The Doomsday Device or what does Coors, Crowbars and Pluto have in common?
With the signing of the Nuclear Treaty by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, I thought I would bring up another little known trivia subject of the Atomic Age. So gather around children, Grandpa’s got another Atomic Aesop tale to tell…..bwahhhahahah!!!
The year was 1957. The Soviets had just launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. Circling the earth in orbit. Reminding panicked Americans everyday with its “beep… beep… beep” radio signals. Fearing that the Soviets were way ahead in the missile technology, Pentagon planners felt that they needed something spectacular, stupendous, something to leapfrog way ahead in delivering death and destruction to the enemy.
So they came up with this nightmarish weapon so hideous and evil that it was the named after the Roman mythological god Pluto, the ruler of Hades. It’s purpose would be to deliver hell on earth.
Project Pluto, also known as S.L.A.M, was a pilot-less supersonic low altitude missile, a locomotive-size missile with a flying range of over 2 times around the world. It would travel at near-treetop level at three times the speed of sound, tossing out megaton sized hydrogen bombs as it roared overhead, something akin to a newspaper delivery boy delivering papers to homes along his newspaper route.
Pluto’s designers calculated that its sonic boom shock wave alone would kill people on the ground as it flew overhead. In addition, because the engine of this hell-machine was an unshielded nuclear powered ram-jet releasing gamma and neutron radiation from its unshielded nuclear reactor, Pluto would leave a trail of radiation that would kill everything underneath its flying path long after its flight was finished, sort of like how the Romans salted the earth so nothing would grow. When the missile finally ran out of nuclear fuel, long after delivering it’s megatons of H-bombs along its 12,000 miles zig-zag path, it would be sent crashing into its final target as a highly radioactive coup de grâce.
On January 1, 1957, the U.S. Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission picked the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, located just over the hills from Berkeley, California, as Pluto’s home. Since Congress had recently given a joint project to build an atom-powered rocket to Livermore’s arch rival, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the assignment came as welcome news.
Because of its combination of high speed and low altitude, Pluto promised to get through to targets that manned bombers and even ballistic missiles might not be able to reach. What weaponeers call “robustness” was another important advantage. “Pluto was about as durable as a bucket of rocks,” says one who worked on the project. It was because of the missile’s low complexity and high durability that physicist Ted Merkle, the project’s director, called it “the flying crowbar.”
Because the efficiency of a nuclear ramjet increases with temperature, “the hotter, the better” became Merkle’s motto for the reactor, code-named “Tory.” So Tory’s operating temperature was established at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. But a problem was that even high-temperature alloys would become white-hot and lose structural strength at that temperature. So Merkle asked a Colorado-based porcelain company named Coors to manufacture ceramic fuel elements that could stand the heat and provide even temperature distribution in the reactor. Coors porcelain company had been making porcelain for large brewing vats. They later would get into the actual beer brewing business.
Pluto’s reactor would become intensely radioactive when given a test run, so a fully automated railroad had to be constructed to move the reactor the nearly two miles that separated the static test stand from the massive disassembly building, where the “hot” reactor would be taken apart and examined by remote control. Scientists from Livermore would watch the reactor tests on television in a tin shed located far away from the test stand and equipped, just in case, with a fallout shelter containing a two-week supply of food and water.
Finally, a test of nuclear powered engine, Tory-IIC, shattered the desert calm. Tory-IIC was run again the following week for five minutes at full power, producing 513 megawatts and the equivalent of over 35,000 pounds of thrust; less radiation escaped in the reactor stream than had been expected. The test was witnessed — at a safe distance — by dozens of admiring AEC officials and Air Force generals.
Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, Pluto’s sponsors were having second thoughts about the project. Since the missile would be launched from U.S. territory and had to fly low over America’s allies in order to avoid detection on its way to the Soviet Union, some military planners began to wonder if it might not be almost as much a threat to the allies. Even before it began dropping bombs on our enemies Pluto would have deafened, flattened, and irradiated our friends.
