Fermi 1 breeder reactor booklet from 1960: Atomic Power for Peace and Prosperity

By Nick Touran, Ph.D., P.E., 2024-06-04 , Reading time: 2 minutes

Here is a 1960 booklet describing the Fermi 1 liquid metal fast breeder reactor near Detroit. Direct link here.

The booklet starts out explaining that energy is a keystone of prosperity, and that power demand was expected to quadruple by 1980 (just 20 years). As fossil fuel runs out, the newly discovered atomic fuels can satisfy this growth. A pound of uranium or thorium can produce 3,500,000 kWh of electricity, whereas a pound of coal only produces 1.5 kWh.

The Atomic Power Development Associates, Inc. (APDA) was a non-profit corporation formed by 30 electric power companies and 12 engineering and manufacturing firms that shared expensive research, experimentation, and development work going into the basic design of the fast breeder power reactor.

When the Atomic Energy Commission announced its first round Power Demonstration Reactor Program (PDRP), a proposal for Fermi 1 was filed by a group of 9 companies who organized another non-profit, the Power Reactor Development Company (PRDC).

The PRDC membership grew to 18 electric companies and 7 manufacturing firms. Its mission was to finance, construct, own, and operate an APDA-designed developmental power reactor to advanced atomic power development.

These groups were focused on breeder reactors because only they can make effective use of all nuclear materials, rather than only the fuels enriched with the costly isotope U-235. The booklet explains the concept of breeders well, without referring to the paradoxical ‘makes more fuel than it consumes’ trope.

Fermi 1 was financed entirely with private funds, with costs estimated at $42M. The AEC provided $4.45M of R&D support, including the running of a critical experiment. The PDRC planned to sell steam to Detroit Edison for the production of electricity.

The conventional 150 MWe steam-turbine side of the facility was owned and operated by Detroit Edison, and was estimated to cost $17M.

Fermi 1 was a 2nd-generation sodium-cooled fast reactor, building on the experience of Clementine, the EBR-1, SIR, Seawolf, and the SRE liquid metal-cooled systems.

After completion, Fermi 1 struggled during startup testing, and even melted fuel in an incident that has was immortalized by the “We almost lost Detroit” franchise. (See also: “We did not almost lose Detroit)

Nevertheless, lessons and experience from Fermi 1 echo throughout the ages. Thousands of pages of design information, construction experience, and operational experience exist for us to use today. The ‘non-profit consortium’ model of nuclear development succeeded yet again

The booklet contains some progress photos of the construction of Fermi-1 as well.

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