there will be additional need for operating personnel such as managing engineers,
operating engineers, maintainance engineers, safety engineers, consultant engineers, sales engineers,
and atomic power engineering professors. These must all have their conventional training in engi-
neering augmented by training in the atomic sciences and atomic engineering practice.
These engineers w~ill be employed by atomic power utilities, atomic power equipment manu-
facturers, atomically powered maritime shipping companies, the armed forces, especially the ~Navy,
private power plants, perhaps in Isolated places, as well as national or possibly an international
atomic energy control commission.
DUTIES OF THE ATOMIC POWER ENGINEERS
The duties of the development engineers are to devise methods to employ the laws of physics
and chemistry for atomic power production and control. This requires that they do research on ard
develop means for producing, refining, and fabricating suitable materials of construction, and that
they devise workable arrangements which will be reliable, safe, and economical. We can review
some of the typical work in which each type of engineer might be engaged.
A young metallurgist may be working on the removal of an undesirable impurity in an otherwise
suitable metal; he may be devrising methods for working this metal into a desirable shape; or he
may be studying a metal to determine why it has certain desirable or undesirable properties.
A mechanical engineer may be required, for example, to design the heat exchanger elements.
He must select suitable materials for this purpose, materials which not only must satisfy stringent
w nuclear requirements but also, at the same time, must have suitable mechanical properties. Older
and more experienced engineers must create, test, revise, and recreate designs for overall me-
chanical arrangements made out of suitable materials and direct the younger engineers in their
investigation of component parts.
The chemical engineers must develop means of safely processing the fuel and separate by-
product isotopes. A young chemical engineer might devise a method for safely handling and trans-
porting the ighly radioactively contaminated fuel into the shielded plant. He might design a
dissolving vat which will work by remote control and which does not introduce additional undesirable
elements. The more experienced chemical engineer will direct younger members of his staff and
will conceive, create, test, and recreate pilot plants, and finally evolve a chemical purification plant
that is efficient, economical, and safe.
The biologist will study the effect of radiation or poison on living tissue. A young geneticist
might study the effects upon heredity; other biologists will study the rate of excretion of ingested
poisons or the damage to tissue of a measured amount of radiation. The research doctor might
study methods for healing a certain type of radiation burn. The health physicist might design a
radiation detector, or inspect and recommend a procedure or a change in design in order to protect
Each member of the team must be imaginative and creative and must draw heavily upon his
training and experience. Nature is very kind in providing many possibilities but she is also stern
and her demands must be met.
When atomic power reaches the industrial stage, plants must be operated and maintained and
this will require the services of engineers. The managing engineer must make decisions on what
type of plant to install, how large it shall be, decide on replacement or extension, establish rules
Sand procedures for operating the plant efficiently and economically. He must carefully select his
department heads so that he may rely upon them to assist him in making wise decisions.
The operating engineer must predict what the demands will be on his plant, arrange operating
schedules, direct operating personnel and make recommendations to the managing engineer on plant
The maintenance engineer must be constantly alert to see that the plant is properly maintained,
he must direct personnel in the upkeep of the plant, and must recommend replacement or major
repair of existing plant equipment to the managing engineer.
The safety engineer is responsible for the safety of personnel and equipment. This will be
especially important in an atomic energy plant because of the constant danger of lurking poisons
and radiation. He must direct and establish procedures, tolerances, and inspections, and must
recommend the installation of radiation detectors and safety devices.
Atomic power engineering professors will be needed in the universities and engineering colleges
to teach the art to future engineers. This will come about as soon as development has progressed
to a point at which design is at least partially standardized. Such professors usually do research
themselves and direct graduate students in their research work. They often act as consultants to
Consulting engineers are well trained engineers with many years of experience behind them.
They maintain offices of their own and are called upon for advice and recommendation on the design,
construction, and maintenance of new plants. They study the problems of their clients and submit*
reports and recommendations for their solution. IP-_, _pS-bu
Sales engineers are usually employed by equipment manufacturers. In order to be convincing
salesmen, they must be trained engineers who understand their product and those of their compet-
itors. They must analyze the problems of their prospective clients so that they may recognize their
needs and thus be able to recommend a product intelligently.
Once atomic power reaches the industrial stage, the demands for fundamental knowledge on the
part of non-developmental engineers for day to day operation will probably not be so great. How-
ever, the young man who is well grounded in fundamental scientific knowledge will always be a much
better engineer because of it and leadership in his field will demand that he have the basic knowledge.
Personal Aptitudes Required
Success in any professional field requires that the individual have the required aptitudes.
