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Atomic Energy in 1960

In the field of atomic energy, the year 1960 was distinguished primarily by France's entry into the "atomic weapons club" and the continued lack of an agreed-upon ban on atomic weapons testing.

French Atomic Bomb

France became the fourth member of the "atomic club of nations" (joining the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom) on February 13, 1960, when it successfully detonated a test bomb of more than three times the force of the bomb set off over Hiroshima in 1945. The test (codenamed Gerboise Bleue, "blue desert rat") was carried out near the village of Reggane, Algeria, in the Sahara Desert. A second successful test was carried out at the same site, with a smaller bomb, on April 1.

Photograph of the "Blue Desert Rat" explosion.
the French atomic bomb detonation

German and Arabian students in Munich, Germany, protest the French atomic tests. The sign in the forefront says that the desert winds will bring death rays to Munich.
protesting the French atomic bomb test

Both French atomic bombs employed plutonium as their explosive material. It was produced from uranium in nuclear reactors owned and operated by the French Atomic Energy Commission at Marcoule, in the Rh˘ule Valley. Fission was the nuclear process employed in both bombs.

Test Negotiations

Representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom continued without success to carry on in Geneva, Switzerland, negotiations begun in 1958 for the purpose of arriving at an agreement to permanently ban atomic weapons testing. Despites its success in the Sahara, France was not invited to join the negotiations in 1960. The principal obstatcle was the negotiators' inability to settle on a control and inspection system that would effectively apply to underground tests not distinguishable from earthquakes by seismographic techniques.

Despite lack of progress in Geneva, all three participating nations refrained from testing any atomic weapons in 1960.

Research and Development

Scientists at the U.S. Atomic Energy Laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, confirmed in 1960 earlier reports that they had produced a controlled thermonuclear fusion reaction for a period of microseconds in an experimental machine called Scylla. It was the first time that the atomic reaction utilized in the hydrogen bomb had been produced in a controlled manner.

In 1960, the world's first known atomic battery completed its first year of successful operation. The battery is powered by the radioactive decay of one-fortieth of an ounce of polonium-210. The resultant radiation is converted directly into electrical energy by a series of thermocouples. The battery was produced as part of the United States Atomic Energy Commission's program for developing small atomic power sources for the powering of propulsion and communications equipment in space vehicles.

Ships and Submarines

On September 24, 1960, the world's first atomic-powered aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Enterprise, was christened at Newport News, Virginia. The 83,350-ton ship was designed to be propelled by eight nuclear reactors.

USS Enterprise christening ceremony

The United Kingdom launched its first atomic submarine, H.M.S. Dreadnought, on October 21, 1960.

HMS Dreadnought being launched

On February 9, the Sargo became the third atomic submarine to complete an underwater voyage to the North Pole. In May, the Triton completed an 84-day voyage around the world, entirely underwater. In August, the Seadragon, on a voyage from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Hawaii, completed the first underwater transit of the Northwest Passage.

On July 20, off the coast of Florida, the atomic submarine U.S.S. George Washington accomplished the first successful launching of a ballistic missile (a Polaris) from a submerged vessel.

the George Washington fires a Polaris missile

Electric Power Generation

In the United States, a privately owned 180,000-kilowatt atomic power plant near Chicago, Illinois, completed in 1959, reached full power on June 30, 1960, thereby making it the world's largest single producer of electricity from atomic fuel. The plant is the second full-scale atomic power plant in the United States. A third went into operation near Rowe, Massachusetts, in August.

Yankee Atomic Electric plant at Rowe, Massachusetts

Northwest Passage

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The Robinson Library >> Technology >> Electrical and Nuclear Engineering >> Nuclear Engineering

This page was last updated on February 11, 2017.