U.S. ARMY NUCLEAR REACTOR OPERATOR BADGE

Although the United States Army officially rescinded the its Nuclear Operator Badges on October 1, 1990, the program that inspired them had begun winding down many years earlier.

The 1950s saw much enthusiasm over the potential applications of nuclear power on the part of academicians, businessmen, and of course the military. In early 1954, a memo from Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson outlined a plan for the Army to begin exploring the possibility of erecting nuclear power plants as a way to generate cheap and abundant energy at remote locations not conducive to other types of electrical generation. The Secretary of the Army, in turn, created the Army Nuclear Power Program and placed it under the purview of the Corps of Engineers.

In all, eight reactors were built as part of the program, with all but one of them using highly  enriched uranium as fuel. (The badge features the symbol for Uranus, which is the source of the name of the element.) The MH-1A was the sole reactor to employ low-enriched uranium; mounted on a barge named the Sturgis, it was the last of the reactors in the program to cease operations in 1976—fourteen years before the Army final disestablished the Nuclear Power Operator Badge.

The badge was issued in four degrees: Basic, Second Class, First Class, and Shift Operator. To qualify for the Basic Badge, Soldiers were required to complete a Nuclear Power Plant Operators Course and be able to operate a plant under the supervision of a certified operator. Second and First Class Badges were awarded based on experience, with the Second Class badge requiring 15 shifts of work at a single, specific nuclear power plant (or research reactor). The Shift Supervisor badge was gold, signifying the highest levels of achievement.

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