Basic aptitudes seem to come naturally but many are acquired and in some measure most indi-
vitduals may consciously develop them.
The engineer must have a deep interest in building things and making them work. In order to
do this he must have the ability to study and analyze his problem. This can be done only with the
aid of adequate knowledge of engineering practices, the laws of the basic sciences, and the use of
The engineer must be imaginative, resourceful, creative, and must have perseverance to bring
his project to a successful conclusion. He must be objective in his professional thinking so that his
judgment be sound, and, therefore, respected by his colleagues. He must have an acceptable per-
sonality in order that he may work in a team. These are general attributes that must be possessed
by all engineers if they are to succeed, but the amounts of each needed will vary with the different
types or branch of engineering in which the individual is engaged.
The research and development engineer must be particularly well trained in science. Indeed,
many research engineers are former scientists who have turned their knowledge and techniques
learned, while searching for the why of nature, to the task of applying scientific knowledge to the
development of something useful to man.
HOW TO CHOOSE A PROFESSION
Success in an field of endeavor requires a deep seated love for the work. For the young man
or woman, choosing a profession is a serious matter and when considering a profession as a possible
chie for him, his first question should be, "WYould I enjoy doing the work ? This is often a diffi-
enit question to answer since an individual frequently has had little opportunity to engage in the work
before he must make his decision. This is the case for engineering. Lacking experience from which
to judge, he must turn to related experiences for his answer.
In order to obtain clues as to his aptitude for engineering, he may ask himself, "Am I inter-
ested in things mechanical; do I enjoy repairing household appliances, automobiles, or bleycles ?
Do I enjoy building a radio, or perhaps feel very sad for having ruined a clock when trying to fix it ?
Have I ever been fascinated by a steam locomotive or a steam shovel to the extent of forgetitng all
else temporarily ? Have I thought about it afterwards to try to find out how parts of it work? If
he can answr some of these or like questions in the affirmative, then his next step is to consider his
aptitudes in related fields to see if he has the necessary liking and ability for analysis.
All teellpology requires scientific background for technique in analysis. The individual may ask
himself, "Have I been well above average in my study of high school science and mathematics ? Do
I enjoy solving problems? If these questions also are answered affirmatively, then it is a good
sign that he will succeed as an engineer. If he must in honesty reply negatively to these questions,
then he would be wise to consider other professions as a career.
IVDDC 792 [ 11
In choosing, a young person must be careful to avoid one pitfall, and that is selecting a pro-
fession solely because of its newness or the glamour attached to it. This is especially true if he is
considering science or engineering as a profession. Startling new technological advances become
commonplace and the public soon forgets its importance. This will doubtless happen to atomic
power. The seeker of glamour in technological work is nearly always doomed to disappointment.
The more basic the work, the more obscure he is likely to be in the public mind. Before the war
not one person in hundreds knew what a physicist was although physics is the root and a tool for all
technological advancement. Scientists and engineers must be content with being recognized and
respected by their fellowv scientists and engineers.
PRE-COLLEGE EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS
Colleges and universities have set up minimum educational standards for entrance as an
engineering student. The would-be engineer should obtain a catalogue from the institution of his
choice preferably early in his high school career in order to insure that he satisfy the entrance
requirements. Such catalogues may be obtained by writing to the institution concerned. The re-
quirements usually include three or four years of mathematics including algebra, geometry, and
trigonometry, one year of physics, one year of chemistry, three or four years of English, two years
of a foreign language, two or three years of history and civics, plus other minor subjects.
Good training in mathematics and English is especially important. Students with an aptitude
for engineering frequently tend to slight English. This later proves to be a great handicap since the
precise use of English in preparing reports and in conversing with engineers and the public is im-
portant as many have Learned to their regret later. While the study of scientific subjects in the
secondary school is mandatory, it is important to include cultural subjects such as foreign lan-
guages, history, art, and others, since it has been the experience of the past that engineers when
dealing with others frequently are handicapped by their lopsided training.
Some high schools are poorly staffed or the training offered does not provide a favorable
foundation for later college engineering work. If the student has a choice, he will be wise if he
shops about to determine the high school or preparatory school in his community which offers'
the best instruction for pre-engineering students. In spite of minimum entrance requirements, a
universal complaint among college professors is that many of their freshman students come to them
ill prepared so that they often need to interrupt their already crowded programs to teach their stu-
dents high school subjects.
UNDERGRADUATE COLLEGE TRAINING FOR ATOMIC POWER ENGINEERS
The traditional undergraduate college course requires four years to complete. This, however,
crowds a conventional engineering course so that some engineering colleges have come to require
five or six years study for the engineering degree. To acquire a master's degree requires a year
or more in the graduate school. The doctorate degree in science or engineering requires a minimum
of three and sometimes six years of training after the bachelor's degree, depending upon the rate
of progress in research on the dissertation problem.
