Atomic Reactor Makes Electricity

Popular Mechanics, March 1952

Making history are these four bulbs as they glow with the first electricity ever produced by atomic energy. (Experimental Breeder Reactor I)

Making history are these four bulbs as they glow with the first electricity ever produced by atomic energy. (Experimental Breeder Reactor I)

Atomic Reactor Makes Electricity; Popular Mechanics, March 1952For the first time in history, useful amounts of electricity have been produced with atomic energy. The Atomic Energy Commission announced that although the power generated was only 100 kilo-watts and the project was entirely experimental, the result is another milestone in the atomic age. Heat energy was removed from an experimental breeder reactor by a liquid metal of a type not revealed. Sufficient heat was transferred to generate steam for driving the turbine and generator. Power generation is an incidental part of the breeder-reactor experiments being conducted near Idaho Falls, Idaho, but it is providing data about the handling of liquid metals under radioactive conditions. The principal function of the breeder reactor is to convert nonfissionable material into fissionable material more rapidly than the nuclear fuel is consumed, a process that would contribute to expansion of our atomic program. It can never be used to generate large amounts of power, but it is providing information that will be valuable in designing atomic power plants of the future, say scientists at the Idaho laboratory.

Heat from the atomic breeder reactor made the steam that spun the turbine and generator shown above.

Heat from the atomic breeder reactor made the steam that spun the turbine and generator shown above.

Scientists and technicians recorded their feat on the power-plant wall (Experimental Breeder Reactor I)

Scientists and technicians recorded their feat on the power-plant wall.


Today, Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EBR1) is decommissioned and has been designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Located about 18 miles southeast of Arco, Idaho.  At 1:50 PM, December 20, 1951, it initially produced sufficient electricity to illuminate four 200-watt light bulbs.  I took the photos below during a 2010 visit to the site:

 At 1:50 PM, December 20, 1951, Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EBR!) produced sufficient electricity to illuminate four 200-watt light bulbs.

EBR-I subsequently generated sufficient electricity to power its building, and continued to be used for experimental purposes until it was decommissioned in 1964. (Wikipedia)

EBR-I subsequently generated sufficient electricity to power its building, and continued to be used for experimental purposes until it was decommissioned in 1964.

Electricity was first generated here on Dec. 20, 1951. On Dec. 21, 1951 ~ all of the electrical power in this building was supplied from Atomic Energy.

american history, energy, history, idaho, museum, now that’s cool!, nuclear energy, photography, science, science and nature, technology, vintage article, vintage images

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rummuser Sep 3, 2017

    We have come a long way since then haven’t we?

    • Mike Sep 3, 2017

      Yes, but, in the case of nuclear, progress has been inhibited by opposition to it… and, now, in the United States, new nuclear cannot compete with natural gas while some older plants are being shutdown for the same reason.
      Mike recently posted…Grain ElevatorMy Profile

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