Friday Feature: John Ringle: 50 Years of Nuclear Power

The Special Collections & Archives Research Center is pleased to announce the release of the papers of John C. Ringle, a long-time member of OSU’s nuclear engineering program. This collection represents not only the research and teaching efforts of Ringle, but the history of nuclear science at OSU and the evolution of nuclear power in the United States over the last fifty years.

John C. Ringle

John Ringle’s career in nuclear science began in 1959 with one of the most outrageous projects ever conceived. As a doctoral candidate in UC Berkeley’s nuclear engineering program, Ringle took a position with the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, California. There he was assigned to Project Pluto, a program to develop a nuclear-powered cruise missile capable of delivering more than a dozen hydrogen bombs to a target. He spent two summers designing a calorimetric power computer to measure the power output of the Tory-IIA, Pluto’s stripped down reactor/jet engine, before moving on to other project s in 1960. Pluto continued for four more years before the top brass realized it was too loud, too fast, and too dirty to use.

A memo pertaining to Project Pluto.

After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1964, Ringle accepted an offer to join the graduate faculty at Oregon State University’s nuclear engineering program. At OSU, Ringle’s interests diverged significantly from the likes of Project Pluto. He became deeply interested in the implications of nuclear energy as a replacement for conventional power sources. Much of his research focused on the environmental impact of reactors, their economic advantages, and the disposal of radioactive waste. He also served as Assistant Reactor Administrator and oversaw the final construction of OSU’s TRIGA reactor and the operation of both the TRIGA and AGN-201 reactors.

Promotional brochure for Nuclear Energy concentration

Promotional flyer, 1965-66

Promotional flyer, 1969-1970

His attention, however, wasn’t strictly limited to research and experimentation. Ringle also kept a finger firmly on the pulse of public policy. He carefully watched local politics for pro- and anti-nuclear legislation, maintained contacts with members of the nuclear power industry, and amassed an impressive collection newsclippings documenting all things nuclear in the Pacific Northwest. Ringle also participated actively in public discourse on the issue of nuclear power. He confronted nuclear energy critics via letters to the editor and op-ed pieces and encouraged the public to explore nuclear power as a solution to the coming energy crisis. He also found other ways to work with the public. He oversaw a summer course on radioactive waste for high school teachers in the 1990s and worked with foreign students—particularly TaiPower employees—to create safe and efficient nuclear power programs abroad.

Ringle was also instrumental in helping OSU’s nuclear engineering program weather the anti-nuclear politics of the 1980s and ‘90s. His efforts to bring in and engage students in programs like the OSU student chapter of the American Nuclear Society helped bolster the department’s ranks during a time of recession within the field. He also maintained a robust teaching schedule, conducting courses in reactor operation, nuclear engineering, radiation safety, and applied physics.

In 1980, Ringle accepted the position of Assistant Dean, and then Associate Dean, of the OSU Graduate School where he oversaw the growth of OSU’s graduate programs. John Ringle is now Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering & Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University.

The John C. Ringle Papers are a tremendous resource for researchers interested in nuclear science and engineering education, radiation research, and the controversy surrounding nuclear power in the United States (specifically the Pacific Northwest) and abroad. The Ringle Papers and other related materials are available for access 8:30AM-5:00PM Monday through Friday at the Special Collection & Archives Research Center. For questions about the Ringle Papers or other holdings, please contact us at

Contributed by Trevor Sandgathe

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