The first two or three years of undergraduate college work includes in addition to non-scientific
subjects the study of basic sciences. These are classical physics, chemistry, and mathematics,
'including analytical geometry, calculus, and differential equations. With minor variations the
curriculum for the first years is essentially the same for all engineers.
The final half of the engineer's undergraduate training is usually devoted primarily to pro-
fessional subjects. It is at the beginning of this period that he must have reached a definite de-
rision as to what division of engineering he wishes to follow, that is, whether he will be a civil,
mechanical, electrical, chemical, metallurgical, or other type of engineer. The student who plans
I. to use his engineering in the atomic power field should arrange also to include, as elective courses,
12 ] MDDC 792
advanced undergraduate courses in pnysics and chemistry up to and including modern physics. The ;:
Latter will take careful planning since engineering curricula are already crowded with required pro-
fessional courses and there is little time left for elective courses.
Engineering colleges and universities issue booklets outlining the various engineering courses
of study offered. These can be procured from the university concerned and should be consulted
when selecting the school and in planning courses. It is more important that the beginning college
engineering student select a school which offers good, basic science and mathematics training by a ;1
competent teaching staff than it is to select one solely because of its size or eminence in research
engineering. Many smaller colleges qualify well for instruction for the first few years of college
and in some cases are superior because of the individual attention the student may receive. At the
end of the first years of undergraduate work, the student must make a specific choice of which
branch of engineering he wishes to continue his studies. Depending on his choice and the school he
has been attending, it may be desirable to consider changing to a school better equipped and staffed
to teach the upper division professional engineering courses.
It is a wise plan for an engineering student to arrange for employment with an engineering firm
or agency during the summer term when his college is not~in regular session. The work to be
performed should preferably be that of an engineering aide, a junior draftsman, a computer, an in-
spector, an assistant technician or other work which is directly associated with engineering and
which uses some of the basic engineering knowledge already obtained. The experience thus gained
not only affords him a background upon which to draw for selecting future academic work but pro-
vides valuable contacts which will aid him in getting started in his professional career later. He
will better judge his aptitudes and likes from having been engaged in the work, his academic study
will be more realistic, and his perspective for planning future work will be broadened. Some
universities have arrangements with industrial concerns for full-time employment of their under-
graduate students for periods of from six to twelve months as a part of their regular engineering
COLLEGE GRADUATE SCHOOL TRAINING
The present state of atomic power development grew out of only the most recent scientific
knowledge de.eloped by physicists wh~o had years of preparatory training in a field of research
virtually unknown to the public. Therefore, physicists turned engineers, at present, are the basic
leaders in the development of atomic power and must continue to be so for some time to come, until
engineers and future engineers can be given the necessary training. It seems likely, at least during
the developmental stage, that an engineer with less training than one with a doctor's degree in physics
will Dc- unable to assume leadership in this field. Conventionally trained engineers, especially those
who have had advanced training or experience in nuclear physics on the graduate school level, will
continue to contribute increasingly and to an indispensable degree. However, the engineer who plans
to exert creative leadership in the development of atomic power had best augment his engineering
training with training equivalent to that of a Ph. D. physicist.
Atomic power is so new~ that college engineering departments are scarcely prepared to teach the
advanced phystes or chemistry necessary for the training of future atomic power engineers. No
doubt when atomic power is further developed and the design of such plants become partially stand-
ardized, courses specifically designed for atomic power engineers will be offered in these depart-
ments. For the present, the young engineer with the bachelor's degree must turn to the scientific
departments of the college for this necessary training.
Graduate students differ from undergraduate students in that they must have the ability to carryr
on independent study and must demonstrate their ability toedo original research. The requirements
for enrollment in worth-while graduate schools are very high and only the most promising students
as judged by their aptitudes and past scholastic achievements are admitted.
A graduate student in the physical sciences spends his first year or two attending formal
classes and informal seminars on advanced courses and gains laboratory practice in the advanced
laboratory. Concurrently, he may; start his research work on a specific theoretical or experi-
mental problem which he selects subject to approval of his research advisor. To be worthy of an
advanced degree, the research must be original, must contribute toward the advancement of the
science, and must demonstrate the ability of the student to perform original research work. After
passing certain required comprehensive examinations on his knowledge of the science and upon
submission of an acceptable thesis on his research work, he is granted an advanced degree. This
may take one year or more for the master's degree and a minimum of three years for the doctor's
degree. a ,
The limits of subject matter, whose knowledge would be advantageous to the atomic power
engineer, exceeds the capabilities for profitable absorption by any one individual. The extent of a
recommended course would vary from individual to individual and would depend upon the division of
engineering he wishes to practice, his individual capabilities, and the position to which he aspires.
