Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Practical Testing

Although engineering studies of all of these designs were made, only the solid-core engine was ever built. Development of such engines started under the aegis of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1956 as Project Rover, with work on a suitable reactor starting at LANL. Two basic designs came from this project, Kiwi and NRX.
Kiwi was the first to be fired, starting in July 1959 with Kiwi 1. The reactor was not intended for flight, hence the naming of the rocket after a flightless bird. This was unlike later tests because the engine design could not really be used, the core was simply a stack of uncoated uranium oxide plates onto which the hydrogen was dumped. Nevertheless it generated 70 MW and produced an exhaust of 2683 K. Two additional tests of the basic concept, A' and A3, added coatings to the plates to test fuel rod concepts.
The Kiwi B series fully developed the fuel system, which consisted of the uranium fuel in the form of tiny uranium oxide (UO2) spheres embedded in a low-boron graphite matrix, and then coated with niobium carbide. Nineteen holes ran the length of the bundles, and through these holes the liquid hydrogen flowed for cooling. A final change introduced during the Kiwi program changed the fuel to uranium carbide, which was run for the last time in 1964.
Using information developed from the Kiwi series, the Phoebus series developed much larger reactors. The first 1A test in June 1965 ran for over 10 minutes at 1090 MW, with an exhaust temperature of 2370 K. The B run in February 1967 improved this to 1500 MW for 30 minutes. The final 2A test in June 1968 ran for over 12 minutes at 4,000 MW, the most powerful nuclear reactor ever built. For contrast, the largest hydroelectric plant in the world, Itaipu, produces 12,600 MW, 25% of all the power used in Brazil.

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