The Atomic Show #070 – Lighting Arco, Idaho

Ray Haroldsen tells the story of how BORAX III became the first US nuclear plant to supply electricity to a town.

In the fall of 1954, the US Atomic Energy Commission learned that the Soviet Union was planning to participate for the first time in the annual International Atomic Energy Agency conference on nuclear energy. Up until that time, both the US and the Soviet Union sent scientists and engineers to the conference, but neither actually participated or presented papers.

The AEC did not want the Soviets to gain propaganda points. The leaders of the Commission determined that they needed to show that they were working on civilian applications of nuclear energy. That was especially true in light of the Atoms For Peace speech that President Eisenhower gave in December of 1953.

The only problem was that the AEC’s first reactor designed for electrical power production – the Shippingport reactor – would not be ready in time to present it as a completed action at the conference. The AEC turned to a small team at the National Reactor Testing Station who had just begun operating a small, boiling water reactor that could produce steam at a high enough pressure to turn a turbine and produce enough power to supply a nearby town.

Ray Haroldsen was part of the team that cobbled together enough new and left over components to turn an experimental reactor into a power station and to use a nearby feeder line to actually send the power produced to a real, live American town named Arco. As is the case with most good stories, there were some bumps in the road that needed some creative solutions.

The following links might be useful to you if there are some technical discussions that are not completely clear.

Xenon: A Fission Product Poison (pdf from CANDU fundamentals)

How Stuff Works: How Power Grids Work


About Rod Adams

4 Responses to “The Atomic Show #070 – Lighting Arco, Idaho”

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  1. Reese says:

    These three shows were awesome. Thanks to you and Mr. Haroldsen for this bit of very significant history. Changed the world, it did,.

  2. Jim Baerg says:

    Thanks for these shows. They remind me I really should get more from my father about his work at Chalk River in the 1950s. He has mentioned what he saw of the NRX incident.

  3. Rod Adams says:

    Jim and Reese:

    Glad you enjoyed the Ray Haroldsen interviews. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Ray – I love getting the story directly from people who were there. Too often our histories focus on just the “leaders” or decision makers. Sometimes the perspective that those people bring has too many filters to be very interesting or truthful.

    Jim – I would love to talk with your dad. Do you think he would be interested in sharing his experiences? The Chalk River NRX incident had a long term influence on the development of nuclear power in the United States.

    The effort by the US Navy nuclear reactor program to assist in the clean-up was, after all, one of the very few times that Jimmy Carter had any real exposure to information about nuclear energy outside of a nuclear power school classroom. From what I can gather, he spent a little time in anti-C’s and that made a lasting impression on him.

  4. Lloyd Pentecost says:

    Great shows. Thanks to Ray for taking the time to share his stories. It is good to record these stories while we can. I will be happy if you two do 10-20 shows.