As a minimum for contribution to research and development he should have training and experience
equivalent to a master's degree.
As a beginning, he should have a course in differential equations on a graduate school level, an
advanced survey course in classical theoretical physics, an advanced survey course in modern
atomic and nuclear physics, and an advanced laboratory course. Further courses might be: advanced
thermodynamics, kinetic theory and heat, advanced electricity and magnetism, advanced optics,
advanced analytical mechanics, elementary quantum mechanics, applied quantum mechanics, advanced
theoretical quantum mechanics, advanced chemistry, and radiochemistry. This does not exhaust the
list; many specialized advanced courses which might be profitable have not been mentioned.
A physicist or engineer would rarely formally study all subjects mentioned in the foregoing.
The specific course of study and research for an individual would become indicated as he progressed.
In any event, the most important acquisition of the graduate school training is to acquire the ability
for independent study and research, for the life of a successful research and development engineer
and to a lesser extent for an operating engineer is one of continued study and increased understanding
of old and new developments in science and engineermg practice.
Training in graduate physics and chemistry may be obtained at many colleges and universities
throughout the United States. Discussions are now underway between the various Atomic Energy
Commission owned laboratories and universities in their region for arrangements whereby advanced
graduate students will be permitted to carry out their research using facilities of these laboratories.
Some universities, one of which is Cornell University, are planning or are already offering an
Engineering-Physics course which should prove valuable for future atomic power engineering training.
The future atomic power engineer should plan to select his graduate school sometime during his
senior undergraduate year and should choose a university which has strong physics, chemistry, and
mathematics departments which are active in research. The quality of such a school may be judged
by the professional scientific stature of the members of its staff, the quality of research emanating
from the department and published in professional journals, the facilities for research, and the
record of its past graduate students.
BEGINNING EMPLOYMlENT AND LINE OF PROMOTION
The young engineer trained for atomic power development engineering must look to govern-
ment laboratories or large industrial firms for employment. For this purpose, contacts established
as a result of his part-time employment during his college years or those made as a result of
attending meetings of professional societies or publishing research papers lead to his being sought
out by future employers. Often employers contact graduate schools for suggestions to fill their
personnel needs and the graduate engineer or scientist is offered employment as a result of a
recommendaion from its staff members.
Due to the present acute shortage and the anticipated continued need for trained personnel, the
highly trained engineer is likely to be in a position to choose from among several offers. Upon
reporting to the laboratory he will be given office space or laboratory space depending upon his
needs. The first few weeks or sometimes months will be spent browsing through reports, talking
to personnel concerning their research, and generally familiarizing himself with the current prob-
lemns an~d research of the laboratory. During this time he may be assigned a few routine problems
or he may attend orientation classes or engineering seminars.
His first assignment will depend upon the needs of the laboratory, his capabilities, and his
training. He may at first be assigned a routine testing job using established techniques or he might
be given instructions to devise a means for testing a material, to design a component part of ap-
paratus, or to analyse data which has been procured. If he is highly trained and has carried on
successful research in closely related work, he may simply be informed of the problem to be solved
or research data needed and be given access to space, equipment, and technician's help to carry out
the work with only frequent consultation with his superior.
H~is rate of progress will depend upon his aptitudes and background of training and experience.
After a few years he may become a section leader. He will then have a number of engineers to
direct in their researches, will plan promising overall lines of attach for problems of his section.
He will, conult with other section leaders and with the head of his division frequently in order that
new infrmation gained from the several sections may be exchanged and future work planning be
After perhaps ten or fifteen years of experience or sometimes earlier, he may be promoted to
the head of his division of engineering such as, for example, the head of the metallurgy division.
Division heads together with the laboratory director determine the future overall avenues of approach
to the achievement of a goal. To accomplish this purpose they must be alert to use scientific and
engineering knowledge gained at other laboratories as well as their own, must study the reports and
suggestions of their section leaders, must recognize and define the problems that will be met in the
proposed designs, and must estimate the probable advantages and disadvantages of the proposed
physical product after it is finally constructed.
The progress of the future atomic engineer who engages in construction, operation, and main-
tenance as contrasted to research and development cannot be described in detail since no such
plants are now in existence. However, it is not hard to imagine that his progress will be similar
to that of other industrial engineers. For example, we may imagine the career of a young atomic
chemical engineer who has received his master's degree in 1955.
