Shippingport Atomic Power Station: Five Fast Facts

by Will Davis

Shippingport Atomic Power Station as pictured in original press package; photo PR-19109

Shippingport Atomic Power Station as pictured in original press package; photo PR-19109

•Shippingport started up 60 years ago today.   On December 2, 1957, the reactor at the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, which was America’s first, full-scale nuclear power plant, was made critical for the very first time.  This event occurred fifteen years to the day after the historic first startup of the first nuclear reactor ever – the CP-1 pile near Chicago.  Many important people, including Admiral Rickover, were present at the startup.

•Shippingport was initially something of a last ditch effort.   During 1953, the Navy cancelled the CVR project (CV for aircraft carrier, and R for reactor) which confounded the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).  The AEC had hoped that the CVR project would both lead to larger Naval plants, and to a commercial (civilian) plant. A budget request for a civil plant had also recently been refused.  The AEC decided to appeal directly to President Eisenhower in order to prevent a total loss of momentum, and the result was the project that eventually became Shippingport.

•Shippingport didn’t have to be Shippingport.   A competition was held to determine which U.S. utility company should partner with the AEC in construction of the new atomic power station.  While a number of competitive bids from around the country were received, the Duquesne Light Company (which served the greater Pittsburgh area) won out.  The location selected along the Ohio River being near Shippingport, the plant was thus given this name.

Shippingport Atomic Power Station under construction.  Photo PR-18392 from the original press package.

Shippingport Atomic Power Station under construction. Photo PR-18392 from the original press package.

•Shippingport was built quickly.  The groundbreaking ceremony for Shippingport took place on September 6, 1954.  Heavy construction was started in March 1955, and the plant was ready to receive the reactor vessel from Combustion Engineering in October 1956.  One year later, the fuel was loaded in the reactor and preparations were begun for testing and the approach to criticality.

•Shippingport is completely gone.   While the present day Beaver Valley nuclear plant is immediately adjacent to the old Shippingport site, the original nuclear power station has been completely decommissioned, with all plant structures removed down to a few feet below grade.  The reactor vessel was removed in one piece and shipped away, and today nothing visible remains of the pioneering commercial nuclear power station.


Will DavisWill Davis is a member of the Board of Directors for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. He is a consultant to the Global America Business Institute, a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and he writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is also a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, and serves on the ANS Communications Committee and the Book Publishing Committee. He is a former U.S. Navy reactor operator and served on SSBN-641, USS Simon Bolivar.  His popular Twitter account is @atomicnews.

6 thoughts on “Shippingport Atomic Power Station: Five Fast Facts

  1. Mark Forssell`

    I first arrived at the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in December 1957 when the plant first achieved full power. After about a year of training at the plant, I took over as Chief of the Atomic Energy Commission office at Shippingport, with a cadre of 5 Navy personnel on watch 24/7 in the control room overseeing the operation of the plant from a safety standpoint. I held this position for 3 years until 1961. It was a thrilling experience working through the development of operation of this new adventure. Kudos to the Duquesne Light Company for their fortitude in operating this first full-scale nuclear power plant in the United States. It was a pleasure to work with them.

  2. Will Davis

    My boat’s RC is there (USS Simon Bolivar, SSBN-641) as well – I did not know that the Shippingport vessel went into the 200 area trench!

  3. Sam Hobbs

    When I was there in 1999, the roads around the old site, the adjacent wooden warehouses, and a portion of the visitor center was still there as was a remnant of the river intake/discharge structure. Some lunchtime walkers (myself included) used to walk around those roads to get some quick exercise. The reactor and turbine building and major auxiliary structures are indeed gone completely.
    Also, the article doesn’t mention the “thermal breeding” portion of the reactor’s operations.
    Thanks for the memories.

  4. David Erickson

    The decommissioned Shippingport reactor vessel was moved via barge to the Hanford Reservation in Washington State. Using Google maps, and the coordinates 46°33’55.2″N 119°31’03.7″W (satellite view works best) I believe you can see its current resting location. The rest of the items in the immediate vicinity are the reactor vessels from decommissioned USN submarines.

  5. Paul Turinsky

    The January, 2018 issue of Progress in Nuclear Energy, which is actually published in December, 2017, consists of a collection of articles on nuclear power evolution that pays homage to the Shippingport Nuclear Power Station on the plants 60th anniversary from startup.

  6. Sam Dechter

    Spent nearly 2 years with Westinghouse at Shippingport in 1976-1978 for overhaul, upgrade, refueling, and LWBR core installation and startup. It was very interesting learning how to test and operate the plant with the mixture of old and new equipment. Although never used, the breeding capability of Thorium-based reactor fuels was verified at Shippingport. Years later, I had to dispose of the extra Thorium left at the Fernald site. Felt some angst when the site was greenfielded, but the old plant served another purpose then–a used reactor site could be removed.

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