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Shippingport Light Water Breeder Reactor Remarks at a Ceremony Marking the Pennsylvania Facility's Increase to Full Power Production.

December 02, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. You might tell us what to expect.

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Mr. President, if I may be so bold as to suggest that you stay on my right-hand side. That is what the script says. [Laughter]

The Shippingport reactor is now putting out about 90 percent of its power. And the actual megawatts is about 65 to 6 or 7. We're ready to go up to full power at any time that you direct.

As you know, there's a blackboard here. And when you give the directions, they will carry out your orders.


ADMIRAL RICKOVER. As we all hope to do. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President wrote the following words on a blackboard: "Increase light water breeder reactor to 100%, Jimmy Carter." The blackboard was connected electronically to a screen at the Shippingport Atomic Power Station's control center.]

THOMAS D. JONES II [in Shippingport]. Mr. President, we have received your instructions and are proceeding to increase power to 100 percent rated reactor power.


ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Mr. President, while they're getting up the power, which takes a few minutes, as typical of all central station powerplants, I would like to explain to you how this reactor's scope and what its ultimate purpose is. This reactor contains about 1,100 pounds of U-233, which is made out of thorium. The thorium, when it's bombarded, changes first to U-235 [Th-233] 1 and goes through--234, rather, then by its own nuclear reaction goes to U-233.

In addition to that, it contains 40 tons of natural thorium. There's more thorium in the Earth than there is uranium; therefore, if this system can be made to work, it will tremendously magnify the energy we can get not only out of our uranium sources but also by this additional material, thorium.

The reactor itself is about 8 feet high, 8 feet in diameter, and weighs about 90 tons.

Now, the building blocks of the reactor I will now explain. This card shows the different kind of pellets which generate power. The top one is natural uranium [natural thorium]? The others are also natural thorium--the others are natural thorium [with U-233],1 which have been irradiated to some extent and supply the neutrons which bombard this natural uranium and turn some of it into similar material.

1 White House Press Office correction.

There are 3 million of these pellets in the reactor. Now, these pellets are put into zirconium rods. This rod happens to have the natural thorium in it. This is a cutaway section, of course; it's not in there this way. The other three rods show different concentrations of the U-233, and of course, the reason there are differences is to take care of the physics which required it because neutrons are very valuable. We cannot waste a single neutron.

Now, when the neutrons from the U-233 bombard, come out of this, bombard this, they cause--[inaudible].

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I understand now we have with the standard liquid water--I mean, light water reactors, enough energy to last 30 or 40 years. And if this breeder principle does work, it would magnify that energy supply maybe to 600 years, is that correct?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Yes, sir, very much more if it works. We do expect it to work, as I will discuss later.


ADMIRAL RICKOVER. I don't like to start things that don't work, including yourself. [Laughter] Incidentally, Mr. President, I interviewed 260 first-class midshipmen for the last 3 days from morning until midnight. And they're all potential Presidents, if they carry out my admonitions. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Jim, you might come in on what this means to us as far as energy supplies are concerned.

SECRETARY SCHLESINGER. It does two things, Mr. President. First, it enormously expands the potential supply of fissionable material, which would provide us with a backup for our fission-produced power. Secondly, it may substantially extend the life of existing light water reactors by shifting to a different kind of fuel cycle and preserve our investment in those reactors.

THE PRESIDENT. The thorium supply is fairly plentiful, is it not?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Yes. This reactor is designed so that it can be placed into the pressure vessels of existing reactors. In that way, it's different than the liquid metal breeder. Of course, the liquid metal breeder would require brand new plants.

THE PRESIDENT. IS this the first actual power production that's useful from a breeder reactor in our country?


THE PRESIDENT. And when did this reactor go critical? When did it--

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. It went critical several weeks ago. And we've been testing it that whole time for physics and mechanical tests. And I would like to say that the reactor has come within three tenths of 1 percent of our calculations.

THE PRESIDENT. Very good. What will happen to this energy? Will it be wasted?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. No, sir. This energy right now is on the grid of the Duquesne Power Company in Pittsburgh.

THE PRESIDENT. So, it feeds into--

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. This is feeding right now into the energy grid. As a result of your order, it is being brought up to full power.


ADMIRAL RICKOVER. It soon will be at that.

Now, to go on with the description. This is a grid. By the way, there are 17,000 of these. They're all 8 feet high. You've only seen a small section.

These rods--this shows only the small ones--are placed in what we call a grid. This grid is made out of a very special type of stainless steel, and it took quite a long time to develop it.

Now, there are 300 of these grids. This is the smallest one; there are larger. Each one of them--see, they separate the rods so they don't touch. That's one of the small ones.

Now, the reactor is 8 feet in diameter; it's 8 feet high and weighs about 90 tons. This is built so all parts of that reactor, that huge thing, 8-by-8, weighing 90 tons, is built to the accuracy of 1/1000 of an inch. We have to have that accuracy because we cannot waste neutrons.

