Tuesday, June 12, 2012



On December 20, 1951, EBR-1 became the first power plant in the world to produce usable electricity using atomic energy.

On the road between Idaho Falls and Craters of the Moon are signs that talk about an Atomic Museum. Jim wasn’t sure he was feeling up to stopping on our way back from the Craters. But he decided we might not ever get out here again and we pulled in. As you can see in this picture the plant is definitely out in the middle of no where.


I truly don’t have any idea how to explain nuclear fission chain reactions or breeding or NAK. So I’m going to post some pictures that I thought were really neat and offer a very brief explanation of what they were trying to do at this plant.

They offer tours with a guide but our timing wasn’t any good so we took the self-guided tour. They have a really great brochure to guide you through the plant and they try to explain each stop in words that might make sense to someone like me.

The design purpose of EBR-I was not to produce electricity but instead to validate nuclear physics theory which suggested that a  breeder reactor should be possible.




Here are a few pictures of some of the equipment in the plant.



Control Room


Besides generating the world's first electricity from atomic energy, EBR-I was also the world's first breeder reactor and the first to use plutonium fuel to generate electricity. EBR-1's initial purpose was to prove Enrico Fermi’s fuel breeding principle, a principle that showed a nuclear reactor producing more fuel atoms than consumed.



Steam created by the reactor’s heat rotated a turbine. The turbine turned the generator to make electricity. The first electricity generated at EBR-1 illuminated four light bulbs. After the light bulbs were lit, they were put into a closet. Later the FBI was called in to fingerprint the bulbs so they could preserve the original four light bulbs.

From that date until decommissioning in 1964, EBR-1 generated enough electricity to supply all the power for its own building whenever the reactor operated.



The two giant engines above in the parking lot were built as part of the Heat Transfer Reactor Experiment (HTRE) in the mid-1950's.  The idea was to build a nuclear-powered aircraft.  It was an idea, and a plane, that never got off the ground, for several reasons.  For one, the aircraft would have needed to be huge--so big it would need a 10-mile-long runway.  The plane's crew would probably have received a massive dose of radiation, since shielding would have been too heavy.  And of course, it's just not a great idea to have nuclear reactors flying around overhead. 

By the way – EBR-1 is Experimental Breeder Reactor.



  1. Hmm .... a breeder and a reactor. So, it breeds first and then reacts? Okay ... I got it.

  2. I had know idea that we did that back in 1951.

  3. Visiting EBR-1 was a real stretch for my brain too. :)

  4. Sounds like you had an interesting visit. Hope Jim was happy to have made the slight detour.

    Kevin and Ruth

  5. That's a cool side trip! You did an excellent job of explaining things in laymen's terms. I assume that the nuclear fuel is long gone and its just a collection of old stuff at this point...

  6. I believe this is the first blog I've ever read about a tour of a nuclear plant - great stuff.

    I can't believe you don't know what a nuclear fission chain reaction is (ha, ha)!! It goes BOOM!

  7. What an interesting place, but SCARY...ack.. what if that thing leaks? ewwwwww

    (I know it's safe, but those old movies keep coming to mind of monsters created from nuclear exposure)

    Karen and Steve
    (Our Blog) RVing: Small House... BIG Backyard

  8. I never realized how much Jim resembles Homer Simpson until I saw that picture of him sitting in the plant control room...just like Homer! ;c)

  9. Interesting stop, you are going to keep us busy with all great places you keep finding. Safe travels.

  10. Wow, way back then?!!! We live about 30 miles from a modern day nuclear power plant. I try not to think about that too much because I sure do like having readily available electricity for all our gadgets.

    Hope Jim recovered well from the extra stop.

  11. Yes, yes, yes...on our list. Thanks for including the pictures of the drawings. I understand none of it! hehe

  12. butterbean carpenterJune 12, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    Howdy Dixons & girls,
    Thank you, for a very interesting tour and explanations of what did what.. In school I never could get around that atomic chart and barely passed..
    Did all of Jim's pain go away after being around the
    atomic stuff?? Y'all do find exquisite things for us
    'lurkers' to see!! Pet the girls for me..


Thanks for visiting today. I look forward to reading your comments. Have a beautiful day.