Why Don’t We Build An Atoms-For-Peace Dirigible (1956)


EARLY last year, President Eisenhower asked the Congress for funds with which to build a fission-powered merchant ship for the global spread of peaceful atomic knowledge.

“Visiting the ports of the world,” the President stated, “the ship will demonstrate to people everywhere the peacetime use of atomic energy, harnessed for the improvement of human living.”

In Washington, the basic idea of a floating exhibit of American fission techniques was received with general approval by members of the Congress. Some of the plan’s technical aspects, however, generated a bit of discussion. To avoid protracted experimental research and thus speed the ship launching date, it was originally decided to fit the vessel with a duplicate of the power plant used in the atomic submarine Nautilus. This notion was greeted with some misgivings. Atomic Energy Committee experts felt that we had already progressed well beyond the Nautilus installation and that a more advanced model was in order. The question before Congress, therefore, has been whether to blow 40 to 50 million dollars on an already obsolete “quickie” or to go slower and get a more advanced sample of our atomic progress sometime around 1959.