Nuclear power before the NPP

    67 years ago, on December 20, 1951, the experimental fast EBR-1 reactor became one of the first nuclear power sources. The photo shows 4 bulbs with a power of 200 W, which he "lit" that day. Before the launch of the first-ever nuclear power plant in Obninsk, about 3 years remained.

    By the memorable date, a small story about the appearance of this reactor, a photo of what is now with it, and an explanation of why it is not considered a full-fledged nuclear power plant.


    The first electricity from the EBR-1 reactor in 1951. Photo: DOE

    The reactor was designed and built in the late 1940s in Idaho by a team from the Livermore laboratory at the site for testing nuclear reactors. Later, this place became the Idaho National Nuclear Laboratory (INL) , and about 50 nuclear installations were designed and tested, including reactors for the US Navy and even experimental aircraft nuclear engines and power plants.


    A modern view of the site where the EBR-1 reactor building (center) is located, and on the left - two experimental reactors of the Aircraft Nuclear Engine (Air Propulsion Nuclear Engine ) program , closed in 1961.


    Students on the background of one of the HTRE-3 aircraft reactors (by reference, anyone can read a 210-page report on its tests. Photo: EBR-1 Facebook page

    With a turbine and generator, the EBR-1 reactor produced up to 200 kW of electricity from 1.2 MW of thermal energy (to put it mildly, it did not have the highest efficiency), which it created in an active zone the size of a soccer ball . And let now on its facade there is an inscription stating that this is the first nuclear power plant in the world, formally it was not a nuclear power plant, since the generated energy was used only at the industrial site and not transferred to the network.


    Scheme of the reactor installation. Highly enriched uranium in metallic form was used as fuel. The coolant is potassium-sodium eutectic. More information about the design can be found at the link .


    The core of the EBR-1 reactor. AZ itself is about the size of a soccer ball. The elongated cylindrical shape due to the space for the course of control rods (4 pieces). Source .


    Reactor with biological protection. Around AZ there is a blanket of uranium, a 50-cm reflector of neutrons from graphite and almost 2.7 m of concrete. A source.


    Tourists on the background of the building EBR-1 with a proud sign, calling it "the world's first nuclear power plant." Photo: EBR-1 Facebook page

    The first full-fledged nuclear power plant in the US ( Shippingport NPP with a single reactor with a capacity of 68 MW) started operating only in 1958. And the first in the world nuclear power plant, which issued a current to the common power grid in 1954, was the Soviet Obninsk NPP. Its capacity was 5 MW.


    The first nuclear power plant in the US - Shippingport NPP. Photo: Wikipedia

    But EBR-1 was built not so much to get energy (no one doubted that this was possible), but to confirm the possibility of creating a breeder reactor. A breeder is a reactor in which, during operation, more new nuclear fuel (plutonium) is produced than is consumed (uranium). Theoretically, this was understandable earlier, but the possibility of building such a reactor (with a fast spectrum of neutrons and a liquid-metal coolant) appeared only after the Second World War. Two years after the launch of EBR-1, in the experiments of 1953, the properties of the reactor-breeder were confirmed.


    Another group of students at the University of Idaho with the EBR-1 control panel. Photos: EBR-1 Facebook page

    Similar experimental fast reactors in the USSR appeared later, in the same Obninsk in the BR series of reactors, and later this direction grew to industrial power reactors of the BN series at the Beloyarsk NPP.

    The EBR-1 was stopped in 1964, and in 1966 it was visited by President Lyndon Johnson and granted him the status of National Attraction. Now at the site of the EBR-1 there is a museum of atomic energy, open in the summer season every day for everyone . At other times - for groups by appointment. The first nuclear power plant in Obninsk is now also a museum, but it works only for groups by appointment.


    In front of the EBR-1 museum. Photos: EBR-1 Facebook page

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