ASME-Landmark:Experimental Breeder Reactor I


During World War II, scientists and engineers worked feverishly to achieve a controlled nuclear chain reaction as a step toward developing America's first nuclear weapon. After the war, the newly established Atomic Energy Commission assigned some of the nation's nuclear skills and resources to developing peaceful uses of the atom—so the first prototype power reactor built would attempt to prove the theory of fuel breeding.

On December 20, 1951, engineers and scientists at the Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1)—the first reactor of more than fifty built at the Nuclear Reactor Testing Station, the world's first nuclear power plant—watched a string of four light bulbs spring to life. For the first time in history, electricity had been made with nuclear energy.

EBR-1 ultimately achieved a more important milestone, the demonstration of the breeder concept in 1953, by producing more fuel than it consumed while generating electrical power. Much of the knowledge on which current and future nuclear reactors depend, particularly breeder reactors, can be attributed to EBR-1's eleven-year operation. The reactor was decommissioned and decontaminated in June of 1975.

Walter H. Zinn, the first director of Argonne National Laboratory, was responsible for the basic design. With the support of Enrico Fermi, Zinn completed his plans by 1945 for a small-scale proof-test facility for validating the breeding principle and for evaluating the feasibility of using a liquid metal as a coolant. Construction began in 1949. See ASME website for more information