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As a young officer, Rickover was assigned to the emerging nuclear weapons industry at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. It was there where he decided to steer the Navy on a course to harness the power of the atom for its ships, beginning with one of the smallest — a submarine.

He was to become the father of the modern nuclear Navy and a big player in persuading the country to embrace nuclear power to light, heat and cool homes and businesses.

When top flag officers resisted his plans, Rickover discovered a love of politics. Nothing is accomplished in the military unless Congress provides the money, so he bypassed the Pentagon and went straight to Capitol Hill. He jawboned and charmed lawmakers into funding the Nautilus and the nuclear future.

The Navy’s epicenter at the Pentagon detested the arrogant and combative Rickover and tried to get rid of him. He failed to make promotion to admiral, meaning forced retirement.

But Congress stepped in to save him by writing a job description that Rickover joked could be filled only by a 125-pound Jew.

“He hated to wear the uniform,” his son Robert says in the film. At Navy headquarters, his father could be mistaken for a janitor.

‘Provocative and searingly blunt’

Film clips show Rickover lecturing a panel of senators on the virtues of the atom and on how to manage people to prevent mistakes. He blamed the Three Mile Island accident not on design flaws but on human failure to monitor the reactor properly.

Appearing on “60 Minutes,” Rickover tells Diane Sawyer that his job was not to get along with superiors but to produce results.

A former aide tells how Rickover would be on the phone chewing out an officer one minute, then using a syrupy polite voice while taking a congressman’s call.

A committed Cold War fighter, Rickover did not trust CIA analysts. When the agency reported that Soviet attack subs were limited to a certain speed, he knew how to prove them wrong. He had an aircraft carrier incrementally increase its speed once a Soviet sub was detected. Sure enough, when the carrier exceeded the CIA’s estimate, the sub kept up the pace.

By proving the agency wrong, Rickover showed the need for faster U.S. submarines.

Mr. Pack has produced more than a dozen documentaries. He covered the rise of the Republican House with “Inside the Republican Revolution: The First Hundred Days,” narrated by Washington Times columnist Donald Lambro. Mr. Pack also chronicled the downside with “The Fall of Newt Gingrich.”

His Rickover production is scheduled to appear this fall on PBS.

Mr. Pack describes his subject, who died in 1986 at age 86: “Combative, provocative and searingly blunt, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover was a flamboyant maverick, a unique American hero.”

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