In 1953, after having graduated as a chemical engineer, he began his graduate work in a large
university and had taken graduate courses in physics and radiochemistry. He had written a master's
dissertation on the separation of a hitherto unseparated isotope, reporting the result of his research
in his thesis and was granted his degree in June 1955. During the previous four months he had been
interview by several potential employers and had accepted a position with a firm that operated an
atomic power plant. Associated with the power plant there was a chemical plant which was used to
process the fuel and was producing a number of radioisotopes as by-products.
Shortly after his arrival he was assigned the task of testing the isotopic purity of one of the
products for process control purposes using methods that were standard in the laboratory. The
standard method used was satisfactory but left something to be desired because of its relatively
great cost. Several months later in the course of his routine work, it occurred to him that a
variation of a method used in his graduate school research would perhaps do the job cheaper. He
mentioned his idea to the chief of the test control laboratory section who was favorably impressed
and, since the trial of the method required only a few hundred dollars for readily available
apparatus and supplies, he was authorized to spend a few weeks trying his method out. Fortunately
it worked fine and the necessary changes were made in the standard method.
A year later the chief was promoted as head of the isotope production division and our young
chemical engineer became the new chief of the control section. As such he was responsible for the
maintenance of purity standards, the detection of imperfections in the products of the chemical
plant, and directed a number of assistants and technicians who helped him in this work.
A number of years later, as a result of development research elsewhere, a demand arose for
one of the isotopes created in the fission process and which previously had been discarded as
worthless. method of separation had been developed and the plant manager and division chiefs
decided to erect an addition to the plant for the separation of the isotope from the waste products.
Our engineer had during the course of his detection duties suggested and carried out minor changes
which improved the regular plant processes so that he was a natural choice for assignment to
assist in the selection of suitable equipment, to supervise the installation of the equipment and,
later, to act as division head of the new subplant.
The story of the partial career related thus far is fictitious in fact but is plausible and a fair
example of the progress of the career a young industrial atomic engineer might expect. His rate
of progress and the ultimate limit of his achievement in position depends upon his natural or de-
veloped aptitudes, his training, his constant alertness in keeping up with new scientific developments
and improved engineering practice, his ability to produce desired results, the needs of the firm, and
the general prosperity and growth of the organization with which he is associated.
The research, design, construction, and operation of atomic power facilities is a business that
must be done on a large scale and, as a result, by far the greater part of professional incomes whill
be in the form of salaries. There are few opportunities for the individual to set himself up in his
own business on an individual or small group scale except in the consultant field. The latter is
usually reserved for the older men who have had extensive training and wide experience as salaried
A consulting firm usually includes one or more engineers of different types and it is reasonable
to suppose that firms will include atomic engineers. The incomes of individual members of a con-
sultant firm may, under favorable circumstances, run into tens of thousands of dollars per year.
More often their income is somewhat less than this but they do enjoy the independence which goes
along with being a partner in one's own business.
The future will no doubt offer opportunities as college teachers of atomic engineering. These
are frequently engineers with outside experience who return to the universities as teachers. The
salaries of academic men are usually somewhat lower than those paid in industry. Younger men
may get as little as three thousand dollars per year and full professors in larger institutions usually
from five to seven thousand dollars with rarely as much as ten thousand per year. Sometimes the
college salary may be augmented by private consulting work. The generally lower salaries pre-
vailing in academic work is usually compensated by the longer vacations during summer months,
the relatively simple family needs for the life led on a college campus, and ; academic freedom"
which traditionally allows a great deal of latitude for the choice of problem and methods for carrying
Most young engineers must look to private industry or government for their employment. In
general, government employment carries with it a lower salary than for corresponding positions
in industry. However, the government is usually more liberal with annual vacations and retirement
benefits. Research and development work usually demands higher salaries because of the added
training required. This is especially so for the lower and intermediate salary brackets. Higher
positions in engineering involve executive duties and there the salary difference between research
and development engineering, and operating engineering may not be so great. ,,_,ra-pl~abu
The young graduate engineer with an advanced degree such as has been described may expect
in industry a beginning salary of from twenty-four hundred to forty-five hundred dollars per year
depending upon his training. The director of a large laboratory may receive fifteen thousand dollars
per year and in very exceptional cases more. The very competent and the all-but most successful
atomic power engineer may expect to receive up to ten thousand dollars per year as a maximum
during his career.
