On a bleak Idaho desert, a wayfaring man, if wayfarers were permitted, might stumble on what looks like a scene of mis placed industrialism. A great cloud of steam rises from a pond of hot water, and near by stands a forbidding building of blank-walled concrete. It looks like a powerhouse, but no smoke comes from the six short stacks sticking out of its roof (they are emergency ventilators). The building, nevertheless, is a powerhousethe first nuclear powerhouse of the Atomic Age.
Inside is a strange, ungainly object: the central half of a submarine. Its afterpart stands clear and showing its skin, like a dissected whale, but its forward part is enclosed in a big tank of water. The building is filled with a rushing sound. Men come and go, consulting complicated instruments. A crew of engine-room men work inside the submarine, checking and nursing its machinery just as if it were cruising under the sea.
This is no ordinary submarine. Its fuel is uranium; its engine needs no air. Theoretically, it could cruise around the earth without coming once to the surface. It could make an attack across the Pacific without poking more than a periscope into the atmosphere. It could sail the dark and secret sea under the Arctic ice.
Since last March this ship of the Idaho desert has been "cruising" intermittently toward the North Pole.* Having no bow or stern, or water to float in, it has not moved an inch, but the long, rigorous tests of its nuclear power system have been brilliantly successful. Naval designers, tacticians and strategists are aware (some with regret) that a revolution in sea power is sweeping out of Idaho.
Human Tornado. The Navymen and civilian scientists in the blank-walled building know this too, but they dare not sit back to mull over the implications of their handiwork. Too often for their peace of mind, and generally on a weekend, the chill word spreads among them that "the admiral is here." All hands tense and quicken as a slight, spare human tornado whirls through the shop. Few jobs are done fast enough or well enough to suit Admiral Hyman George Rickover, topflight Navy engineer and leader of this strange new development program. His passage leaves a boiling wake of lacerated egos, but it also leaves a feeling, even among the lacerated, that something special has happened.
Annapolisman Rickover, a man who knows what he wants and wants it done to perfection, has long warred with the Navy and he still loves his service. He has wooed, bullied and won the Atomic Energy Commission in its secret strongholds. He has made great industrial corporations jump and like it when he cracks the whip. Some high Navy officers still deplore intense, single-minded Admiral Rickover, but when the first atomic submarine, the Nautilus, slides down the ways at Groton, Conn, on Jan. 21, the U.S. Navy will never be the same again.