The Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-1)

I spent the Summer of 2008 interning at Idaho National Lab, at the main campus located in Idaho Falls, about 50 miles west of the Wyoming Border. Driving in the other direction, after passing various ominous and well-guarded military and DOE installations out in the desert, you might come across the town of Arco, Idaho. Arco is the home of the Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-1), the first reactor in the world used to generate electricity, illuminating 4 200-watt light bulbs in 1951. Established by LBJ as a National Historic Landmark and decommissioned in 1964, EBR-1 remains a tourist destination, and it was one of my favorite fields trips of the summer.

The following video rather stylistically summarizes the history of the reactor, from a 1950s perspective and aesthetic.

Of note, in the parking lot of the EBR-1 are two massive nuclear powered jet engines, relics from the Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft project in the 40s.

The project was abandoned in 1961 due to radiation shielding issues.


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One response to “The Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-1)

  1. gatorgreg

    The 1940’s and 1950’s marked a very large technological leap for the US which then translated to the world. Nuclear science exploded on a perhaps unparalleled level during this time and I personally think it changed the course of human history. Unfortunately, the most common thought among US citizens at the very least if not the world when the term “nuclear” is used is BOMB.

    The Manhattan Project was a spectacular accomplishment but it also potentially altered the course of human history by developing a weapon that could annihilate our species (along with almost all others). Sadly, the Experimental Breeder Reactor is forgotten as a terrific scientific accomplishment when discussing nuclear. LBJ was right to call it a National Historic Landmark. The US led the world in nuclear research at the time however that mantle has been passed to other nations like France and Japan because of our irrational in my opinion fear of the term nuclear.

    I fear that our country’s glory days in science and engineering are in the past. I think of the great US achievements and I think of the Manhattan Project, EBR-1, Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, the Apollo missions, etc. All were finished a number of years ago. I hope that more field trips are taken to such locations as EBR-1 to spur new students to want to achieve such heights as our predecessors did. Currently our heights are achieved in tank warfare and fighter jets. How about becoming the world leaders in something of a more passive nature!

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