The noise level on the ground as Pluto went by overhead was expected to be about 150 decibels; by comparison, the Saturn V rocket, which sent astronauts to the moon, produced 200 decibels at full thrust. Ruptured eardrums, of course, would have been the least of your problems if you were unlucky enough to be underneath the unshielded reactor when it went by, literally roasting and radiating everything underneath.
Pluto had begun to look like an unleashable monster, something like a modern day Kraken….with rabies!
Another concern was that if something went wrong with the guidance system, because it flew so low and was fully automated, there would be nothing they could do to stop it until it went the distance. Accidentally becoming a flying Frankenstein monster, dropping 40 or so H-BOMBS and radiating a wide path all over America would probably get somebody fired at the Pentagon.
On July 1, 1964, seven years and six months after it was born, Project Pluto was cancelled by the AEC and Air Force. At a country club near Livermore, a “last supper” was given for those who had worked on the project, where SLAM tie tacks and bottles of “Pluto” mineral water were handed out as souvenirs. The total cost of the project had been $260 million, in the pre-inflationary dollar of the day. At its peak,Pluto had employed some 350 people at the lab and an additional 100 at Nevada’s Site 401.
So, what happened to it?
Sitting in a warehouse somewhere? Destroyed?
great post. Never heard of anything like this, even in the Marvel comic books of my early childhood.
This makes the Nike missile program look like a booger.
I don’t know if you guys are Mort Sahl fans? He was in some obscure beach movie back in the early 70’s, played a guy with a bomb shelter in his backyard.
“Started digging it when Eisenhower was president. Quit working on it during the Kennedy era. Now I’m wondering if I dug it deep enough?”.
As Russia and America and, quite possibly Britain and others have sufficient missiles to blow up the entire planet I’m bemused.
It’s almost as though since the arrival of the A-Bomb and H-Bomb humanity has suddenly realised it can’t have big wars anymore. Just little wars…contained wars…conventional wars…or if you like, ‘warettes’.
We are very strange you know.
What a complete and full archetypal Plutonian story…~! Extraordinary that they would imagineer such a monster, let alone plan it our, design and build it. Wow.
I think this fits well in the “WTF” were they thinking to begin with.
It sure seems that a lot of the countries mental resources, the “Brain power” as it were, has been used thinking of new and better ways to kill each other. I wish it wasn’t so but maybe that is just basic human nature.
The benefits of a civilization is that intelligent thought can sometimes override those rudimentary thoughts of fear and hate for the betterment of us all. Sometimes…
I don’t remember this, but I do remember when a lot of people were building bomb shelters in case of a nuclear attack. This was during the cold war paranoia. Everyone back then lived in fear of dooms day, the end of the world. Could never figure out why you would go down into one of those bomb shelters only to emerge into a world that was totally destroyed!! I remember watching the movie Brendan Fraser stared in, Blast from the Past. So reminded me of back in the day.
I loved that movie! Very funny! Speaking of fallout shelters, I read a very interesting book that goes into the craziness that followed the question of fallout shelters. The book is “One nation underground” and I highly recommend it to someone that wonders about such stuff. The madness that followed that subject….should I build one, should I keep it a secret from the neighbors, should I shoot the neighbors if they came to steal my “air” and the always popular “if it happens,I hope I am at the epicenter to get it over with” side of the argument.
Fear not ladies and germs yours truly will be one of the many to do the clean up. But the thing that ticks me off is that congress waited four years to put out the money so that we could get the training. Had training in all the nasties and there are quite a few more than what you read about. My very unfavorite is Vx that wonderful military invention. It would take weeks to clean up even a small release of that stuff. Personally I’d be more fearful of being shot in a crossfire from some redneck militia group.
That’s the sort of science mankind creates when he’s scared shitless, or he’s convinced to be scared shitless. What nightmares the Pentagon must have been having.
