Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hastings Powers the Atomic Age

On September 21st we posted an article about Robert Fulton’s submarine called the Nautilus, which he built in Paris in the year 1800. Here is an article about one her descendents, the USS Nautilus, the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine, commissioned in 1954. Like Fulton’s ship, the new Nautilus was very much an experimental vessel, used to test new equipment and set new records in underwater speed and endurance. In 1958, she became the first ship to reach the geographic North Pole, travelling under the Arctic ice cap. The Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980 and, in 1982, designated a National Historic Monument. You can visit her today at the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton, Connecticut.

The Nautilus’ reactor was made by Westinghouse, but the special cable that powered that reactor was developed by Hastings’ own Anaconda Wire & Cable Company. The following is an edited version of an article describing the cable that appeared in Anaconda Wire & Cable Company’s employee newsletter, the Anaconda Leader in the August-September 1957 issue. The Historical Society has a complete collection of the Anaconda Leader from 1950-58.

Atom Sub’s Reactors Wired with Anaconda “Top Hat”

A new era in transportation has been opened with the successful construction and operation of atom-powered submarines by the United States Navy. The USS Nautilus, first of this new breed, recently completed two years of record breaking operations during which time she traveled over 60,000 miles, more than half of which while fully submerged. On completion of these first two years of operations she returned to her home port at Groton, Connecticut to have a new uranium reactor core installed and a general overhaul to correct any “bugs” that had turned up.

At that time the standard Navy cable wiring in the Nautilus’ reactor was removed and replaced with newly developed Anaconda “Top Hat” cables. …

Anaconda is producing “Top Hat” cables in three basic types:

PS: Power Supply cable, which is used to drive control rod positioning motors and to power heaters on the reactor.

PI: Position Indicator cable, which is used to transmit electrical signals from the reactor to the control room indicating position of control rods in the reactor.

TC: Temperature Control cable, whose main use is to transmit electrical signals from the reactor to the control room indicating the temperatures in various parts of the reactor. …

The story of “Top Hat” cable is an interesting one in that it once again shows that Anaconda is the organization that gets the job done.

Tests by the Navy proved that the standard cable constructions employed in the submarine’s nuclear reactors would be unable to withstand the extreme heat of emergency operating conditions. A cable capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit was necessary as a precaution against possible breakdown of the reactor cooling system. Ordinary copper constructions then in use could not withstand these possible temperatures since the temperatures were high enough even to oxidize the copper conductors.

The Navy came to Anaconda with a set of performance requirements for “Top Hat” cable … and asked if we could make it.

Anaconda accepted the challenge to produce this new cable and went to work. Within three months of the initial query Anaconda had a workable sample of the cable in the Navy’s hands; and the first run of cable made and shipped from Hastings is now functioning in the reactor of the Nautilus.

Difficulties encountered in making this new cable included the newness of working with a silicone rubber sheath on armored type Navy cables. The specifications required that the cable be watertight longitudinally, and watertight shielded pair construction had never before been made. Specifications further required that no organic materials be used in order to make a more stable high-temperature cable. The originally specified overall diameter was also decreased to offer greater ease in using the cable in the confined space for which it was designed.

Anaconda worked closely with outside suppliers to develop a nickel plated copper wire which would be capable of withstanding the extreme heat. Nickel clad wire had been used before, but for this application it was necessary to develop a nickel plating that provided adequate protection to the copper without porosity. …

The Navy has standardized on the type of cable developed by Anaconda, and other manufacturers will be asked to bid on future requirements but, to date, Anaconda is the only organization that has delivered this type of cable to the Navy for use in their atom-powered vessels.

A new era has been opened up and, as always, Anaconda is in the forefront in supplying the products necessary for the advancement of this era.

Brochure from Anaconda Wire & Cable Company showing the Hastings Mill in about 1960. This brochure was digitized for us by the Westchester County Historical Society.

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