Featured Underway on Nuclear Power

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by NSP, Dec 21, 2019.

  1. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    For the first time ever, the newest addition to my collection is not a coin, but a medal. This medal was designed by the Medallic Art Company and issued by the General Dynamics Electric Boat Division to commemorate the launching of the USS Nautilus. The Nautilus is famous for being the very first nuclear powered vessel of any kind, and represented the first significant development with nuclear power since the atomic bomb. The obverse shows the Nautilus superimposed on a uranium atom, and the reverse shows a nautilus shell superimposed on the Nautilus and the General Dynamics logo. This particular medal was given out to Electric Boat employees who helped to design and build the Nautilus. This medal was issued for an “H. Ford.”






    Decades before the advent of nuclear power, submarines had diesel-electric propulsion systems that required oxygen to function. Submarines would use their diesel engines to charge their batteries while on the surface (where oxygen was available to be burned), and once the batteries were charged, the submarine could submerge and run its propellers on the batteries. Unfortunately, the batteries would run out eventually, forcing the submarine to surface. All in all, a diesel-electric submarine could only stay submerged for a few hours and travel a couple dozen miles underwater before needing to surface. Some quipped that these were best described as surface ships that could periodically submerge rather than true submarines.

    Nuclear power represented an alternative to traditional combustion engines. The basis of nuclear power involves the splitting of the atom. Usually this is achieved by firing a neutron at a uranium atom, causing the uranium atom to become unstable and subsequently split. When the uranium atom splits, it releases smaller atoms, neutrons, and energy. The neutrons will go on to strike other uranium atoms, causing them to split, and so on. If enough uranium atoms are present, a sustained chain reaction can take place. Without any control, this chain reaction can release huge amounts of energy very quickly. This was the basis of the atomic bomb. If the chain reaction is moderated, however, the heat from the reaction can be used to boil water, which can in turn be used to spin a turbine and generate electricity. Unlike traditional combustion reactions, a nuclear reaction requires no oxygen, and a nuclear powered submarine would therefore never need to surface.

    Since a submarine powered by a nuclear reactor would never have to surface to recharge batteries, such a vessel could stay submerged as long as food supplies held out. Since the Cold War was beginning to ramp up in the early 1950s, the US Navy was particularly interested in a submarine that never had to surface. To achieve this goal, two companies were commissioned to come up with two different reactor designs: Westinghouse and General Electric. Westinghouse developed a pressurized water reactor called the “Submarine Thermal Reactor,” which used pressurized water to cool the nuclear fuel. General Electric developed a liquid metal fast reactor called the “Submarine Intermediate Reactor,” which used liquid sodium to cool the nuclear fuel. The water-cooled reactor was used to power the USS Nautilus (SSN-571) and the sodium-cooled reactor was used to power the USS Seawolf (SSN-575). The Nautilus was launched first on January 21, 1954 and came under her own power on January 17, 1955. On that day, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, the commanding officer of the Nautilus, signaled the historic message, “UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER...”

    Nautilus (right) and Seawolf (left).

    Early on in development, it became apparent that the water-cooled reactor was preferable to the sodium-cooled reactor. While the Seawolf’s sodium-cooled reactor was more efficient, the Nautilus’s water-cooled reactor was safer, more forgiving, and more easily fixed if the reactor started to go haywire. The Seawolf’s reactor was replaced with the Nautilus’s spare reactor a couple of years after the Seawolf was launched, and the Seawolf’s sodium-cooled reactor was dumped off the coast of Maryland. All future nuclear powered US Navy vessels would have water-cooled reactors based on the plant installed in the Nautilus.

    One of the most significant missions the Nautilus took part in was traveling to the North Pole. Completing this mission would serve two purposes: bringing a sense of national pride after the Soviets launched Sputnik, and the possibility of opening a new Northern front on the doorstep of the Soviet Union that was previously unreachable by conventional methods. Since the Nautilus did not need to surface, it could travel beneath the ice the entire way, making the mission possible. Since the Arctic Ocean was mostly uncharted at the time, the crew of the Nautilus ran into some difficulties navigating through the ice pack, but were eventually successful on August 3, 1958. After successfully traversing the North Pole, the Nautilus continued on to New York City, where the crew was greeted with a ticker tape parade.

