2007 Marks 50 Years of Commercial Nuclear Power

By April 2, 2007Energy

We’re getting an early jump on the commemorations, but having run across this newsreel film of the dedication of the Vallecitos Atomic Electric Power Plant,we note that this year marks the 50th anniversary of commercial nuclear power in the United States.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers declared the site a landmark and published an informative history of the plant on the occasion of Vallecitos’ 30th anniversary (documentation available here in .pdf format). According to the ASME’s plaque:

This facility was the first privately owned and operated nuclear power plant to deliver significant quantities of electricity to a public utility grid. During the period October 1957 to December 1963, it delivered approximately 40,000 megawatthours of electricity while serving as a valuable training and test facility. The plant was a collaborative effort of the General Electric Company and Pacific Gas and Electric Company with Bechtel serving as engineering contractor.

You can see a Universal-International Newsreel of the November 25, 1957, dedication ceremonies by visiting the Prelinger Archives here. Featured speakers are Gov. Goodwin Knight and Lewis L. Strauss, Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission.

While Vallecitos received the first AEC permit, Power Reactor License No. 1, the Shippingport plant in Pennsylvania also lays claim to being the first commercial power plant by dint of its larger scale. A documentary short on Shippingport, which started operation in December 1957, is available here at the Prelinger Collection.

That same month, the first nuclear surface ship, the Soviet Lenin, was launched. So 1957 was an important year in the history of nuclear power.

Two generations later, America’s nuclear renaissance is picking up speed. Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 5-0 to authorize an Early Site Permit (ESP) to System Energy Resources Inc. for the Grand Gulf site near Port Gibson, Miss. Supporting documents are here and the NRC’s news release is here. The ESP process, while cutting government red tape, still covers all the important areas to ensure each site’s plant safety, environmental protection and comprehensive emergency response plans.

System Energy Resources, a subsidiary of Entergy, filed its ESP application on Oct. 21, 2003, and the NRC’s permit remains valid for 20 years. NRC must still approve a combined license before the company can build one or more nuclear facilities on the location, adjacent to the current plant.

Grand Gulf is the second ESP permit to be granted; the first was to Exelon’s Clinton site in Illinois. Currently pending are two other ESP applications, at North Anna in Virginia and Vogtle in Georgia.

Good news, good developments, indeed. Two generations after the first commercial nuclear power plant began generating electricity, nuclear energy is being reborn in the United States. All the more reason to make 2007 a year to celebrate.

(Hat tip: NEI’s essential Nuclear Notes blog.)