In September 1964, Harry Mandil, Robert Panoff, and Theodore Rockwell waited for the phone to ring.
They were seasoned engineers but beginners at business, and their office near the White House in Washington, DC, was spartan—a few desks, a coffee pot, and a secretary.
Former Engineers at Admiral Rickover’s Naval Reactors Launch MPR Associates
The following is a journey launched by a trio of engineers who shared the belief and a vision that rigorous technical skills can be applied to improve the world and create value for business.
It is an experience that starts in the foundations of the U.S. Navy nuclear propulsion program, followed by the Atoms for Peace program and the origins of the commercial nuclear power industry, and ultimately expanding to the overall power industry, U.S. government security agencies, and the health and life sciences industry.
At each step, deriving from a mission set by its founders, MPR is an engineering firm
where people can make a difference in the world, and do so in a professional environment focused on the excellence of their work. It’s where being proud of your efforts, developing new skills, and teaching others is more important than hitting annual business growth targets.
In an age when engineering becomes ever more routinized, devalued even as it becomes more specialized, MPR has a unique ability to rise above this commodification of the discipline by seeking out those assignments
where first-of-a kind work is a requirement and the consequences of “getting it right” are anything but routine.
As we look to the future, MPR will continue to adhere to first principles engineering and should continue to rank first in highly selective markets. Those markets will evolve; it will be the next generation’s challenge and inspiration to discover the most rewarding opportunities.
First Principles and First Clients
After 15 years at Naval Reactors and knowing commercial nuclear power was entering its takeoff phase, Mandil, Panoff, and Rockwell leave to optimistically establish MPR.
Its portfolio grew quickly including tasks as varied as overall plant design and evaluation, nuclear systems design and evaluation, reactor core and components design and evaluation, containment and shielding work, waste handling system design and testing, and maintenance specifications.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, MPR was deeply involved in designing and constructing nuclear plants ranging from Oyster Creek in New Jersey to Calvert Cliffs in Maryland, and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
In helping to implement the Navy’s new submarine safety, or SUBSAFE, program, MPR adapted the process developed for the nuclear utilities. From design through materials, fabrication, and testing, MPR established review and approval procedures. In 1971 SUBSAFE came under the authority of the Navy’s new Submarine Monitoring, Maintenance, and Support Office (SMMSO), which became one of MPR’s top clients.
Building the Base
The 1970s marked the time when MPR’s founders and first generation of engineers transformed the legacy of Naval Reactors into a durable institution.
MPR could count on a set of loyal clients, drawing on its expertise in nuclear power. And with the steady increase of nuclear power plants being planned and built there were plenty of projects for the core business. Work for the Navy remained strong, and MPR also began making inroads into fossil-fueled power.
Like Naval Reactors helped create the nuclear power industry, MPR supported the industry as a whole. MPR participated in the Loss of Fluid Test (LOFT) project for the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor agencies which delivered projects like 2D/3D. The 2D/3D Program, a fifteen-year US, German, and Japanese investigation built upon the LOFT experiment. This insight and expertise launched MPR as the needed LOCA experts for Oyster Creek's - Mark I Boiling Water Reactor project.
That same LOCA knowledge appeared necessary again years later during the Three Mile Island Unit 2 partial meltdown. MPR was called and led the task force to determine the effects of the event.
U.S. utilities ordered 129 reactors between 1971 and 1974, but only thirteen between 1975 and 1978.
Unusual as it was, MPR had, in fact, already begun to adjust to the slower pace of construction by focusing on the maintenance of existing plants.
The nuclear power industry forms a Seismic Qualification Utility Group (SQUG) and MPR takes a leading role in testing plant safety in the event of an earthquake. And the Advanced Light Water Reactor Program, led by EPRI and MPR with industry-wide collaboration, is initiated with its mission to establish an evolutionary nuclear power plant design.
Building on earlier systematic analysis of firefighting sprinklers, MPR improves aqueous film-forming foam firefighting system on the USS Enterprise and also undertakes a systematic review of shipboard weapons elevators for the US Navy.
Adjusting to a new nuclear environment, MPR continues to follow existing paths of diversification, broadening its style of engineering to issues that arose in fossil fuel plants and establishes the Availability Improvement Program.
The Roots of Innovation
Structuring the company so as to put down roots for more innovation to make MPR even stronger and more diverse.
Not wasting any time, MPR begins a series of influential projects, upgrading the nuclear infrastructure, reentering the fossil fuel generation business, engineering a new generation of Navy safety equipment, and undertaking the entirely new business sector of product development.
EPRI hires MPR as prime engineering contractor to design a series of tests and new evaluation methods to improve motor operated valves (MOVs); repetitive test data is approved by NRC and still used today.
Receiving a patent, MPR begins upgrading the nation’s nuclear infrastructure as shrouds surrounding boiling water reactors (BWR) are developing intergranular stress corrosion cracking and need repair.
The 1992 Energy Policy Act enables market-conscious independent power producers to generate electricity. Serving as owner’s engineer and delivering due diligence, domestically and internationally, MPR becomes immersed in gas turbines and independent power - cogeneration and oil-fired turbine plants.
Working on the Navy’s laboratory fire research test ship, the former USS Shadwell, MPR defines firefighting doctrine and a self-contained breathing apparatus SCBA; later MPR is contacted again this time for the Damage Control Automation for Reduced Manning (DC-ARM) program. Configuring a “smart valve,” testing with fire and flooding, shows what took sailors twenty minutes is now complete in one.
Recent advancements of making existing devices better and designing entirely new ones, MPR paves the way for its Product Development business from troubleshooting injection molding machines for plastic drug applicators to developing applicators for the pharmaceutical firm, Vivus. Its Health & Life Sciences portfolio launches including implantable devices, surgical instruments and tools, and electromechanical devices.
A continued stream of talented and creative engineers solving first-of-a-kind problems and building a one-of-a-kind company.
With a changing competitive landscape and the power industry facing new challenges, MPR continues to follow other paths that it had embarked upon during the 1990s.
Development of the “nuclear landscape” message defines specialty engineering to the nuclear industry. Concerns arise over the high pressure injection (HPI) equipment at Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, MPR develops an innovative modification. MPR is heavily involved in licensing, design, planning, and procurement for the South Texas Advanced BWR project. MPR works as the DOE’s Lender’s Independent Engineer at the Alvin Vogtle Units 3 and 4 project, featuring a next generation AP1000 reactor.
Louisiana Energy Services receives approval to build a national enrichment facility in New Mexico. MPR acts as engineering design manager and handles compliance issues.
MPR begins a two-year project developing a stem cell isolation system for Tissue Genesis Inc. The LAESI DP-1000 developed by MPR and Protea Biosciences wins recognition as one of the “Top Ten Innovations of 2011.”
MPR enters the joint venture CH-IV to provide liquefied natural gas consulting services; in joint venture NuSource LLC, MPR provides manufacture and certification of specialty nuclear-grade equipment; MPR renews its teaming agreement with Basler to provide electric generator components to the nuclear power industry.
But what does your gut tell you?' Harry Mandil told me this shortly after I started in 1968. A brilliant analytic mind, he was also convinced engineers need to develop a “feel”— an intuition for what makes sense—and to actively use that when critiquing their work.