Project Pluto was an endeavour that was marked by madness, perversity and moments of sheer technical genius that was curtailed by the Pentagon because, even, they realised that this project went one step beyond.
Project Pluto and the trouble with Russia’s nuclear-powered cruise missile - NB: note the link to the Osti paper therein.It’s hard to know exactly what happened on August 8, when an accident offshore of the Nenoksa Missile Test Site in northern Russia caused an explosion. But we do know that it left five Russian nuclear scientists dead and caused a spike in radiation levels in the surrounding area. The available evidence has led some US intelligence officials, arms control experts, and President Trump to conclude that the Russians were testing an engine for a nuclear-powered cruise missile (though there are skeptics).
If the suspicions are correct, then this accident (and prior setbacks) show that the Russian quest for a nuclear-powered cruise missile may be a quixotic one. Before pressing on, Vladimir Putin would be well-advised to review some of the myriad problems that the United States’ own nuclear-powered cruise missile program, Project Pluto, experienced in the late-1950s and early-1960s. Below is a brief overview of the technical, environmental, and political challenges that Project Pluto faced.
Reverting to Pluto, it is hard to know what US citizens would have thought of low level tests of a cruise missile emitting a highly radioactive plume while producing a hypersonic boom that would have damaged walls, smashed windows and burst eardrums in up to a 20 mile cone behind the missile at about Mach 3.5! What the USA thought its allies might have thought of such a missile being released over their territory in the case of its actual use is a moot one.
The extraordinary thing is that under the auspices of the Lawrence Radiation Lab, Lawrence Livermore National Labs and the US Atomic Energy and a small consortium of aviation (and other - see below) companies, a nuclear powered ram-jet was constructed and even run at full throttle for a few minutes.
The design of the engine code named Tory was an interesting one, utilising a novel ceramic core with fuel elements manufactured by
CoorsTek (a company related to the Coors bad beer buggers).
"En 'n vrou sal jy dood maak in 'n donker kamer met 'n hael geweer"