Another Historic Idaho Atomic Reactor


By Jay Michaels

Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho (KMVT-TV) A silver dome rises from a group of buildings in the desert 50 miles west of Idaho Falls. This is where Experimental Breeder Reactor Two was built in the 1950s, and went online in 1964 at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Don Miley, Director of INL Tours, says, "One of the best descriptions I've heard is a pot of boiling spaghetti, where you've got all the heat at the bottom of the pot, and you see your spaghetti rise to the top, and then brought back to the bottom. It's rising because it's heating, and then as the heat dissipates, it drops to the bottom again. That's what EBR-II did because of its very unique design."

In 1986, EBR-II operators ran a test where they disabled the reactor's safety systems, and then turned off the sodium coolant pumps. The reactor shut itself down in five minutes with no damage to the fuel. Three weeks later, the meltdown at Chernobyl, Russia happened, which Miley says wouldn't have occurred if they'd been using EBR-II technology.

Van Sandifer, Deputy Director for Nuclear Operations at INL says, "EBR-II had almost 9 million megawatt hours during that period. It actually had a power plant that produces 20 megawatts of electricity from a turbine generator that supplied part of the electrical load here at the site and out on the loop."

EBR-II was decommissioned in 1994, but it supplied a third to half of INL's power needs during the 30 years it was in operation. Since then, the reactor and all of the related materials have been removed and the hole filled with concrete.

If all goes well, and INL can find the funding, EBR-II's iconic silver dome could be torn down as early as this time next year.

20 miles west of the silver dome, the EBR-I Museum boasts an interactive mockup of the EBR-II reactor and control room display. It's less than one-fifth the size of the original control room.

Miley says, "On this one, visitors can make like they're operating a reactor. We've got some lights on the wall, when you push the button, the lights will come up to show the position of the control rods."

In the next room, you can see a much smaller version of the reactor itself.

You can see the reactor displays at the EBR-I Museum 20 miles east of Arco, Idaho from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day of the week between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

Nov. 15, 2012.

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