National Geographic : 1962 May
EKTACHROMEBY B. B. BUCKHOLT © NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Atomic reactor trench takes shape at Camp Century, 886 miles from the North Pole. United States Army Engineers, who installed the nuclear plant, worked 12- to 14-hour shifts 716 and used some six thousand tons of supplies and equipment. From a control room of the U. S. Army's Camp Century, I heard a radio message, brief but exultant, flash out across the white waste of ice and snow to Thule Air Base, 150 trail miles away. "PM-2A has gone fission... core critical 0652 hours." The words, embodying a nuclear pun, said much-and implied far more. In a chamber adjoining our control room, splitting atoms yielded energy from fission in the heart of a nuclear reactor, the PM-2A.* Tell tale instruments had touched off a spontaneous cheer at the moment the untried core achieved a sustained - or critical- chain reaction. Under-ice City Houses 100 Men The steam produced by the nuclear furnace soon would begin coursing through pipes, spinning the power plant's turbine to generate electric ity that would warm halls and liv ing quarters. Surplus steam-as we were to see- would even operate the unique water system. Century-a city built entirely under ice - would become the first fully equipped com munity to be powered and heated solely by atomic fuel. Though I am a veteran of polar life, I found Camp Century amaz ing. Here, about 100 men lived and worked beneath the ice. The "streets" were 21 tunnels, arched with cor rugated iron plates and covered with tons of snow (see cutaway view on preceding pages). Within these bur rows the U. S. Army Polar Research and Development Center had built comfortable barracks, hot showers, a modern kitchen, an automatic laun dry, hospital - even a gymnasium. Camp Century exists essentially as an Arctic research base. Its snug comfort and many conveniences, too costly and too difficult to maintain except by nuclear power, permit year round scientific studies in a bitterly hostile climate. *PM-1, another reactor, was built by the Martin Marietta Corporation to provide heat and power for an Air Force radar station near Sundance, Wyoming.