Shippingport Atomic Power Station

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Shippingport Atomic Power Station
Shippingport Reactor.jpg
The Shippingport reactor was the first full-scale PWR nuclear power plant in the United States.
Shippingport Atomic Power Station is located in Pennsylvania
Shippingport Atomic Power Station
Location of Shippingport Atomic Power Station
Country United States
Location Shippingport, Pennsylvania
Coordinates 40°37′16″N 80°26′07″W / 40.62111°N 80.43528°W / 40.62111; -80.43528Coordinates: 40°37′16″N 80°26′07″W / 40.62111°N 80.43528°W / 40.62111; -80.43528
Status Decommissioned
Construction began September 6, 1954 (1954-09-06)
Commission date May 26, 1958
Decommission date December 1989[1]
Construction cost $72.5 million
Operator(s) Duquesne Light Company
Nuclear power station
Reactor type PWR
Reactor supplier Naval Reactors,Westinghouse Electric Corporation
Power generation
Units decommissioned 1 x 60 MWe (68 MLWth)

The Shippingport Atomic Power Station was the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses.[notes 1][notes 2][2] It was located near the present-day Beaver Valley Nuclear Generating Station on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, United States, about 25 miles (40 km) from Pittsburgh.

The reactor reached criticality on December 2, 1957, and remained in operation until October 1982. The first electrical power was produced on December 18, 1957 as engineers synchronized the plant with the distribution grid of Duquesne Light Company.[3]

Shippingport was created and operated under the auspices of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, whose authority included a substantial role within the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Its design team was headed by Alvin Radkowsky.

Its final core was an experimental, light water moderated, thermal breeder reactor and is notable for its ability to transmute relatively inexpensive thorium to uranium-233 (the latter being the fissile material that fueled the reaction within the reactor core).[4] The reactor was capable of an output of 60 MWe.

The reactor was designed with two uses in mind — for powering military ships, and serving as a prototype for commercial electrical power generation.[5] In 1977, it was converted to a Pressurized Light-Water Breeder Reactor (PLWBR).[6] Over its 25-year life, the power plant operated for about 80,324 hours, producing about 7.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.[1]


In 1953, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his Atoms for Peace speech to the United Nations. Commercial nuclear power generation was cornerstone of his plan. A proposal by Duquesne Light Company was accepted by Admiral Rickover and the plans for the Shippingport Atomic Power Station started.

Ground was broken on Labor Day, September 9, 1954. President Eisenhower remotely initiated the first scoop of dirt at the ceremony.[3] The reactor achieved first criticality at 4:30 AM on December 2, 1957.[3] Sixteen days later, on December 18, the first electrical power was generated and full power was achieved on December 23, 1957,[3] although the station remained in test mode. Eisenhower opened the Shippingport Atomic Power Station on May 26, 1958. The plant was built in 32 months at a cost of $72.5 million.[2]


The Shippingport reactor was designed to accommodate different cores during its lifetime; three were used.

The first, installed in 1957, held 4 tons of natural uranium and 165 pounds of high-enriched uranium. Seven years later it was retired, after having produced almost 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.

The second core had increased generating capacity and instrumentation to measure performance. It began operating in 1965 and over the next nine years generated almost 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. In 1974 the turbine-generator suffered mechanical failure, causing the plant to be shut down.

The third and final core was a light water breeder, which began operating in August 1977 and after testing was brought to full power by the end of that year.[3] It used pellets made of thorium dioxide and uranium-233 oxide; initially the U233 content of the pellets was 5-6% in the seed region, 1.5-3% in the blanket region and none in the reflector region. It operated at 236 MWt, generating 60 MWe and ultimately produced over 2.1 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. After five years the core was removed and found to contain nearly 1.4% more fissile material than when it was installed, demonstrating that breeding had occurred.[4][7]


Reactor pressure vessel during construction (1956)

On October 1, 1982, the reactor ceased operations after 25 years.[8] Dismantlement of the facility began in September 1985.[9] In December 1988, the 956-ton (870-T) reactor pressure vessel/neutron shield tank assembly was lifted out of the containment building and loaded onto land transportation equipment in preparation for removal from the site and shipment to a burial facility in Washington State.[10] The site has been cleaned up and released for unrestricted use.

The $98 million (1985 estimate) cleanup of Shippingport has been used as an example of a successful reactor decommissioning by proponents of nuclear power. However, critics point out that Shippingport was smaller than most commercial nuclear power plants;[9] most reactors in the United States are about 1,000 MWe, while Shippingport was only 60 MWe. Other will argue it was an excellent test case to prove a reactor site could be safely decommissioned and a site released for unrestricted use. Shippingport, while somewhat smaller than a large commercial reactor today, was representative, with four steam generators, pressurizer and reactor. The reactor alone, when packaged for shipment, weighed in excess of 1000 tons (921 tons weight of the vessel plus the weight of a structural steel shipping skid) and was successfully shipped by waterway for burial at the Hanford Reservation.[11] The Trojan reactor vessel (located in Orgeon), was also successfully shipped by waterway to the Hanford site; a much shorter trip than the Shippingport reactor.

Subsequent to its Nuclear decommissioning three large commercial reactors have since been entirely leveled, Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station having been entirely decommissioned in 2007 with The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) notifying Yankee county in August of that year that the former plant site had been fully decommissioned in accordance with NRC procedures and regulations.[12] Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant completely decommissioned in 2005,[13] and Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Power Plant have all likewise been leveled,[14] with all three prior commercial reactor sites in a greenfield, open to visitors condition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Though the British Magnox reactor at Calder Hall was first connected to the grid on 27 August 1956, its unstated primary purpose was to produce plutonium for military uses.
  2. ^ The Vallecitos Nuclear Center started producing electric power in October 1957, but it served as a test or pilot plant.


  1. ^ a b United States General Accounting Office (Sep 4, 1990). "Shippingport Decommissioning - How Applicable Are the Lessons Learned?". Retrieved 9 May 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "History". Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). April 17, 2007. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Historic Achievement Recognized: Shippingport Atomic Power Station, A National Engineering Historical Landmark" (PDF). p. 4. Retrieved 2006-06-24. 
  4. ^ a b Light Water Breeder Reactor: Adapting A Proven System
  5. ^ Pool, Robert (July 17, 1997). Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology. Sloan Technology Series. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-510772-2. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  6. ^ Clayton, J.C. (1993). The Shippingport pressurized water reactor and light water breeder reactor. Westinghouse Electric Corporation. p. 2. 
  7. ^ Thorium information from the World Nuclear Association
  8. ^ "Shippingport". Retrieved 2006-06-24. 
  9. ^ a b "Nuclear Energy Decommissioning". Retrieved 2006-06-24. 
  10. ^ Duerr, David (March 1990). "Lift of Shippingport Reactor Pressure Vessel". Journal of Construction Engineering and Management 116 (1): 188–197. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9364(1990)116:1(188). 
  11. ^ Duerr, David (September 1991). "Transportation of Shippingport Reactor Pressure Vessel". Journal of Construction Engineering and Management 117 (3): 551–564. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9364(1991)117:3(551). 
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