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Lankomumo reitingas Print version Print version
Nuclear energy for peace: the birth of nuclear energetics

The birthday of nuclear energetics can be defined with different dates. The first reactor that was used to generate electric energy was the EBR (Experimental Breeder Reactor) in the United States. This reactor, contrary to the types mentioned earlier, was a so called fast reactor. The fuel was 94% enriched uranium, while the coolant was a mixture of liquid sodium and potassium. The EBR was put into operation in 1951 and 200 kW out of its 1400 kW thermal power was utilized: the lighting of one of the buildings of the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho was supplied using the generated electricity.

The first hydrogen bomb (or thermonuclear bomb) was exploded in the Soviet Union - leaving behind the United States - on 12 August 1953. Kurcsatov said: "The atomic sword is in our hand. It is time to think about the peaceful use of nuclear energy." He turned to Stalin and asked permission to build an electricity generating reactor, that is a nuclear power plant. Stalin assented to the plan but he died before its implementation. Finally, on 27 July 1954, in the hottest era of the cold war the first nuclear power plant joined the Soviet electricity network. The Obninsk plant operated with a graphite moderated and water cooled reactor and its electrical power was 5 MW.

In western literature the Obninsk power plant is rarely mentioned as the first nuclear power plant of peaceful purpose in the world. On the one hand, it is hard to forget that the construction was ordered by Stalin - although urged by Kurcsatov. On the other hand, it is indisputable that the Obninsk plant - being graphite moderated and water cooled - could be switched to plutonium production in case it was needed. Eventually, the main reason is that the plant was not built as part of a general and large-scale program aimed at the development of power plant reactors and the wide-spreading of the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The majority of the literature gives 8 December 1953 as the birthday of the nuclear energetics of peaceful and commercial purpose. On this day sounded president Eisenhower's famous speech "Atoms for Peace". He proposed the foundation of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on organization whose task should be the development of "methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind. Experts would be mobilized to apply atomic energy to the needs of agriculture, medicine and other peaceful activities. A special purpose would be to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world." Soon after president Eisenhower's speech the Congress agreed to the Atomic Energy Act. The new law ended the monopoly of the government over the knowledge of nuclear techniques. The atomic energy act was aimed at three main goals: continue on with the weapons development, widen the peaceful applications of nuclear energy and ensure public health and safety against the potential dangers of commercial nuclear technologies.

The construction of the world's first commercial nuclear power plant was stared in Shippingport, USA, in September 1954. It supplied electricity to Pittsburgh on 23 December 1957. The Shippinport reactor was a pressurized water type, with 230 MW thermal and 60 MW electrical power.The pressurized water reactor type was originally developed - initiated by admiral Rickover - for the navy, namely to drive aircraft carriers. Today this is considered as one of the most accepted and safest reactor concepts.

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The EBR-1 reactor the first lights illuminated using nuclear energy

The Obninsk plant: during operation and maintenance

The Obninsk plant: during operation and maintenance

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1. Nuclear power energetics in Russia lives out its days
1. Nuclear power energetics in Russia lives out its days