The Professor's History Lesson: The first nuclear power plant

The Brilliant Blog is introducing a new series, The Professor's History Lessons, to share amazing moments in the history of energy, electricity and sustainable development. We hope these brief looks back in history will teach you something new and give you a greater appreciation for the energy used in your daily lives.

This week marks the first occurrence of electrical power from a nuclear reactor. On December 20, 1951, in Arco, Idaho, project engineer Harold Lichtenberger turned on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I), which lit up four 200-watt light bulbs that were strung up for the test, according to the American Nuclear Society’s Nuclear News. Lichtenberger and his team of scientists and engineers had performed a huge feat, which would usher in the era of atomic energy, now known as nuclear energy. Instead of celebrating the achievement with clapping, a round of hugs or even a celebratory toast, the group went back to work. As described by one of Lichtenberger’s colleagues, Leonard Koch, an associate project engineer working on the EBR-I, for Nuclear News in November 2001:

“Actually, it was just another regular day for all of us. We all assembled for the test, the reactor and heat transfer systems were made operational, Harold Lichtenberger turned a switch, and the light bulbs that had been strung had lit up. That was it. This was what we worked toward for several years. This was what we expected to happen. When something like that occurs, sometimes it’s difficult to attach much significance to it.”

Koch adds that the team did at least document the event on a wall of the EBR-I building:

“Reid Cameron said, ‘Hey, why don’t we at least make a record of this somehow.’ He made that little drawing at the top that’s shown in the photo—I’m not sure what it is, except that it may be breathing energy. Then we all signed our names. We didn’t celebrate. We just put our names on the wall. We went home that night, and the next day we came out and ran the reactor again the same way.”

As of July 2015, there are 438 nuclear power plant reactors across the globe, reports the Nuclear Energy Institute. Four reside in Texas—two in Glen Rose and two in Bay City—and generate nine percent of the Lone Star State’s electricity while emitting no greenhouse gases. These plants also help produce 49.4 percent of Texas’s carbon-free electricity.

While Houston may not have a clean air energy source within city limits, Brilliant Energy is doing its part to support energy conservation initiatives, such as partnering with Power to Save Texas and Smart Meter Texas. And our clean energy plan, Brilliant Green, uses 100 percent renewable green energy, and it is a cost-effective solution for our eco-conscious customers. You can learn more about Brilliant Green here.