Top 50 Stories: 1951 and on - Nuclear power in the Idaho desert

Important milestones occurred on 890 square miles of government land TOP 50 Storiesfrom 150 years of the Idaho Statesman1951 and on

sberg@idahostatesman.comMay 19, 2014 

This Statesman article was published in October 1995.

On Dec. 20, 1951, the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1, located between Idaho Falls and Arco, made history: It produced a usable amount of electricity from nuclear fission. The string of four light bulbs EBR-1 lit has become famous in the annals of nuclear history.

Over the next six-plus decades, laboratories in Idaho Falls and on the 890-square-mile patch of land the federal government owns west of the city have been at the forefront of some of the world's most advanced work on peaceful nuclear energy. By 1971, 49 nuclear reactors had been built on those 890 square miles, which locals call "The Site."

For decades, The Site was also a dumping ground for all kinds of nasty stuff, such as used nuclear fuel rods and nuclear and toxic waste. In 1995, after years of mistrust, Idaho finally secured a pledge from the U.S. Department of Energy to clean up the waste it dumped in Idaho and ship it out of the state. That work continues on The Site.

Today, you can visit the EBR-1 museum on U.S. 20/26 between Idaho Falls and Arco. Besides an easy-to-understand explanation of how nuclear fission works and the reactor's place in history, the museum is home to the remains of an ill-fated attempt to build a nuclear airplane.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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