Friday Nuclear Matinee: Vallecitos Atomic Power Plant – “1st Private Atom Power Plant Opens”

While Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania was the first full-scale nuclear plant to be designed and built to provide commercial electric power, the Vallecitos Atomic Electric Power Plant in California was actually the first privately-financed nuclear power plant to provide meaningful amounts of electricity for public use.

Vallecitos was mainly a training and test facility, paving the way for the full-scale Dresden-1 nuclear plant in Illinois and many others that followed. Vallecitos achieved criticality in August 1957, and connection to the local utility electric grid began that October.

Vallecitos received Power Reactor License No. 1 from the Atomic Energy Commission.

Two highly informative sources on the history of Vallecitos:

Looking Back: Vallecitos  Atomic Power Review

An International Mechanical Engineering Landmark: The Vallecitos Boiling Water Reactor   American Society of Mechanical Engineers/Mt. Diablo Section

Thanks to Jeff Quitney

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6 thoughts on “Friday Nuclear Matinee: Vallecitos Atomic Power Plant – “1st Private Atom Power Plant Opens”

  1. Will Davis

    Thanks so much for your story, Hector – I’m exceedingly glad you told it, and glad it’s now recorded here for everyone to read.

  2. Hector Antunez

    If my story were not a pioneer one, and over half a century old, I would not take my time and yours to tell it.
    By 1959 I was a brand new graduate student of the Balseiro Physics Institute in Bariloche, Argentina, and my classmate Jose Fulco introduced me to Dr Lewi Tonks of General Electric, who invited me for eighteen months to the Experimental Physics Unit of the Vallecitos Atomic Laboratory (VAL), the then official name of the site of the Vallecitos Boiling Water Reactor (VBWR).
    With financial support of the Argentine Army, I sailed the Atlantic and drove accross the USA, and started to work early in February 1960 under John Russell and Hugh Johnston. I developed a method for measuring conversion ratio in UO2 superheater pellets (those for the Superheat Advanced Demonstration Experiment) at the Critical Experimental Facility. This included calibrations at the Nuclear Test Reactor and dissolving the pellets to properly account for the U238 self shielding. My work was accepted as my doctoral thesis at the University of Cuyo.
    All this seems trivial today, even silly, but it was not at that time. Tools and communication make the difference.
    Thanks to ANS Nuclear Cafe for making me revive that period of my youth. Also, once again, to all those who made possible my training al VAL.

  3. James Greenidge

    Good retrospective! More follow-thrus please!

    I am ill-amused at how Wiki features Dresden-1 , consigning details of about the plant’s output and siting to a sentence or two then devoting nearly a page’s worth to disaster and evacuation preparation. What else can the public believe except that nuke plants are “just giant eggshells that just can’t wait to blow!”

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  4. Will Davis

    Indeed, but the Calder Hall reactors were government-funded plutonium production reactors as well as commercial power reactors (in the sense that waste heat, wasted to the atmosphere in the original designs, was used instead to generate electricity) and thus cannot properly be classified in the same way as the Vallecitos plant.

  5. John Walmsley

    Calder Hall Unit 1 (50MWe) went critical in May 1956 and commenced commercial operation in October 1956. It was shut down in March 2003.