    38804894-C4CD-4E38-808B-C66D1DE00273.jpeg USS Nautilus triumphantly approaching New York City after traveling beneath the ice at the North Pole.

    Lessons learned with the Nautilus were quickly incorporated into new classes of nuclear powered submarines. Today, the US Navy fields nuclear powered attack submarines (intended to eliminate smaller targets like ships or military installations) and ballistic missile submarines (intended to eliminate larger targets like cities or countries). All modern nuclear submarines “descend” from the Nautilus, so there is quite a lot of history packed into this medal. I find this medal particularly satisfying to own because the company I work for actually advertises that it made some parts for the Nautilus, so I guess it gives this piece extra meaning for me!

    The Nautilus is currently a museum ship at the Submarine Force Museum near Groton, Connecticut, close to where she was constructed and launched by Electric Boat.

    Ex-USS Nautilus being towed home after conversion to a museum ship.

    If you want to learn more about the Nautilus and have 45 minutes to kill, I recommend this documentary:
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  3. cpm9ball

    cpm9ball CANNOT RE-MEMBER


    That is awesome, especially with the photo documentary.

    FWIW, I have the silver and bronze medals that were also struck by MACO for the USS Enterprise when it was launched in 1960. It was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Both of these medals are very large at 63.5mm.

  4. Randy Abercrombie

    Randy Abercrombie Supporter! Supporter

    Very cool medal. Even better post. Thank you.
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  5. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    Those USS Enterprise medals are also on my radar. There are the two 63.5 mm ones you mentioned, and then there is a smaller 38 mm (same diameter as this one) version with a different reverse design that was issued for the christening of the Enterprise.
  6. cpm9ball

    cpm9ball CANNOT RE-MEMBER

    I acquired my silver medal about 15 years ago, and it was housed in a Capital holder. It was about 10 years ago that I acquired the bronze version which came in an ordinary (red) paperboard box.

    Both are now in the NGC oversized holders, the silver graded MS66 and the bronze graded MS67. I mention this because you might want to have the Enterprise medals graded should you ever acquire them.

    However, I think I would keep your Nautilus medal in the original packaging, but that's just me.

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  7. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    I do plan to keep the Nautilus medal as-is, since it’s “lived” in its packaging and envelope for the past 65 years. I bet those oversized NGC holders are something to behold, though!
  8. cpm9ball

    cpm9ball CANNOT RE-MEMBER

    7-5/8" x 5-13/16" x 3/4"

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  9. Bambam8778

    Bambam8778 Well-Known Member

    Very cool history behind that medal! Thanks for being so detailed with everything! Nice read!
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  10. longnine009

    longnine009 Most Exalted Excellency Supporter

    Nice medal and superlative write up!
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  11. 352sdeer

    352sdeer Collecting Lincoln cents for 50 years!

    Thank you for the interesting write up, nice medal!

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  12. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    Westinghouse/Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory Medal

    Here’s the newest addition to my “Nuclear Navy” collection, a Westinghouse/Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory medal. Similar to my USS Nautilus medal, this medal was given to Westinghouse/Bettis employees and was issued sometime in the 1955-1960 time period (based on the subject matter and the style of the Westinghouse logo). Westinghouse built the lab for the government in the late 1940s and operated the lab until it lost the contract in 1998.




    The medal is bronze and is roughly 38 mm in diameter. The original packaging is very similar to the USS Nautilus medal’s packaging. I don’t know for certain if this is a Medallic Art Company product (there is no marking on the edge), but I suspect that it might be given its high quality.

    One side of the medal features the old Westinghouse logo superimposed on the Earth and an olive branch. The Westinghouse slogan - “You can be sure... if it’s Westinghouse” - is also prominently displayed.


