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Talk to Terrie: Beer and Beryllium?

September 12, 2019

September 12, 2019

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by Terrie Barrie

Who would have thought that a brewery owner had the expertise to contribute to the defense of our country during WWII and the Cold War? This is one of the more historically fascinating details I have discovered during my research of EEOICPA.

Coors Porcelain, also known as Coors Ceramics, was founded by Adolph Coors who also founded Coors Brewing and Manufacturing Company.  While the company’s history snapshot does not mention its work for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Coors Porcelain played an important role in our nuclear defense systems for almost 30 years.

Currently, employees from Coors Porcelain are only covered under EEOICPA as employees of a beryllium vendor from 1947 through 1975 for providing beryllium parts to the AEC.  While I have been unable to locate information on the specific types of beryllium-only parts Coors provided, the DOE database  mentions the company’s involvement in Project Pluto.

Coors manufactured the uranium/beryllium fuel rods for the AEC’s Project Pluto from 1957 through 1964.  It processed the uranium/beryllium fuel rods and shipped them to the AEC contractor for successful testing in Project Pluto.  These fuel rods would have been incorporated into the weapon if the military decided to go into that direction.  The design of the SLAM missile, pictured below, shows that the reactor would not have been a separate or disposable part of the missile but instead was an integral part of the weapon.

The purpose of Project Pluto was to test the feasibility of using a nuclear-powered ramjet propulsion system for Super Low Altitude Missile (SLAM).  The missile was intended to carry the nuclear weapon to its target, often thousands of miles away.  A good summary of this propulsion system can be found in the paper titled, “An Atmospheric Nuclear Ramjet: the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile” by Frederico Rossi.

The reactor would have been an integral part of the weapon and not something could have been separated from the warhead and still have the warhead achieve its target.  The purpose of the testing was to ensure that the reactor would have been “flight worthy”.

The testing of this propulsion system was successful.  The reason for the cancellation of Project Pluto was not because the test failed or because it was too expensive but because the military decided to proceed with the concept of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles instead.

There is currently a request before DOE to re-designate the Coors Porcelain Plant not only as a Beryllium Vendor but also as an Atomic Weapons Employer since Coors also used uranium in some of the parts they manufactured for the AEC.  Cold War Patriots will keep you posted on any developments.