The Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory, also known as AFP No. 67, operated from 1958 to 1971 and was a crucial facility for research germane to the Air Force's efforts to develop a nuclear-powered bomber. Most of the work done at this lab was materials engineering-related and included irradiating various materials to better understand shielding requirements for the reactors that could power the proposed nuclear bombers. A 10-megawatt reactor, known as the Radiation Effects Reactor, was installed in a manner where it could be raised and lowered from an underground containment facility, thus, it could be operated to radiate either specific materials underground or the surrounding countryside (for a limited range, and producing low levels of ambient radiation) as needed. This was the only reactor of its type on the east coast and offered Lockheed and the USAF unique capacities for studying the effects of radiation on materials and the environment. Those who are aware of the nuclear bomber program will realize that this program was brought to a halt when it was deemed unproductive in 1960, yet the Georgia lab remained in operation another decade: why was this? After the bomber program was cancelled, Lockheed continued to work for the USAF and Atomic Energy Commission in research related to general properties of nuclear power and the effects of radiation.
The following official film was made at the onset of operations at the facility is interesting as it details a great deal about the facilities involved and work done. This site now has been reverted to forest land and all the buildings, despite seeming like a large and varied campus in the video, have been torn down except the underground facilities which are now more or less buried and filled with groundwater. Measures are taken to ensure that there is not excessive radiation present at this location and it is constantly monitored.
The film above mentioned the 10-MW reactor was underground but could be raised and lowered to the surface level. That's quite a feat of engineering, and while the historical film gives some hints to what the underground facility looked like, I cannot find any layouts of it or still photos. So, using the contents of that film as my guide, I sketched out how I believe it may have been organized, with the reactor in its center:
It's an interpretive design sketch like I learned to do in my architecture courses, and it may be 100% incorrect, but it's interesting to think about this unique facility and its layout, plus, how such a facility would be designed today and the challenges it would present to architects and engineers.
It is very interesting watching a small scale reactor come together in the 1950's. Thanks for posting this Mike!
The 10 MegaWatt reactor was never underground. It did rest in a pool of heavy water when not being used to irradiate materials but the reactor and the building in which it resided were all completely above ground, except for the storage pool which was partially below ground level. The main control facility was indeed underground, around 30 feet down, but the reactor was known as a naked or open air reactor. Also, there were railroad tracks leading directing into the reactor building, again above ground. The specimens being tested were loaded onto rail cars and then moved on the tracks into the reactor building. Once the building was verified to be empty of people, the controllers would raise the reactor to irradiate what was on the rail car and, of course, everything else within some distance of the reactor building. I was a design engineer at the facility from 1966 to 1970 when I transferred to the Lockheed facility in Marietta, GA.
Also, the building was simply a rectangular metal building similar to a metal garage.
Thanks so much for your comments—it's great to hear from someone who was actually there. I put together the information I have on the Georgia Nuclear Lab from that film posted above and other sources, but a great deal of what I've read is very unclear and I have plenty of questions I'd love to ask you and others who worked there. Are there floorplans of the facility available? You said the building was rather simple, what about the underground portion, though? It looked fairly large and complex via the scenes in this film. What happened to the equipment in this facility when it was shut down?
My dad worked there in 60's...very hush, hush.
I worked there in the Reactor Operations Department from 1958-1961. There were two reactors; the Radiation Effects Reactor at 10 MW max power and the Critical Experiment Reactor at 80 watts. (The Critical Experiment Reactor was used to test the reactor cores to be used in the RER.
The RER was in a pool of ordinary (not heavy) water, and could be raised to place the center of the core about 10 feet above ground level. I do not have copies of any drawings for the facility. The reactor building was a simple metal-covered building enclosing the reactor pool and the six railroad flatcar stations on which experiments were mounted. The underground operations building was entered from a personnel tunnel. It contained not only the control room and shops, but also data collection equipment (recorders) so the experiments on the flatcars could be monitored during irradiation. The reactor was shut down and lowered into the pool during operator shift changes.
Great Read and Interesting Information. Film was very enlightening. Thansk for sharing.
The Dawsonville test site was created to learn if it would be feasible to fly nuclear powered aircraft. For a summary of why the technology was not feasible for human-controlled flight, check out this video start at 6:10 youtu.be/kR5gefU87TY
Very interesting. Note that there was another reactor that could be lifted into the air that was built to support the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory called the Tower Shielding Facility.