ADVANTAGES OF T"HE: CAREER
One canot clearly differentiate between advantages and disadvantages of a career without
taking into account the individual person concerned. That which may be attractive and inspiring to
one may be repulsive or dull to another so that the reader may desire to reverse the classification
of some aspects of the work here given.
It is clear from what has been said before that an engineer will not become rich as a result of
having practiced engineering as a profession. Monetary rewards for a moderately successful engi-
neer ~will be ample for comfortable middle class living and he will be able to educate his children to
the limit of their capacity. Once established mna position he is likely to enjoy security in continuous
employment because his employer cannot afford to lose highly trained or key personnel because of
fluctuations in the economic eycle. For this reason he is apt to suffer less during periods of economic
Travel ofen is an appealing part of the engineer's life. In the course of his work it may be
necessary for him to attend and contribute to professional society meetings or to confer with engineers
or scientists located elsewhere for purposes of inspection or of exchanging information vital to the
work. Such travel may be quite frequent especially if one is engaged in development work. It seems
likely also that atomic power engineers will be sent to isolated places or foreign lands to build or
operate atomic power plants. Inspection and control of atomic power by atomic power engineers in
the employ of national or perhaps international control agencies is likely to entail a good deal of
Most engineers derive their greatest satisfaction in the joy of taking part in bending nature to
the serviefe of man, in taking part in the design, construction, and operation of equipment which
contributes to technological progress. The successful finished work exhibits tangible results which
are plain for all to see. The fascination of learning to understand, or the prospect of seeing the
operation of equipment is irresistible to the engineering temperament and spurs the engineer onward
after experiencing his sometimes heart-breaking failures.
Because of the potentially limitless possibilities provided by nature and the continued unravelling
of the lawls of nature by scientists, the engineer is constantly challenged for the creation of new
applications or the improvement Df Old methods. The operating engineer witnesses and contributes
to the ucintelrrupted flow- of products without which modern civilization would cease to exist. In
other words. he takes part in a dynamic life and is often at the forefront of technological advancement
H~e enjoys a certain esprit de corps in his association with other engineers or scientists. In
part, on l- is a result of their dealing with irrefutable facts and laws of nature which in themselves
are not subject to the vagaries of human opinion or bigotry. He rests assured that whatever his
technological contribution may have been, It can be judged by objective standards.
DISADVANTAGES OF THE CAREER
As has been pointed out previously, the practice of engineering is not likely to lead to riches.
Most fortunes have been amassed by establishment of large financial or industrial firms. While
trained engineers are not excluded from such a venture, it will be largely their vision and skill in
management rather than the practice of their profession which will lead to this kind of success.
MDDC 792 1
At~ least for the present, the atomic power engineer must be employed by others, and in various
degrees his overall aims will be guided by his employer. Nevertheless, he will eften have a great
measure of freedom in choosing the methods and procedures used in his work. If he is a college
professor, he may have nearly complete choice in his research work. In government or industrial
research or development he will be restricted in being guided.to the extent of achieving an ultimate
goal. In operation he may be restricted to rather narrower limits. Some engineers regret the
necessity of being limited, others do not seem to mind.
Sometimes technological advancement is retarded because of its great development cost, costs
which would not be justified by its estimated economic value. Development engineers or scientists
will not alwigs agree with these estimates and this is sometimes a source of regret for the creative
Contrary to the sporadic publicity which startlingly new technological developments sometimes
receive, scientific: and engineering work rarely carries glamour with it. Rarely do the names of
the fundamental creators appear in public print and then only for a few fleeting moments. This is
equally true in the case of atomic power development, and the seeker of public acclaim is advised
to enter the fields of art or politics for glamour.
Progress in technological advancement takes place in a series of small steps, not in the sudden
development of startling nevi and revolutionary discoveries as public dramatizations would some-
times lead one to believe. Development work is painstaking and is often fraught with failure. The
successful solution of each step is by no means proportional to the effort put forth and sometimes
the drabbest detail proves to be a very difficult and time consuming chore.
Engineers are apt to carry work home with them, especially if they are engaged in development
work. It is difficult, at the close of the official working day, to shut one's mind off his problem, as
one would a faucet. Among engineers and scientists it is a common problem to refrain from talking
shop at social gatherings and they must be alert to avoid becoming social bores because of this.
Engineers must be present to direct construction and to inspect materials going into construction.
In production plants or in the laboratory they are often in intimate contact with the work and, there-
fore, may frequently get their hands dirty. They may be located in an isolated region where they~and
perhaps their families will not enjoy all the comforts of city life. Travel takes them away from their
families, sometimes for extended periods of time.
