In 1958, British the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus disappeared while attempting to become the first vessel to cross the North Pole underwater, in a maneuver codenamed "Operation Sunshine".
Operation Sunshine by Eric LippsNaval investigators eventually found the wreck of the submarine beneath the Arctic ice and determined that an explosion within its pressurized-water nuclear reactor had been responsible for its sinking. This discovery was a serious blow to military contractors Westinghouse, which had designed and built by Westinghouse Electric, and General Dynamics, which had built the submarine as a whole. Also tarnished was Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, who had supervised the nuclear submarine project; President Eisenhower would request Rickover's resignation in January 1960.
The failure of the Nautilus called the entire "nuclear navy" idea into question. Doubts were fed by the Air Force, whose interservice nuclear rivalry with the Navy had been going badly for the airborne service with the difficulties encountered by the USAF's nuclear-airplane program. Only shrewd exploitation of rumors that the Soviets are on the way to deploying their own nuclear submarines ultimately enabled the Navy to prevent cancellation of the nuclear submarine program.
A civilian consequence of the controversy was the abandonment of plans to use a scaled-up version of the Nautilus' reactor for civilian power generation. A pilot plant at Shippingport, Louisiana, which had gone online in December 1957, was discreetly deactivated in October 1958. Later civilian nuclear power plants would use a variety of other designs, but not the pressurized-water type.