Now that the trip is finished and I am being a slug at home, I thought someone might like to see what it looks like in the EBR-1 museum. This is a special point in history when a wild idea of Enrico Fermi was put to test. Could weapons-grade U-235 be controlled in a stable chain reaction?
The site was chosen because an atom bomb detonation, would hardly be noticed or kill many people and it was already a 16-inch gun test firing area owned by the government with railroad access.
|Reactor core being lowered into place inside the pressure vessel|
The test if successful would be similar to having a car that made more gas than it used when driving. Wouldn't it be nice to have to drain extra gas after each drive?
I know this is a crappy pic, but it is the only one I have of this sign. It gives the timeline of EBR-1.
The Experimental Breeder Reactor was a wild idea and used liquid metal cooling which is very explosive / reactive with air and extremely so with water. The metal was liquid at room temp as it was a mixture of Sodium and Potassium metals. It looked and acted somewhat like Mercury. If you remember chemistry class, there were two or more metals that were stored in jars filled with kerosene. They were soft like butter and small pieces removed would start oxidizing right away. Those were these guys.
The NAK was made by mechanically rubbing the two elements together. They bond easy and turn to a liquid, this is the liquid metal used to remove heat from the fuel rods.
Some areas of the building will never lose their radioactivity due to a test that was done to see if it were possible to blow the reactor up. They are off limits to visitors and safe to be around.
Near the end of tests needed, Argonne Labs requested a complete meltdown of the core to see what would happen. All liquid metal flow was stopped. The rods in the core got too hot and melted and this caused the reaction to cease. No Ka Boom as some had thought would happen. The only problem being radioactive Cesium 137 mixed with the NAK in the inner cooling loop. The core was removed and shipped to Argonne for inspection. The clean up would prove to be a problem though, so the NAK was removed and stored somewhere. Some of it is still trapped in nooks and crannies of pipes and pumps.
The museum is completely safe to visit since it opened to the public as a historic landmark. There is no way this could be built today. The people working on it knew it could and probably would kill them. Yet it was people like that who did the experiment to provide limitless power to the world.
There was a EBR II and it proved to be a miracle for limitless power production, but it was torn down and no longer exists. They do have an annex of this building devoted to it.
|Cone is thick lead and was used to shield old rods being removed from core|
The new unused fuel rods were stored in a safe vault. This was 93% U-235 and enough to make several bombs was in this safe, the loaded reactor held enough to make about 25 modern bombs. The military did not want this walking out the front gate. The rods were completely safe to handle by hand until they were placed inside the core.
|Each cap held one hot used fuel rod, they were held here until they became less radioactive|
Once the rods were inside the core transmutations occur and wild isotopes are created and the rods are extremely radioactive, so a shield was needed to remove them and place them in the red tank to burn off short half-life isotopes. Then they were moved to a hot room to be disected and inspected.
Hopefully, I am making some sense. If you find this interesting enough to read anyway.
This next pic is through the thick glass and shows the remote hands inside the cell.
This was nasty chemistry. Fuming nitric acid etc.
So that is the fuel path through the building. Most fuel work was done in buildings now gone. Clean and friendly going in and dirty and nasty coming out.
Getting late, and probably lost most readers already anyway. Tomorrow I will make a 2nd post to cover the reflector cup, primary NaK loop, secondary NaK loop and steam generation to electricity making.