Portland Trip: Day 1 Diversion – EBR I

August 24, 2014

The pamphlet for the self-guided tour of the EBR-I says:

On Dec. 20, 1951, EBR-I became the first power plant in the world to produce usable electricity unsing atomic energy. After that day until decommissioning in 1964, EBR-I generated enough electricity to supply all the power for its own building whenever the reactor operated.

The blocky reddish tan building sits alone, miles from anywhere. I imagine in 1951 it was forty miles from electricity. Essentially, the first breeder reactor had the output of a good, modern, diesel generator.


The EBR-I facility.

Caution! Door Sticks.

I expected at a place so remote to be the only visitor, but there were a couple other cars. Just passers by who stopped for a diversion on their road trip? Or did they plan to come here?

I’ll admit to a bit of concern over the radiation warnings plastered all over the place. It’s not every day you visit a national historical landmark with these things all over the place. Upon closer inspection, they have to do with working in the building.

The place hasn’t been upgraded to include any modern landmark amenities like a gift shop. I was looking forward to the opportunity to get a shirt that says “I visited EBR-I and all I got was a few rays!”

One of the interactive features of the place was the opportunity to try out the mechanical arms used to handle the fuel. The picture below is a view into the materials handling room. The arms visitors could try out were outside this, we wouldn’t want any amateurs knocking over the bottles of colored water. We’re looking through 34 layers of leaded glass.


I missed taking a picture of the fuel rods. They’re quite a bit smaller than I expected. Six pieces make up the rod assembly, each piece no thicker than a pencil. Around the corner from there is the rod farm where they stored the spent fuel rods.

IMG_3812sAnother exhibit I neglected to photograph was the recreation of the string of light bulbs that were illuminated when the thing was first turned on. They light four bulbs. The recreation has that early-50’s look to it, so I’m guessing it’s pretty accurate. The four bulbs combined were barely putting out enough light to read by. Nuclear power sure has come a long way.