Ep 208: Rod Adams - Publisher, Atomic Insights
1) How did you become interested in nuclear energy? (1:55)
Rod Adams was eight years old when he first became interested in nuclear power. His father was the utility engineer, so to Rod the power company was the good guy, he remembers the power company from Christmases and picnics. According to Rod, the power plant being beautiful, except for the two smokestacks. Then one year, Rod’s father first got him interested in nuclear power by telling him a new power company wouldn’t have smokestacks. The new plant was the 1967 Turkey Point. The nuclear plant was an environmentalist's solution who loved clean air and water and wanted those things for South Florida. The plant was built to stop a causeway from being built in the Florida Keys, a nuclear power plant rose in the place of residential developments and a causeway. The nuclear plant, Turkey Point, has a unique cooling system; five miles long and two miles wide system of shallow water canals that look like a radiator from above. Instead of taking water from the ocean, Turkey Point mainly collects rainwater to fill the canals. The canals then provide cooling to the plant through the process of evaporation. Rod says this protects another five miles of Florida’s coastline.
2) As a child you not only understood electricity, but also nuclear power and the positive environmental aspects? 6:20
Rod has visited power plants, coal plants and oil plants and has learned about the positive environmental aspects of nuclear. Most nuclear power plants are built on land that is of ecological importance, including near nature preserves, remote locations, coastlines, artificial islands, etc. While volunteering during fishing tournaments in the Chesapeake Bay, Rod says he has tracked the best locations for fishing, and the largest fish were almost always caught right off of nuclear plants.
3) How did your interest in nuclear turn into a career? 9:02
Rod decided during high school that he wanted to become a nuclear engineer. He spoke with his high school guidance counselor who steered him toward the United States Navy with a free college program and one of the best nuclear engineering programs in the world. In his high school yearbook Rod wrote that he would be attending the US Naval Academy to study nuclear engineering. But first he took a small detour and instead chose to major in English after meeting both sets of professors at the Naval Academy. Majoring in English gave Rod time to do some reading and take elective courses that got him involved in learning how to communicate via writing and speaking, beneficial for a Naval officer career. He eventually graduated as an English major with two years of calculus classes, and a year each of physics, chemical engineering, and chemistry. During his third year, Rod applied for nuclear power school through the Navy’s submarine program and interviewed with Admiral Rickover.
4) What did you learn in the US Navy Academy submarine program? (13:48)
Nuclear power school begins with fundamentals of math, physics, and chemistry. Rod said he worked fast and hard to learn during the focused, shortened courses. The program is a well-structured six-month training course that has been in use since the 1950s or 1960s. Next is visiting a prototype of a land-based rector that is similar or identical to an onboard reactor. Rod’s prototype training took place in upstate New York in a place called Ballston Spa; the prototype was known locally as the “Big Ball.” It was a D1G prototype built for Sea Wolf type submarine.
Navy reactors are different than post other types of nuclear reactors; Navy reactors are designed to be surrounded by water. When calculating the worst-case scenarios, Navy engineers calculate what the maximum pressure would be if there were a tube rupture in a steam generator. The worst-case scenario on a ship is that the ship sinks and implodes and water surrounds the entire systems and it collapses and there’s an explosion. On land, you have to protect the local population from any explosions, that why the Navy also designs land prototypes with the worst-case scenario in mind.
5) What happened after your training there? 18:40
Rod went to his first ship, the USS Stonewall Jackson operating out of Kings Bay, Georgia. He was there for two and a half years in several junior officer positions. He was taken off his first ship a little early because there was an immediate that needed to be filled at the Naval Postgraduate School. Rod studied systems technology; specifically, command, control and communication systems. Computers were fairly new during the mid-1980s. The challenge with submarine communication was that radio waves don’t travel underwater easily. Rod learned how to gather a lot of data and display it in a manner that a commander could review all of the information and make rapid decisions. For Rod, it’s not about the individual components, but rather about the way the come together to create a whole system. Eventually, Rod became the Chief Engineer on the USS Vaughan Stedman.
6) As the Chief Engineer what were your responsibilities? 25:16
Rod was the head of the engineering department on the submarine for 40 months. The nuclear plant, the steam plant; the ship’s electrical system; the ballast system; the hydraulics; the sanitary systems and showers; and the atmospheric control equipment, including, oxygen generators and carbon dioxide scrubbers. Rod had five division officers and five or six petty officers and an assistant chief engineer. They ran three different watch sections of people to monitor the nuclear power plant in eight-hour shifts. Rod was on the submarine with 150 other hardworking people, all reading books, watching movies and playing cards. But he says most of what happens on a submarine stays on a submarine.
7) Where did your career take you next? (29:00)
As a Lieutenant Commander Rod was assigned to teach at the Naval Academy, but once he got to the school he was instead traded to the commandant and became a company officer. He was in that role for three years, but while he was there, he took high level engineering classes in alternative energy. He became interested in an alternative energy that used nuclear fission as its heat source. Rod’s idea from grad school was to combine the best features of nuclear power with Brayton cycle gas turbines to create engines that didn’t have to be refueled. Rod found in the 1950s a lot of people thought gas and nuclear turbines would be the ideal energy source. But it’s difficult to perfect the fuel flow in a turbine time engine to make sure the flame doesn’t burn out. Rod thought nuclear might be the answer. He applied for and got a patent on a control system and eventually left active duty in the Navy to form a company, Adam’s Atomic Engines, with the goal of making nuclear gas turbines that were so much simpler than steam plants to power islands and ships. But Rod thinks he was about 20 years ahead of the curve; Adam’s Atomic Engines was founded in 1993 and put it to heavy sleep in 1996 because the price of natural gas prices was so cheap, and they couldn’t find investors. He then got recalled to active duty for the Navy in 1999.
8) What did you learn from your time at Adam’s Atomic Engines? 40:45
The best part of Rod’s journey with Adam’s Atomic Engines was the creation of his current website, called “Atomic Insights;” it developed out of a paper publication and transformed into a digital publication during the rise of the Internet era. The company officially closed in 2010, when Rod took a position with the Empower Project.
Why is nuclear important? 1:07:51
Nuclear is important because our society developed based on energy. Energy was originally only available to a small number of people who could afford to outsource their labor to other people. Eventually machines and global transportation developed. Nuclear doesn’t require much material movement, there isn’t much material to transport from place to place. A kid with a backpack can carry as much material as a moderately sized oil tanker. Rod says you just have to find a way to get energy to where people are. Nuclear energy can provide heat and motion and fuel. And it’s cleaner than other forms of energy.