Though it took a special act of congress to allow Rickover to remain on active Naval duty when he took over the NRC, Rickover didn't want to give up his commission after nearly 50 years in service. He would recommended for promotion to four star admiral and in March of 1973 after the Soviet trip to Venus that Rickover would be promoted.
Admiral Rickover Naval career started on 2 June 1922, Rickover graduated 107th out of 540 Midshipmen and was commissioned as an Ensign. He would serve on destroyer and battleships. Rickover was made engineering officer on the USS La Vallette(DD-315) the youngest officer in the squadron to hold that position. He would earn a Master in electrical engineering at the Naval Post Graduate School. Rickover would then volunteer for submarine duty and would serve on submarines between 1929 and 1933. During 1933, while at the Office of the Inspector of Naval Material in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rickover translated Das Unterseeboot (The Submarine) by World War I German Imperial Navy Admiral Hermann Bauer. Rickover's translation became a basic text for the U.S. submarine service.
During World War II, Rickover worked as an engineer and gain a great amount of experience in directing large development programs, choosing talented technical people, and working closely with private industry. This help he in 1946 when he started working at Clinton Laboratory to develop Nuclear power plants and later to build the prototype for the USS Nautilus propulsion plant which was the world's first high-temperature nuclear reactor. Rickover would spend the next 25 years building America's nuclear Navy with an accident-free record.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Atomic Energy Commission was formed in 1946 and was reorganized into the NRC, after the Soviet successful use of a nuclear powered rocket in space to propel a manned vessel into an interplanetary trajectory to Venus and back. This shock to the American people that they would once again fall behind the Soviets got Nixon and the Congress to reoganize the whole nuclear industry and research facilities to better serve the nation's growing needs and to speed up development of nuclear technologies.While many in congress disliked Rickover the President felt the country needed a strong "can-do" leader with a proven record that would be able to recreate the whole civilian agency into a more efficient organization similar to the Army Corps of Engineers. Rickover's nomination as the new chairman was approved by congress in February after heated debates and testimonies from dozens of witnesses. He would also be promoted in March to the rank of full Admiral.
Rickover took over the newly created NRC in April of 1973 and would stay in that position until March of 1984. As soon as he became the Chairman his legendary leadership style and work ethics quickly showed themselves. He ordered a full review of all nuclear power plants and their safety records. He also suggested to President Nixon that with the growing need for nuclear fuel that the Clinch River Breeder Reactor be completed as soon as possible. Rickover also suggested that production of nuclear material for weapons end; as both the USA and the Soviets had dramatically started to reduce their defence budgets and the Arms Race had slowed to a crawl.
SafetyRickover quickly put emphasis on the safety of the nations nuclear power plants though their has been no major accidents, the belief that the plants were ticking time bombs was widely believed. His very presences as the Chairman of the NRC gave many a piece of mind. The addition of safety equipment and stronger regulations were pushed by Rickover and adapted by the industry. He did however streamline the process of building a new plant and with the National Energy Independence Act of 1974, the construction of nuclear power plants increased five fold with the hope that 30% of the nation power would be nuclear by decades end. It was this work in regards to safety that changed the minds of most American and the construction of plants became very easy. In November of 1976 the Clinch River Power Plant after a massive constructional effort would start to be powered-up and by the spring of 1977 it would be at full power. The innovations and designs of this plant would be common in all future plants throughout the western world. Rickover would help usher in a period in which concern from nuclear waste would lessen as spend fuel-rods would now be reused. Rickover also understood that the advancement of this type of nuclear technology would lead to safer designs and pushed the industry though regulation to advance 3rd Generation Nuclear Technology and before retiring in 1984 had put into motion the development of 4th Generation Nuclear power.
NERVA programWhen Admiral Rickover took over the newly formed NRC, he was put in charge of the American NERVA program which was being jointly developed by the Atomic Energy Agency and NASA. NERVA is an acronym for Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application, while the program origins are traced back to Los Alamos Laboratory in 1952. As early as 1968 NASA had rated the rocket as suitable for travel to Mars. Rickover needed to make that a reality as the Soviets had leap passed the American by traveling to Venus. Rickover also investigated the possible theft of American technology by the Soviets. While his investigation did uncover a spy ring around nuclear technology the extent of the loss remains unknown. During a Senate Hearing the Admiral pointed out that, "the loss of technology should be considered a total loss after all the Soviet went to Venus and we haven't." The program had already seen an increase in funding and Rickover pushed for more in the early years under his leadership. After the first successfully use of the NERVA rocket by NASA for interplanetary travel in 1974 to Venus and Mercury and 1975 manned trip tp Mars , NERVA went under review by Rickover to plan the next generation nuclear rocket.
Rickover became convinced that the next generation nuclear rocket could be built years early then some believed. He was able to convince the incoming Carter Administration to in early 1977 to fully support its development.
Moon BaseRickover also found the NRC under pressure to develop a small, portable self contained nuclear generator that would require minimal maintenance for the Luna Bases. Rickover worked with President Brooke to get some of the Navy's best engineers transferred into a new command under the control of NASA and the NRC. This team would form the bases to the engineering arm of the soon to be created Space Command.
The team was able to put together a working reactor under Rickover constant oversight. Rickover and his team did not disappoint. The imagination, drive, creativity and engineering expertise demonstrated by Rickover and his team during this era resulted in a highly reliable nuclear reactor in a form-factor that would fit into a Saturn V (D), that was the largest rocket available at this time.
Advance RocketsAs Rickover continued to lead the NRC, he would institute several long term developmental program in addition to the next generation NERVA rocket program. These would include gas and plasma nuclear-core rocket engines, as well as nuclear- pulse engines and fusion power rockets none of which would be deployed until after Rickover's death in 1986. However, without his planning for the long term development of these technology and effective ability to lobby congress and work with the President for long term funding, it is widely believe America would have fallen behind the Soviet Union.
Hyperactive, political, blunt, confrontational, insulting, flamboyant, and an unexcelled workaholic who was always demanding of others — without regard for rank or position — as well as himself, Admiral Rickover was a thundering force of nature and lightning rod for controversy. Moreover, he had "little tolerance for mediocrity, none for stupidity." "If a man is dumb," said a Chicago friend, "Rickover thinks he ought to be dead." Even while a Captain, Rickover did not conceal his opinions, and many of the officers he regarded as dumb eventually rose in rank to be admirals and were assigned to the Pentagon.
Earnest in pointing out the triumph of action over thoughts alone, Rickover's comments included the following: "Man has a large capacity for effort. In fact it is so much greater than we think it is that few ever reach this capacity. We should value the faculty of knowing what we ought to do and having the will to do it. Knowing is easy; it is the doing that is difficult. The critical issue is not what we know but what we do with what we know. The great end of life is not knowledge, but action. I believe that it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him ... we must live for the future, not for our own comfort or success."
Admiral Rickover is buried in Section 5 at Arlington National Cemetery. His first wife, Ruth Masters Rickover (1903–1972), is buried with him and the name of his second wife, Eleonore A. Bednowicz Rickover, whom he met and married while she was serving as a Commander in the Navy Nurse Corps, is also inscribed on his gravestone. He is survived by Robert Rickover, his sole son by his first wife.