It is clear that the life of an engineer is not without its disadvantages but the seriousness of these
must be weighed by the individual in reaching a decision for entry into this profession.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN ATOMIC POWER ENGINEER
Whether an engineer is a teacher of engineering, a research engineer, an operating engineer, or
a sales engineer, each, during the life of his career, is likely to engage in all phases of the work.
Each must teach others phases of the art, each will do some research, each will operate some equip-
ment, and each must sell something even if it be his own work. The difference lies in the relative
amounts of each type of work; the life of in research engineer is probably the least routine in nature.
To help visualize the work, we will picture a day with a metallurgist who is a section leader in a
large laboratory engaged in research on the development of an atomic power pile. First we must
review some of the events leading up to this day.
Months previous to this particular day he had attended a meeting of the division heads at which
one of a number of likely ideas for the design of nuclear reactor was discussed. Theoretical physi-
cists had already made calculations which indicated that the idea would work if a certain metal,
which they chose because of its nuclear properties, could be produced and fabricated according to a
suitable engineering design. Chemists many years previously had separated this metal and had
Produced it in a pure form in laboratory quantities. Physicists had investigated its nuclear prop-
erties and sufficient information was known to insure that the metal would be satisfactory from a
nuclear standpoint if very high purity standards were maintained. Unfortunately, the small samples
of metal then available proved to be brittle and little was known about its metallurgical properties.
As a result of this and other conferences, the metallurgy division had been engaged in studying
the metal and had developed satisfactory, though perhaps expensive, methods of reducing the ore
and purifying the metal in useful quantities. However, the product proved to be extraordinarily
brittle and was difficult to fabricate into suitable shapes. Rolling, forging, and extruding had all
been tried on previous samples and to date extruding had appeared to give the most promising
product. Difficulty had been experienced in extruding because of the sticking of the metal in the die
and on this particular day a new method was scheduled for test using a coating of another metal on
the ingot as a lubricant. During the previous two weeks the metallurgist and his assistants were
busy preparing the coated samples and the extrusion press for the test.
On the morning of this day the metallurgist arrived at the office at 8:30 and handed his secre-
tary a copy of a manuscript for typing. The manuscript described research and results of the
research done on the investigation of the phase transitions of the metal. This work was to be pub-
lished in a metallurgical journal. The laboratory research was completed on this problem a month
ago and he had been preparing the manuscript during spare time and had put the finishing touches
on it last evening while at home. At 9:00 o'clock he joined his assistants who were preparing for
the test and had already placed a specimen in the extrusion press. When all was in readiness, the
machine was started and pressure was slowly applied. Careful notes were made as to detailed
condition of the sample, the force required, and the general progress of the test. The first specimen
was extruded satisfactorily and several more samples were tried. All appeared to be sound except
one. This one had developed a crack and it was noted that it was the sample which had the thinnest
lubricating coat. He was highly pleased with the progress of the test.
At 11:30, when the extrusion was nearly completed, he was called away from the work because
of the arrival of an expected visiting engineer. He slipped off his laboratory coat, washed his hands,
and returned to his office. The engineer had come to discuss some details of a vacuum melting
process which had been developed at the laboratory. The two sat in the metallurgist's office dis-
cussing these matters until 12:30 when they went to the laboratory cafeteria for lunch. At lunch they
foined a group of engineers and scientists and conversation ranged from discussion on the progress
of other researches to speculation on international politics. After lunch the two went to the labora-
tory to inspect the new vacuum furnace. At 2:00 o'clock the visitor left the metallurgist to call on
another member of the laboratory staff.
Before returning to the laboratory he stopped by the machine shop to give instructions to the
machinist concerning some tensile test samples which he was preparing. Upon arriving in the
laboratory he found that one of his assistant engineers had already cut one of the extrusion samples
to examine the condition of the extruded metal and its outside coating. After this preliminary
examination, some discussion ensued regarding possible changes for a future trial. Plans were
made for the following morning to start polishing and etching samples preparatory to microscopic
examination of the grain structure. At 4:30 he returned to his office and stuffed a laboratory
report, which he had written two months previously, into his brief case planning to steal a half
hour in the evening from his family to outline a paper he was to give two days later at a meeting
of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers to be held in a distant city.
While driving home in his car, he reviewed the tests of the day and felt rather pleased with
himself and the results. He felt pleased not because he and his assistants had made any new and
startling discovery or had made a revolutionary invention, but because the tests of this day had
uncovered a promising method for solving a problem which among many others was vital for the
project and which hitherto had given much trouble.
MDDC 792 [ 19
This monograph has been written for the purpose of acquainting the young man (or woman) with
what he may expect in a career as an engineer in the atomic power field. We have shown by analogy
that in many respects the work and problems which are encountered in the development of atomic
Power are similar to existing power developments now in the industrial stage.
