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Saturday, July 24, 2021

CONTINUITY: The First Nuclear Power Reactor: Experimental Breeder Reactor I

Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I), in December 1951, the first nuclear reactor to produce electricity from nuclear energy, was breathtakingly ambitious. Rather than rely on the conservative and extremely inefficient design of the reactors used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, it was a fast breeder reactor, using fast neutron fission in highly enriched fuel to breed plutonium in otherwise unreactive Uranium-238, producing more fuel than it burned. It was believed that this mode of operation would be required for civil nuclear power to be competitive with other sources. It pioneered the use of liquid metal cooling, using an alloy of sodium and potassium, allowing it to operate at a higher, more efficient temperature, and demonstrated inherently safe cooling, where the reactor core could be cooled by convection alone in the case of loss of the coolant system pumps.

Although EBR-I initially produced only enough power to light four 200 watt light bulbs, it served as the prototype and testbed for a wide variety of nuclear technologies. It operated from 1951 through 1964, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and is presently open to the public as a museum.

This documentary, with contemporary photos and film plus interviews with participants, recounts the story of EBR-I.

Posted at July 24, 2021 11:55