Nuclear Concept Art: A Visual Journey

by Will Davis

Although we may not think of art at the same time as we think of nuclear facilities, art has nevertheless played an important role in their development.  The “artist’s concept,” or an illustration (or model, or doctored photo of a model) was, and is, a very useful tool to display to anyone what a planned facility will look like – no small thing to a community asked to host one, or a utility paying to build one.  There have been many genres of concept illustration or art produced for nuclear plants just as there have been for any other kind of thing – so let’s take a look at some from my collection.  Descriptions are in the captions; click photos to enlarge.

WPPSS Project 1 artists concept

Washington Public Power Supply System Project 1: This art bears the name of WPPSS, but may have been produced by the project’s initial engineer-constructor, United Engineers & Constructors. This is a completely realistic (in other words, dimensionally accurate) simulated aerial view of the completed two-unit project and is a stunning example of the very best of the “accurate school” of concept art, if I may coin a phrase. These plants were, of course, never finished although their neighbor, WPPSS Project 2 was and is today known as Columbia Generating Station. This is an actual print in my collection.

AI 100 MWe organic cooled cylinder containment artists concept

An early 1960’s press photo from Atomics International shows a commercial organic cooled nuclear plant in an aerial view. This image is dimensionally accurate and realistic as was the WPPSS illustration shown above, but represents another style – a sort of dramatic, pen and ink / pencil drawing sort of appearance. One must be careful, though – some of these late 1950’s and early 1960’s concept art pieces were originally produced in color and then widely reproduced in black and white.

Palisades artists concept

A large Consumers Power press package for Palisades includes this illustration of the plant completed. Although the illustration is generally correct, a good deal more artistic license is shown here than in the earlier two illustrations. The exact dimensions of the plant and other technical features of the site aren’t perfect here, but given the emphasis on the natural surroundings and, especially, the birds, they aren’t supposed to be. The emphasis here is more on the environs than was the case in the earlier two illustrations.

Browns Ferry model two units only

The bright colors help identify this model – another kind of concept art – as a product of the late 1960’s or very early 1970’s. This photo, from a TVA brochure, shows a model of the Browns Ferry plant as originally conceived as a two unit plant. The model and its environs as built aren’t intended to display the plant 100 per cent realistically, but they do give a good idea of its overall appearance. Of course, the plant was actually finished as a three unit plant in different colors. I cannot help thinking how much the trees look like something off a model train layout!

Hope Creek Artists Concept

A PSEG brochure in my collection displays this beautiful painting of the Hope Creek plant (as originally intended with two completed units.) One of the best examples of realistic concept art, it’s shown here to compare with the next illustration.

Hope Creek cartoon style PSEG

A different take on Hope Creek is seen in a brochure that features the plants’ images as cartoons! This image is friendly in an early 1970’s sort of way and to me is as interesting as the dimensionally accurate painting because of its much broader appeal.

This is an actual, large framed pen illustration of the historic Carolinas-Virginia Tube Reactor (CVTR) in my collection.  This was produced by Stone & Webster Engineering.  This plant, now gone, was very close to V. C. Summer.

This is an actual, large framed pen illustration of the historic Carolinas-Virginia Tube Reactor (CVTR) in my collection. This was produced by Stone & Webster Engineering. This plant, now gone, was very close to V. C. Summer. Click to enlarge – the detail on this illustration is incredible.

TEPCO Higashidori unbuilt

Of course, nuclear plant concept art is still produced today – albeit quite differently. Here is Tokyo Electric Power’s concept showing its Higashidori plant (still not built) which combines an aerial photo with computer assisted drawing to give a fully accurate, if distant, view of the plant and its environs.

CNNC ACP1000 Concept Art

Ending on a high note is this China National Nuclear art showing ACP1000 nuclear plants, in CAD form, inserted into a real photo. As a collector of such art I must say that these new forms of illustration – beyond those available in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s – are just as impressive to me and can and do present just as bright a future.

I have much more of this material – so look forward to future installments!  Please feel free to leave a constructive comment below.

Will DavisWill Davis is a member of the Board of Directors for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. He has been a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and he used to write his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is also a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, and serves on the ANS Communications Committee and the Book Publishing Committee. He is a former U.S. Navy reactor operator and served on SSBN-641, USS Simon Bolivar.  His popular Twitter account, @atomicnews is mostly devoted to nuclear energy.  He has an Instagram at @williamdavis5500, but that’s mostly dog photos.

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