Early Reactors in the United States and Russia

The first nuclear reactors for commercial civilian applications were developed in the early 1950's. In 1951, Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-1), located at the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho, was completed and was operated by Argonne National Laboratory. In the first demonstration of nuclear-generated electricity  in the United States, 4 light bulbs were supplied  (Right hand photo) . EBR-1 was a prototype of the metal cooled reactors. The BORAX III reactor, a BWR prototype, actually lit the town of Arco in a 1955 demonstration. (More on Argonne history). Argonne-West is a division of the national laboratory operated by the University of Chicago.

Stagg Field at the university was home of the world's first nuclear reactor, which was completed in December 1942 by a team of scientists headed by Enrico Fermi. Subsequently, the Graphite Reactor was built at Oak Ridge to demonstrate that plutonium could be produced from uranium. This pilot scale reactor was a predecessor to the production reactors built at Hanford, Washington and is attributed to be the first to generate electricity.

In the 1950's and 1960's, a number of smaller reactors of different designs (PWR, BWR, metal cooled, organic coolant, gas cooled) were built and operated. Eventually, in the US, the PWR and BWR designs were the only survivors of the pilot plant stage. The table below shows the history of the early reactors.

EBR-1 Reactor - first US Reactor to supply electricity

Photo by J.A. Gonyeau

1stl-lite.jpg (34381 bytes)

Courtesy Argonne National Laboratory - West

In Russia at about the same time, the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering developed a 10 MW graphite moderated reactor at Obninsk. This reactor commenced operation in 1954 and was the precursor of the RBMK design. The reactor was used to provide district heating for many years. The reactor is now shutdown.

First Russian Graphite-Moderated Reactor

Photo by J.A. Gonyeau

 During the 1960's, a number of smaller prototype reactors were designed and operated by utilities and/or government agencies. These included:

Year Unit MWe Location Utility Reactor Type Shutdown
1957 Shippingport 60 Shippingport, PA Duquesne Light PWR / LWBR 1982
1960 Dresden 1 200 Morris, IL Commonwealth Edison BWR 1978
1961 Yankee Rowe 160 Rowe, MA Yankee Atomic PWR 1991
1962 Big Rock Point 60 Charlevoix, MI Consumers Power BWR 1997
1963 Indian Point 1 250 Buchanan, NY Consolidated Edison PWR 1974
1963 Humboldt Bay 3 60 Eureka, CA PG&E BWR 1976
1963 Hallam 75 Hallam, NB   LMGMR 1964
1964 BONUS 70 Rincon, PR   BWR 1968
1966 Fermi 1 60 Monroe, MI Detroit Edison LMFBR 1978
1966 Hanford-N 860 Richland, WA AEC/WPPSS LGR 1988
1966 Pathfinder 60 Sioux Falls, SD Northern States Power BWR 1967
1967 Peach Bottom 1 40 Peach Bottom, PA Philadelphia Electric HTGR 1974
1969 LaCrosse 50 Genoa, WI Dairyland Power BWR 1987


Abbreviation Meaning
BWR Boiling Water Reactor
LGR Light Water Cooled - Graphite Moderated Reactor
LMFBR Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor
LMGMR Liquid Metal (Cooled) -Graphite Moderated Reactor
LWBR Light Water Breeder Reactor
PWR Pressurized Water Reactor

Subsequently, larger reactors were designed and operated starting with the San Onofre 1 and Connecticut Yankee PWRs in 1967 and Oyster Creek and Nine Mile Point 1 BWRs in 1969. These newer reactors were rated at 400 to 600 MWe. Argonne and Oak Ridge National Labs, DOE  and NRC have each provided short histories of nuclear power.

Copyright 1996-2006. The Virtual Nuclear Tourist. All rights reserved. Revised: December 21, 2005.