Jets and Moon Rockets: 1957-1970

North American Rockwell Corp. ... Nuclear Applications

North American's Atomics International began during the early 1950s when the company's Atomic Energy Research department was investigating the controlled release of the atom for the production of electric power and studying the feasibility of using nuclear technology for propulsion. The department also built a small aqueous homogeneous reactor called the Water Boiler Neutron Source (WBNS) that started operating April 21, 1952, to provide neutrons for the first nuclear reactor in California.

Atomics International went on to build the first nuclear reactor to provide power for a commercial power grid in November 1957, for the city of Moorpark, Calif. Later projects included many other reactors in the United States and Japan. In addition, it developed small Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP) generators that would be used in NASA's deep space probes, such as the Viking Mars Lander.

In 1966, the division expanded its operations to the Liquid Metal Engineering Center to develop and test liquid-metal components and systems for nuclear applications. Two projects developed during the late 1960s included a heavy-water-moderated, organic-cooled reactor and a fast breeder reactor. In 1975, the division won a $1.2 billion contract to operate a nuclear weapons component manufacturing facility, and it was contracted to manage and operate a major part of the activities at the Atomic Energy Commission's Hanford Plant in southeastern Washington.

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