So, this whole, huge, 90-ton thing is built to the accuracy of a Swiss watch. That will give you some concept of how difficult, mechanically difficult, in addition to the physics, it is to build a reactor.

THE PRESIDENT. This reactor is cooled by highly purified water?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Yes, sir. It's cooled by ordinary water. And that is the difference between it and the liquid metal breeder, which will be a much better breeder. But ultimately, if you go long enough in years--it makes no difference whether it's light water or liquid metal-you will ultimately get the same result on energy usage, although the liquid metal breeder will do it faster.

THE PRESIDENT. So, you create as much fuel in this breeder as you consume.

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Ultimately, you do, yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand. I see we are up to 100 percent, apparently.

ADMIRAL. RICKOVER. Mr. Kirby, the chairman of the board of Westinghouse, and Mr. Arthur, the chairman of the board of the Duquesne Light Company, are ready to carry out your orders.

As you know, the Westinghouse Company operates the Bettis Laboratory near Pittsburgh at which this reactor was designed and built.

And Mr. Arthur, with the Duquesne Company, operates the plant for the Energy Department, of which Dr. Schlesinger is the boss. And I would like to say he has backed us fully, both when he was Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and his present capacity. I'd like to thank him very much.

I also would like to thank Mr. David Leighton, who has been the project manager for me. And he may have hazed you because--I don't know whether he did; he was a class ahead of you at the Naval Academy. However, Mr. Wegner, who's my deputy, was in a class lower than yours. You may have hazed him. So, I think that calls it quits. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Do we have any report from Mr. Kirby?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Yes, sir. Mr. Kirby will now tell you if it is ready. You can tell him. You tell Mr. Kirby that the plant is ready.

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Kirby, are we ready?

MR. KIRBY [in Shippingport]. Mr. President, this is Robert Kirby speaking. For the Bettis Laboratory and the many hundreds of Westinghouse employees who have worked on developing the light water breeder reactor over the past 12 years, I am pleased to inform you that the reactor is now at 100 percent rated reactor power.

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Kirby, I'm very glad to hear that. This is indeed an historic day in the life of our country. As a matter of fact, and not coincidentally, 35 years ago today, the first sustained chain reaction in the nuclear cycle was commenced at Stagg Field in Chicago, in 1942.

And as you know, 20 years ago today, December 2, we had the first central power plant operation at Shippingport, where you are located. So, I think the December 2 date, again, will be commemorating a major step forward in the technological development of our country. This is the first time we have ever had power produced in our country from a breeder reactor which uses a very plentiful supply of fuel that can multiply the power supply maybe 30 times over in the breeder cycle.

And I'm very proud to congratulate you, all the people at Bettis, all the people at Westinghouse, on this remarkable technological achievement.

MR. KIRBY. Thank you, Mr. President.

MR. ARTHUR [in Shippingport]. Mr. President, this is John Arthur, Duquesne Light Company. Based on our experience in operating this light water breeder reactor during the recent checkout phase, our company anticipates reliable performance from the reactor. Also, Mr. President, the Shippingport reactor will be very important to us, as we provide electricity to a half million homes, buildings, and industrial plants in the Pittsburgh area.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Arthur, I know that the Duquesne Light and Power Company is very glad to get this supply of additional electricity from the breeder reactor. Not only is it a very fine step forward in engineering and technology but also it has a practical advantage as well.

And Admiral Rickover stated a few moments ago that this core, which is unique in its design, is the same configuration and size as the presently existing light water reactors in the nonbreeder field and, therefore, can possibly be substituted in the future. So, I think this again shows farsighted design.

And I'm very proud to see, also, the close cooperation between the Government on the one hand, the scientific community on the other, and industry, working so closely together in such a major effort.

Congratulations to you and to the people at Duquesne for cooperating and also benefiting from this notable achievement.

MR. ARTHUR. Thank you, Mr. President.

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Mr. President, I would like to take this occasion now to present to you a memento of this occasion.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Admiral, you know--go ahead.

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. This is a small part of a grid, a small part of two of the fuel rods.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm very proud of you, and thank you very much for letting me participate.

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. I'm proud of you, too. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, sir. Jim, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

SECRETARY SCHLESINGER. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's a good day for us all. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:46 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.

Attending the ceremony in Washington and Shippingport were Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, Deputy Commander for Nuclear Propulsion, Naval Sea Systems Command, Department of the Navy; David Trent Leighton, Associate Director for Surface Ships and the Light Water Breeder Reactor, Division of Naval Reactors, Department of Energy; and Thomas D. Jones II, superintendent of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station for the Duquesne Light and Power Company. William Wegner is Deputy Director, Division of Naval Reactors, Department of Energy.

Jimmy Carter, Shippingport Light Water Breeder Reactor Remarks at a Ceremony Marking the Pennsylvania Facility's Increase to Full Power Production. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242891

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