    The other side of the medal shows a fissioned uranium atom, with liberated neutrons giving rise to various nuclear power projects that Westinghouse was a part of. The top project is the USS Long Beach (CGN-9), the world’s first nuclear powered surface ship. The image depicted on this medal must be an early rendering of the Long Beach, since it does not feature the large bridge “box” that ended up being installed on the ship.


    The USS Long Beach and its trademark bridge.

    The middle project is likely the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the world’s first nuclear powered submarine (featured on the medal in the OP). It should go without saying that the Nautilus was a monumental project for Westinghouse to have been a part of.

    The bottom project represents Westinghouse’s work with translating nuclear energy from the defense sector to the commercial sector. This venture resulted in the Shippingport Atomic Power Station: the first full scale nuclear power plant devoted entirely for peaceful use. Shippingport was built on the Ohio River near the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. While the original power station no longer exists, the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station is currently right next door (and is also powered by Westinghouse reactors).

    The Shippingport Atomic Power Station.

    Westinghouse took part in many more nuclear power projects than just the Long Beach, Nautilus, and Shippingport Atomic Power Station. In addition to these, Westinghouse also designed the reactor plant for the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

    The Long Beach (middle) and Enterprise (bottom) with the USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25/CGN-25) on Operation Sea Orbit, an around the world cruise of the US Navy’s nuclear-powered Task Force One.

    Today, Westinghouse-designed nuclear reactors power Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, Seawolf-class submarines, and a couple of moored training submarines used to train submariners.

    While Westinghouse no longer exists in its original form, its contribution to the nuclear power industry is truly immense.

    (Unfortunately General Electric didn’t commission a medal for the lab they operated, so don’t hold your breath for me to write a post like this about GE’s contributions!)
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  13. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    USS Enterprise Medal

    Another new addition to my “Nuclear Navy” collection: the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) christening medal. This medal was distributed to attendees of the Enterprise’s christening ceremony on September 24, 1960. This 38 mm bronze medal was struck by the Medallic Art Company for Newport News Shipbuilding, the builder of the Enterprise. Supposedly 15,000 were struck, 11,000 were distributed on christening day, and the remaining 4,000 were purchased by a local souvenir dealer. Unlike my previous two “Nuclear Navy” medals, this medal is considered a “so-called dollar” and is listed as HK-578. There are 64 mm diameter variants of this medal (with a different reverse) made out of silver and bronze. Perhaps I will pick those up someday.



    When the Enterprise was christened in 1960, she was the largest ship in the world. The Enterprise was 1,088 feet long, 132.8 feet wide at the waterline (257.2 feet at the widest point on the deck), and displaced roughly 94,000 tons of water when fully loaded. The ship was powered by eight A2W Westinghouse-designed nuclear reactors. Two A2W reactors powered each of the four screws.


    The Enterprise’s reactors propelled her over one million nautical miles over her service life (more than enough to go to the moon and back, twice) before the ship was deactivated in 2012. Since then, the Enterprise’s decommissioning has challenged the Navy, since she is the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier to ever be decommissioned. The last reactor was defueled in 2016, and now the ex-Enterprise is currently in a state of limbo until she is finally broken up in the future when more sophisticated aircraft carrier disposal plans are in place.

    This particular medal came with all of the christening day memorabilia, including the medal and its holder/envelope, the christening ceremony’s program, a booklet prepared by Westinghouse titled “Our Atomic Navy,” a postcard with an artist’s rendition of the Enterprise, and the original outer envelope that held everything. The medal shipped out of the Newport News, VA area, so I suspect that this is the first time that the medal has been outside of Virginia. On a personal level, it’s also cool to own this medal because a couple of my friends from college work at this shipyard!


