Argonne’s Experimental Boiling Water Reactor in Film

by Will Davis

The second of our special series covering documentaries of early US reactors is this very thoroughly set up and filmed documentary on the Experimental Boiling Water Reactor, produced by Argonne National Laboratory.

EBWR as it was commonly known began construction in 1955.  Argonne itself designed the reactor, for which Babcock & Wilcox constructed the reactor vessel.  Sargent and Lundy acted as architect – engineer for the project, with construction oversight by the Atomic Energy Commission; the Sumner Sollitt Company acted as the construction General Contractor.  Graver Tank and Mfg. Co. constructed the containment enclosure for the plant, which measured 80 feet wide and had a full height of 119 feet although a considerable portion of that height was invisible as it was below grade.

The major power equipment contractor for the EBWR project was Allis-Chalmers, who supplied the entire turbine generator, the main condenser, the feed and circulating pumps, the entire diesel generator set (A-C owned Buda, maker of diesel engines, at this time), all motor controllers and control centers as well as remote controls, all transformers and switchgear, and other ancillary equipment.

Construction cost of the facility, originally, was $5 million above and beyond the R&D.  Later, the plant was modified to accept a much higher steam flow and power (although the turbine generator was not replaced and steam was simply dumped) which cost another $2 million.

Originally, the reactor was rated 20 MWt at a steam flow rate of 60,600 lbs/hr (600 psig, 489F) and in this configuration achieved criticality in December 1956.  The turbine generator was rated 6250 KWe maximum with a normal gross output of 5000 KWe; net power, which could be supplied outside, was 4500 KWe.  The reactor was successfully operated at about three times its original output and, later, was further modified to allow a 100 MWt power rating – the shutdown for modification being in January 1962 with the plant back in operation in the Spring of that year.

Now, let’s take a look at this excellent half-hour long film on EBWR!

Data from:

Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company brochure on EBWR project

The Atomic Energy Deskbook, Hogerton; Reinhold Publishing, New York 1963

Nuclear Reactor Plant Data, Vol. 1; ASME, McGraw-Hill New York 1959.

About Will Davis

Will Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian, newsletter editor and member of the board of directors. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant. He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013–2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

5 thoughts on “Argonne’s Experimental Boiling Water Reactor in Film

  1. John Houck

    After the D&D of EBWR, Argonne opted to re-use the structure as the Radioactive Waste Storage Facility, with the sponsorship of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management and Restoration (EM). It serves as a staging and measurement area (Dose2Ci) for RH-TRU waste headed to WIPP. Standing on level 4, one can stand next to the steel slabs that were welded up in situ to form the I-beams that supported the EBWR vessel, they can be seen at 21:13-21:45

  2. Sidney Bernsen

    It’s a wonderful movie. I doubt that there are many current survivors of this project. I served as wnat would now be called the systems engineer for the project. My responsibility was, as directed by the project manager, to be responsible for the project to be successful. Also to handle the redesign to make it capable of operating with heavy water, which included redesigning the shielding etc. In those days we had no computer capability so everything was designed using sliderules and desk top calculators.When ever we were stymied with a design decision, I was expected to decide what to do.

    An interesting occurence developed at a time nearing startup when the Project Manager advised me that the Argonne Physics Department had concluded the the reactor would never reach its design capacity. I spent the following weekend reviewing all our information from our Borax reactor tests and other experiments, and reassured him that it would not only reach design capacity but would produce at least 4 times the desired output. This conclusion well validated by the power levels described in the movie.

  3. John Thorp

    Will, Found a typo.

    Your article said the turbine generator would put out 5000 MWe. Clearly you meant to say 5000 KWe.

    I really enjoy reading your articles, keep up the great work!

  4. Larry Boing

    The EBWR was decommissioned completely in the period 1987-1994. Its been reworked a bit, containment dome is still there and is now used for storing packaged waste prior to off-site shipment.

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