Did you know that the first reactor to make useable amounts of electricity from nuclear energy anywhere in the world is right here in Idaho? The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is a huge part of history and you can still visit the site to see this history for yourself.
Idaho Energy Freedom Advisory Council members participated in a virtual tour of the experimental breeder reactor (EBR-1) at INL. The virtual tour takes you through the building – visiting the control room, the reactor itself and much more. The best part: EBR-1 is open to the public for tours.
Idaho Energy Freedom’s Advisory Council is a collaborative of clean energy experts from many walks of life, but the virtual tour of INL’s facility not only had council members geeking out, but also deeply hopeful for the future of Idaho’s innovative energy production.
In addition to IEF’s excited advisory council, INL has provided hundreds of tours each year to everyone from the U.S. Secretary of Energy to second grade students. Thanks to our INL tour guide, Shelly Norman, and ambassador, Taylor Wilhelm, Advisory Council members learned more about the birthplace of nuclear energy.
INL originated as a nuclear reactor testing station in 1949.
“The goal was to take 15 years and build 10 reactors,” Wilhelm said. “We have surpassed that goal and have been out here for 70 years and built 52 reactors. Soon, we will have to say 53 and 54 and so on.”
That’s a big feat. The first reactor was the experimental breeder reactor.
“It was the first reactor to make useable amounts of electricity from nuclear energy. The first anywhere in the world,” Wilhelm said. “It was the first reactor to breed fuel and the first reactor to make electricity from an all-plutonium core.”
There is still a plaque at the INL proudly on display that states: “Electricity was first generated here from Atomic Energy on Dec. 20, 1951 – all of the electricity in this building was from atomic energy.”
“The first day it powered four light bulbs and the second day, the entire building,” Wilhelm said.
Moving into the current state, in fiscal year 2021, there were 5,734 full-time employees, 42 joint appointments, 95 postdoctoral researchers, 471 interns, 26 graduate fellows, 21 visiting scientists and 1,142 facility users. The operating cost from fiscal year 2021, in total, was $1.5 million.
INL encompasses more than 569,000 acres. There are four operating reactors, 12 hazard category II and III non-reactor facilities and activities, 50 radiological facilities and activities, 17.5 miles of railroad for shipping nuclear fuel, 44 miles of primary roads (125 miles total), 7 substations with interfaces to two power providers, 126 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and three fire stations.
INL’s fiscal year 2022 economic impact on the state of Idaho was $3.38 billion, which was a 34.7% increase from fiscal year 2021.
INL is the 6th largest private employer in Idaho. And, the organization is looking to shift the energy paradigm and integrate systems for the nation’s net-zero future.
If you would like to learn more about the INL, there are six different virtual tours available. There are also public tours where you can explore an operating nuclear reactor. If you would like to tour EBR-1, head to the INL website at https://inl.gov/experimental-breeder-reactor-i/.