Saturday, June 04, 2011

The World's First Nuclear Power Plant

Location: Outside Arco, ID at the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1

The year is 1951. End tables were molded plywood, often in wavy, kidney shapes, couches were hard, peg-leg rectangles, televisions were small, oval, black-and- white screens with innards powered by tubes, and Fiesta Ware was the king of the table. Patti Page had a number 1 hit with "Tennessee Waltz," the Korean War was in full swing, and the Catcher In the Rye was first published.

And the first nuclear reactor generated electricity by lighting four light bulbs.

Decommissioned and decontaminated in 1964, the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 sits outside Arco, ID, waiting for tourists to take a peak at what was once the cutting edge of technology.

A short video is shown in a 50's living room mock up:

Here is the generator that lit those four light bulbs, the first non-military use of nuclear power (and our tour guide, Jasmine):
The control room where all of the knobs, levers and doo-dads reside that let technicians monitor the status of the reactor.
A procedure for handling an emergency shut down began in Chicago, and quickly migrated to other reactors. To stop a nuclear reaction, it was necessary to drop a cadmium rod into the reactor. The rod was suspended over the reactor on a rope, and could be quickly dropped by cutting the rope with an axe. The man who's job it was to cut the rope was called the Safety Control Rod Axe Man. From this we get the term, SCRAM, and the name for the big, red button that is only pushed in a dire emergency.


Actually, it was really fun. We could play with any of the buttons, levers, and gizmos we liked.

This is the reactor itself. The rods were lowered through what is now a plexiglass circle in the center.

This reactor was the first "breeder" reactor -- the one that proved Enrico Fermi's theory that a nuclear reactor could create more fuel than it used. The fuel rods were much smaller than I expected. They were coated in aluminum so they could more easily be handled, then put in a carrier and inserted in the reactor.
The trip was a wonderful journey back to a bygone era. I'm sure Rad Man would agree!

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