They are having worse nightmares now Holte. What I wrote to Krell, although tongue-in-cheek, is the al Qaeda plan. The Pentagon knows this. Now they have to stop it.
The scary thing about that is, they know us better than we know them.
I guess that is the asymmetrical warfare that is talked about.
Very cool post! I’ve never heard of Pluto…what a cluster that would have been.
Coors…later would get into the actual beer brewing business.
Don’t you mean the watered down pee business?
Ya, the very same.
Coors! It was illegal to sell Coors in Missouri years ago, so we had to drive to Colorado to get it. We were about 18-20. We had to have Coors because it was illegal. When it became legal to buy it none of us did. Why? It was a shitty beer that made you pee a lot. That and the fact that it was now legal. I mean what fun is that??
MadMike, if I am ever in your part of the woods, I would like to buy you a beer. And I promise it won’t be shitty beer that makes you pee a lot!! ROFLMAO!!
LOL! It would be wonderful to meet, but I no longer dance with Master Bud. I now snuggle up to Mrs. Johnny Walker. Sometimes she dresses in red, sometimes in black, but when she dresses in Blue…now that is living on the orgasm:-)
Man, your talking the Lawyer territory there!
Aye! But like most lawyers he is never around when we need him 🙂
Wow. That has to be the most fucked up thing ever. Why am I not surprised that it was the good ol’ USA nerds who thought of it?
Great post Krell. I don’t live too far from there,glad it’s no longer in the works or it might ruin my day.
The thought process reminded me of plans to bomb the USSR I’d read about.Seems like LeMay was complicit somehow, essentially dropping our entire nuclear arsenal on targeted Soviet cities. Were they so totally unaware of the damage radiation causes? I don’t mean only the horror on the intended victims but due to wind/seepage into aquifers/mutations how it would spread to whom would become unintended victims. I also recall reading there’s a little strontium (sp?)90 in all of us due to atomic testing.
Yes Osori, the bad thing about 90Sr is that it binds itself to fat molecules of dairy products and finds it way to the calcium of bones. Particularly nasty for growing children.
“Since the missile would be launched from U.S. territory and had to fly low over America’s allies in order to avoid detection on its way to the Soviet Union, some military planners began to wonder if it might not be almost as much a threat to the allies.” For all the brain power that went into the Cracken, didn’t they think of that? Damn nerds.
I have the rule of no more than 5 nerds at one time in a meeting, especially when it is about the nuclear apocalypse.
What a fantastic post!! I had time to read it once and learn a whole bucketful of stuff I never knew. I shall return for a more thoughtful observation. Great job man. Are you blushing yet?
Actually Mike, it was your remembrance of Dr. Strangelove that inspired.
I love to inspire. To know that I have inspired inspires me and puts me in an inspiring mood. As a result you have released the beast:
You see, this Pluto MF was one bad dude, but ya know who is worse: Vicky Variola. Now that is one bad bitch. She will put the mole on your pole and the pustule on your penis. This is one evil mama who makes Medusa look like Tina Fey. You see….
The terrorist dudes have shit planned for us. It involves crop dusters, Vicky V., dirty bombs and really dirty bombs, those that actually go bang. The plan is to nuke a city, then another, and another, for about 6 weeks. When we are seriously staggering they will then release that very nasty Vicky Variola over the southwest and the mid-west using crop dusters. Now that is one major messed up deal!
Wondering about it? In the last three years more than a dozen crop-dusters have been stolen from the SW and flown to Mexico, where they have disappeared. OK! I know! Mexicans have crops too…But see now Vicky V. is missing from Vector and that is really, really scary ..
Have a nice day 🙂
I have read that book….”Demons in the Freezer” by Richard Preston. Some extremely scary stuff…what the Soviets did at their biological “Biopreprat” facility, large quantities of of vaccine resistant Smallpox and drug resistant Anthrax. What is in the minds of men??? Such insanity!