The Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Shippingport, Pa., the first full-scale nuclear power generating station in the United States, began operating in 1957.
Serving as the world’s first scalable nuclear power plant, Shippingport Atomic Power Station led the way for today’s nuclear generation fleet. Shippingport was centrally located roughly 25 miles from Pittsburgh, Pa., to provide electrical generation for many end-users. Shippingport also served as an experimental reactor that allowed engineers and designers the ability to test different core designs, and as such, the site housed additional testing equipment otherwise not commonly seen. The primary goal of Shippingport was always to generate electricity; however, its ability to function as an experimental reactor served utilities in further development of scalable nuclear generation.
The 40-year effort to make research reactors safer and more secure has led to the conversion of 71 reactors worldwide from HEU fuel to LEU.
The Ghana Research Reactor-1, located in Accra, Ghana, was converted from HEU fuel to LEU in 2017. Photo: Argonne National Laboratory
In late 2018, Nigeria’s sole operating nuclear research reactor, NIRR-1, switched to a safer uranium fuel. Coming just 18 months on the heels of a celebrated conversion in Ghana, the NIRR-1 reboot passed without much fanfare. However, the switch marked an important global milestone: NIRR-1 was the last of Africa’s 11 operating research reactors to run on high-enriched uranium fuel.
The 40-year effort to make research reactors safer and more secure by replacing HEU fuel with low-enriched uranium is marked by a succession of quiet but immeasurably significant milestones like these. Before Africa, a team of engineers from many organizations, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, concluded its conversion work in South America and Australia. Worldwide, 71 reactors in nearly 40 countries have undergone conversions to LEU, defined as less than 20 percent uranium-235. Another 31 research reactors have been permanently shut down.