The fundamental difference in the two developments arises in that nuclear power is derived
j. from reactions taking place between particles in the nucleus of atoms themselves rather than in the
';' sharing of electrons between nuclei. The nuclear source is much more intense and this together
with the n ~ssity for providing suitable arrangements~for maintaining the nuclear chain reaction
~/.'and for protecting personnel from dangerous radiations gives rise to special problems. The prob-
lems differ in the main only in the higher standards to be met in the design of the plant and the more
exacting selection of materials to go into its construction.
As with all modern developments, the overall development of nuclear power is no sudden event;
thUe only aspect of suddeness is the publicizing of it at a time when some milestone is past. Rather,
"'it is a slow painstaking process, beginning with years of careful scientific research and analysis by
hundreds of contributors who establish fundamental natural laws and followed by the work of thou-
sands of engineers and saientists who solve, bit by fit, each problem that must be met using old and
sometimes inventing new methods.
-The work of atomic power development requires the services of all types of engineers. Each
must~.-- be highly trained-- in. hi onfil o ngnern admut lo ae h ncssr koleg
nuclear phenomena. Top engineering leadership in this work requires training equivalent toa
Ph. -W D. in physics. At present the need is for development engineers and scientists. When atomic
power plants are a reality, there will be need for operating engineers. It is reasonable to suppose
that design and operation will become standardized and not all operating engineers will be required
to receive as thorough a training in general nuclear physics and chemistry as the development
.t: There is at present a shortage of scientists and engineers for the development of atomic power
~and it is predicted that in the future the need for development, construction, and operation will in-
crease with the years. For one to whom things mechanical have a natural fascination and who has
li"the required aptitudes and training,the work will prove both interesting and fruitful. His income
will be sufficient for comfortable living for himself and family and he will be happy in the assurance
that he ls contributing to the technological advancement of our civilization.
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS AND SOME OF THEIR JOURNALS
Leading professional engineering and scientific associations together with some of their
,~ .journals are listed herewith. This list, however, is by no means exhaustive.
:" Engineering Associations
American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 50 E. 41 St., New York 17, N. Y. Transactions of
the Am. Inst. of Chemical Engineers
i: .' American Institute of Electrical Engineers, 33 W. 39 St., New York 18, N. Y. Electrical
American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engrs., .29 W. 39 St., N. Y. 18, N. Y. Mining
American Society of Civil Engineers, 33 W. 39 St., New York 18, N. Y. Civil Engineering;
r.tlLoceedings of the A. S. C. E. IL-Pne.,w-Ou
American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 29 W. 39 St., New York 18, N. Y. Mechanical
Engineering; Journal of Applied Mechanics
Institute of Radio Engineers, 330 W. 42 St., New York 18, N. Y. Proceedings of the I. R. E.
National Association of Power Engineers, 176 W. Adams St., Chicago 3, Ill. National Engineer
A Journal for Power Engineers
Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, Prince and Lemon Sts, Lancaster, Pa.
Journal of Engineering Edlcation
American Chemical Society, 1155-16th St. N. W., Washington 6, D. C. Journal of the A. C. 5.
American Institute of Physics, 57 E. 55 St., New York 22, N. Y. The Institute of Physics is a
confederation of the following associations: American Physical Society, American Association of
Physics Teachers, Optical Society of America, Acoustical Society of America, American Society
for X-ray and Electron Diffraction. Among others the Institute publishes:
The Physical Review
Review of Scientific Instruments
Journal of Applied Physics
Reviews of Modern Physics
Journal of Chemical Physics
A visit to a library will reveal many professional engineering and trade journals not listed here.
Born, Max "The Restless Universe," Harper and Brothers, New York, 1936
Darrow, K. K. "The Renaissance of Physics, "The Macmillan Co., New York, 1936
Dixon, J. L. "The World of Engineering," Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1939
Harrison, G. R. "LAtoms in Action," William Morrow and Company, 1941
Hawks, E. "How it Works," Garden City Pub. Co., Garden City, N. Y., 1942
Reck, Franklin M., and Claire "Power from Start to Finish," Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York,
Richtmyer, F. K., and Kennard, E. H. "Introduction to Modern Physics," Mc~raw-Hill, 3rd Ed., 1942
Smyth, H. D. "'A General Account of the Development of Method of Using Atomic Energy for Military
Purposes,"' Princeton University Press, Princeton, N. J., 1945
Solomon, A. K. "Why Smash Atoms," Harvard University Press, 1946
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
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