    At this point, I believe that I have all of these types of medals from the 1950-1960 time period. There’s a token (or at least I’d call it a token) from that time that I want to get, but I’ve only seen two of them... one in a sold eBay listing and one on the issuer’s website! Maybe another will turn up on eBay.
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  14. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    Why is that considered a SCD? I thought SCD were supposed to be intended for commerce? Or, at least, equivalent to a real dollar. I'm really confused as to why that would be a SCD.

    I've had the privilege to work with a few Enterprise sailors in my career. I can wholeheartedly say that they're... unique. They're also getting a bit rare in the Navy.
  15. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    I’m not entirely sure why it’s considered a SCD, since this is my first experience with the concept. The website in the link below appears to list the criteria that the Hibbler and Kappen book included to put limits on what would be considered a SCD, and there doesn’t seem to be a commerce component. It might violate #7, since the Enterprise medal may be considered an “armed forces medal.” Then again, since it’s intended to commemorate an historic even (largest ship, first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, etc.), it may not be strictly considered an “armed forces medal.”

  16. green18

    green18 Unknown member Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Had a chance to visit Nautilus in Groton many more than a few years ago. It's beyond me how someone could survive in such a tin can as the head clearance was low and the all about feeling of the environment was claustrophobic. Hats off to the men and women who serve in the 'silent service'......you are indeed true and brave.
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  17. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    I got this medal a couple of weeks ago, but forgot to post it. This is the bronze restrike of the Hyman G. Rickover medal that was originally issued in 1958 (US Mint Medal #533). Rickover pushed the Navy to see the benefits of nuclear power and is seen as the Father of the Nuclear Navy because of his efforts. A Los Angeles-class attack submarine (SSN-709) was named for him, and a Virginia-class attack submarine (SSN-795) is slated to be named for him. This medal is 76 mm in diameter. The side with the very strong man grappling with the atom was designed by Gilroy Roberts and the side with Rickover’s bust was designed by Frank Gasparro.


    (Image with quarter provided for scale.)

    Attached Files:

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  18. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    The Medallic Art Company made a larger rendition of the USS Enterprise medal with a different reverse. This medal comes in silver and in bronze. I got the bronze version in late February, and the silver version just arrived today! These are both very impressive medals, which is quite fitting when you consider what ship they were made to commemorate. Both are roughly 63 mm in diameter. The silver medal weighs 130 grams and the bronze medal weighs 121 grams.



    The Enterprise’s eight A2W reactor plants safely powered the ship over one million nautical miles during her 51 years of service. While this Enterprise has been decommissioned, a new Enterprise (CVN-80) is actively being constructed by Newport News Shipbuilding.
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  19. Stork

    Stork I deliver Supporter

    These are just plain cool.

    All a little ahead of my time in the Navy, but I did have the chance to serve on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower back when they first added females to the ship's crew.

    Later, I got to do a 'dependent's day cruise' on one of the subs. Bad me can't remember the name. They wanted a female GMO in case any of the visiting 'wimmin folk had issues'. So I brought my JAG husband and he ended up doing way more 'consults' than me--IIRC I supervised the placement of exactly one bandaid being put on by a corpsman (I happened to wander by when he was doing that).

    The sub was nauseating, cramped, and agree with I am super impressed by those that do that for a living. Made the carrier seem like a cruise ship. I'm not even prone to seasickness--I outlast about 90% during bad weather and bouncy rides. That sub nearly did me in.

    Once when, ship was in dry dock at Newport News, I once got to go on a 'tour' and literally walked under the ship. It was one of the most awe inspiring things ever. Oh, and those shipyard cranes. Insane.

    Boy, has this post ever taken me on a trip down memory lane.
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  20. benveniste

    benveniste Type Type

    Somewhat related:
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  21. Robert Paul

    Robert Paul Active Member

    I was a Enterprise sailor for three years and I did collect the Enterprise medal that was given out. Found them at a flea market in Alameda, CA. where the ship was home ported.
    Gave one to the EMO from the division when he transferred to the USS Lincoln and I still have the other one in the issued packaging. And I do collect all Enterprise items. Most of which I bought in the ships store.
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