Exploring the World of INL: EBR-I Reactor


By Jay Michaels

Arco, Idaho (KMVT-TV) - Plenty of people know that Philo T. Farnsworth, who invented all electronic television, grew up right here in Idaho.

But that's not the only thing the Gem State is famous for.

About 20 miles east of Arco and just over 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, you'll see a small building just off U.S. Highway 20 and 26.

A closer look reveals that this is where the first experimental breeder reactor was built and operated beginning in the early 1950s.

“EBR-I was really the birth of nuclear power for the nation and for the world. This was the first reactor built after the Manhattan Project to prove that humans could actually start, control, and produce electricity from a fission chain reaction,” said Don Miley, I.N.L. Tours Director.

On December 20, 1951, the reactor operator fired up EBR–I, which powered an electrical generator, which in turn produced enough electricity to light four 200 watt light bulbs.

That was the first usable amount of electricity created from nuclear power.

Miley said the building itself is something to see.

“I think just the architecture itself, the craftsmanship and the brickwork of the building is phenomenal. How well this operated as designed, very few modifications from what was designed on paper. Through construction to operation, pretty much everything went the way they had designed it,” said Miley.

EBR–I operated for 13 years until it was decommissioned in 1964.

Miley said that laid the groundwork for much of the nuclear research that followed.

In 1966, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson visited Idaho to declare this a national historic landmark.

Even though EBR–I is inside the nearly 900 square mile Idaho National Laboratory site, the good news is you don't need a high level security clearance or a military escort – to see EBR–I for yourself.

“It is open every summer, Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, 9 to 5 every day of the week. No charge, no appointment necessary. Just come out and see how it all started,” said Miley.

By lighting four good sized light bulbs just over 60 years ago.

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