The Development of Nuclear Propulsion in the Royal Navy, 1946-1975
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This thesis covers the development of nuclear propulsion in the Royal Navy from the first proposal in 1946 to the start-up of the last core improvement for the first submarine reactor power plant PWR 1 in December 1974. There are three topics: Political, what problems were encountered in transferring nuclear knowledge from the US in the post-war period and what support was there for the development of nuclear propulsion? Militarily, what was the requirement to develop nuclear propulsion and why submarines in particular? Technical, were the problems associated with nuclear energy fully appreciated, did the UK have the technical and engineering capability to develop nuclear propulsion?
Primary research concentrated on the National Archives; research was also conducted on unreleased files relevant to the period held by Director Nuclear Propulsion. A number of retired naval officers involved in the early stages of nuclear propulsion development gave interviews, copies of their papers and were generally enthusiastic to assist with any queries. Visits were paid to the archives of CND at the London School of Economics and the Broadlands (Mountbatten) Archives at Southampton University. Secondary research was conducted at the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the British Library, Plymouth Central Library, Plymouth University Library and using accredited online resources.
Information pertaining to, the Royal Navy’s Naval Nuclear Propulsion Programme (NNPP) is covered by the Official Secrets Act and the Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) 1958. Due to the nature of the subject matter very little has been written on the topic of the Royal Navy’s development of nuclear propulsion. Having recently written a history of the submarine service since World War II, Peter Hennessy and James Jinks naturally included a chapter on the Royal Navy’s adoption of nuclear propulsion in The Silent Deep: The Royal Navy Submarine Service since 1945, (2015). However, the chapter, ‘A New Epoch’: Towards the Nuclear Age, is focussed on UK attempts during the 1950s to secure US collaboration. There is no technical investigation of the Royal Navy’s nuclear reactor programme during this era nor of the reactor core improvements that resulted from the purchase of the S5W reactor under the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement. The Silent Deep contains no references to any United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority files held at the National Archive and perpetuates the errors contained in Philip Ziegler’s biography of Mountbatten which stem from Mountbatten’s draft (MB1/K208A) which he forwarded to Captain (Rear Admiral) Peter Hammersley for comment; see Mountbatten Corrections in chapter four. Apart from the political considerations and military motives for developing nuclear propulsion in the Royal Navy, this thesis primarily focusses on the technical problems to be overcome by all participants in the Royal Navy’s development of nuclear propulsion. Therefore, this thesis adds considerably to the historiography of nuclear propulsion and of Royal Navy submarines in particular.
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