Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 - 2008 . . .
on our route to the Pacific Northwest

Updated: 11/30/08



a f0802ebr1_100 sign_1.jpg (52758 bytes)We were focused on the white buildings on the other side of the road. We almost missed this Historic Landmark. 

It is located in the middle of a desert area. We were driving directly into the wind. So, a stop for a while was good.

We turned the HHII around and were pushed back to the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EBR-1) by, what was now, a tailwind.





a f0802ebr1_333 building_1.JPG (27029 bytes)a f0802ebr1_111 sign bld_1.jpg (44980 bytes)The EBR-1 is located about 50 miles Northwest of Idaho Falls, ID on Route 20, or about 20 miles East of Arco, ID. 




Plant layout . . .




a f0802ebr1_293_1.JPG (32425 bytes)Walking into the building, this is the first sign you see. Shoes are required because there are very small amounts of contamination fixed in the floor. "Fixed" means that the contamination is bonded with other materials and cannot easily be removed. Levels are so low that the shielding provided by your shoes effectively blocks the radiation.





The first look inside . . .


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During the summer months, college students act as tour guides. However, they had all returned to school so there was a Idaho National Laboratory (INL) employee there to answer questions. A self-guided tour was well documented in a handout. While we found the tour very interesting, we have a friend at home who would have found it exciting. Bud is a nuclear scientist/engineer who worked at a nuclear power plant in Michigan.



This classroom was the first stop on the tour, it gave you a crash course in chain reaction and the principles involved in a breeder reactor.  EBR-1 was a breeder because it "bred" more plutonium-239 atoms than the uranium atoms it consumed.

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From the Control Room scientists started and stopped the chair reaction and controlled the equipment for making electricity. We were struck by the dials, buttons, analog meters - lack of computer controls which were not in use in 1951.

 In this, and several other areas, you could watch videos of scientists who worked at the facility explaining what it was like during the 1950's.


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A.N.L. Sign . . . the EBR-1 was the first nuclear reactor to generate a usable amount of electricity.


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The reactor . . .


a f0802ebr1_141 core_1.JPG (37579 bytes)This view is standing above the reactor - a nuclear heat source or furnace. When the reactor operated, the thick concrete wall surrounding it shielded workers from radiation. The uranium fuel was placed in long, thin, stainless steel rods like those on display. The fuel rods were lowered into the reactor core through the hole in the concrete floor. Fission took place in the core, producing heat and breeding more fuel.


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a f0802ebr1_153 turbine_1.JPG (54448 bytes)Steam created by the reactor's heat rotated this turbine. The turbine turned the generator to make electricity.






Historic bulbs . . .   The first electricity generated at EBR-1 illuminated four light bulbs like the ones seen here. They are strung just as the original bulbs were in 1951.





In this area, water was converted into high-temperature steam. The steam was then piped through these tubes to the turbine/generator where it produced electricity.


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These plaques were installed during the dedication ceremony in 1996 designating ERB-1 as a Registered National Historic Landmark.


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a f0802ebr1_190 radiation_1.jpg (49831 bytes)   This sign was placed as an educational opportunity for visitors.




a f0802ebr1_204_1.JPG (46250 bytes)After the fission process occurs in the reactor, the rods become highly radioactive. This large cask, when lifted by the crane overhead, safely moved the highly radioactive spent fuel rods from place to place.

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Rods were stored in the individually numbered holes, known collectively as the rod farm. The chalk board was used to keep track of the spent rod inventory.



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a f0802ebr1_209_1.JPG (44683 bytes)These manipulators are the first ever devised for remote handling of radioactive materials. Mechanical "hands" inside the hot cell duplicated every motion applied to the controls by an operator who stood outside the cell.

a f0802ebr1_216_1.JPG (47330 bytes)Hands-on mechanical hands were available for people to try.


Fred stacked the red block on the yellow one the first try.





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The glovebox . . .



This is the hot cell - used for the inspection and repair of radioactive materials. The window's 34 layers of glass (total thickness of 39 inches) and 39 inch thick walls provided radiation protection. 


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a f0802ebr1_271_1.JPG (42545 bytes)We went into the reflector repair room. A reflector made of uranium-238 "bricks" surrounded the reactor core. Using the machinery in the room, an operator looking through the window could remove and replace the bricks one by one.






This area provided a view of where heat from the liquid metal in the reactor was transferred to the second system of liquid metal.


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a f0802ebr1_239_1.JPG (31016 bytes)Some radioactive liquid metal remained on the fuel rods when they were removed from the reactor core. Liquid metal was washed off in the hole covered by the bright metal plate in the floor.

The center photograph above is the view of the bright metal plate in the floor through the thick widow.





There were interesting displays giving information about
the early days of nuclear power research and development.

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a f0802ebr1_312 bomber_1.jpg (42482 bytes)a f0802ebr1_104 bomber eng and hh_1.JPG (39794 bytes)At one end of the parking lot were equipment and display panels about the attempt to create a nuclear air plane. The project began in the early 1950's and was cancelled by President Kennedy in 1961.






The white buildings on the other side of the road are part of a huge complex of Idaho National Laboratories (INL). They are engaged in research and development of a variety of products including practical wearable personal armor for the military. INL is part of the Department of Energy - Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology.





They also have the expertise, infrastructure and strategic partnerships necessary to advance the state of the art in nuclear safety analysis, irradiation services, nuclear operations, management of spent nuclear fuel and the biocorrosion of fuels.


The tour is free. We spent about an hour and a half looking around EBR-1. Some stairs are part of the walking tour.



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