Visitors to the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I) Atomic Museum were in for quite a sight recently when, shimmering across the horizon, dozens of old cars began turning down the long road out to the nation’s first nuclear power plant.
The first to pull in were two Mini Coopers, one red and one light blue, with big round headlights that matched the 1950s aesthetic of the living room inside the museum. As the drivers disembarked, removing their sunglasses and headscarves, they trained their attention on the sea of cars steadily approaching the decommissioned reactor. Soon, the parking lot began rapidly filling with Jaguars of multiple generations, old Triumphs, and several more British cars ranging in age from 20 to 68 years old.
On June 21, as all 60 members of the Idaho British Car Club (IBCC) participating in its Atomic Tour arrived, EBR-I opened its doors to greet the flood of car enthusiasts who were looking to briefly trade their mechanical adventures for an hour inside a nuclear reactor.
A large portion of the IBCC eagerly chose to stop by EBR-I on their way to Idaho Falls from Craters of the Moon. This drive took place as part of the club’s annual summer tour, which allows members to showcase their unique vehicles and explore new locations in Idaho, Oregon, or Washington each year.
“[EBR-I] is one of those special things you can only find here [in Idaho],” said Suzie Steiner, the club’s 2018 Summer Tour coordinator.
A longtime Idaho resident, Steiner lamented that the state’s rich nuclear history is not covered in its mandatory fourth-grade Idaho history course.
The club’s 2018 Atomic Tour, which was Steiner’s brainchild, took the club through the rodeo site in Carey, Craters of the Moon, and on to Idaho Falls via EBR-I. From Idaho Falls, the members had a choice among three drives: a trip to the Legacy Aviation Museum in Rexburg, a drive to Upper and Lower Mesa Falls, or a lunch excursion to Victor. The tour concluded with a car show on the morning of June 23, and an awards dinner that evening at Museum of Idaho.
Steiner was inspired to plan this tour because, in spite of the group’s widespread membership, few of them are currently living in Idaho Falls. As Steiner began looking for things to do in the area, she was reminded of her family’s first time visiting EBR-I, several years earlier. Initially, they had been attracted to the museum because of her oldest son’s fascination with nuclear technology. Steiner recalled that her family, upon arriving in front of the old reactor, “figured it would be a ten- to fifteen-minute experience. But [they] were there for two-and-a-half hours.” For Steiner and her husband, the most memorable part of the experience was standing on top of the reactor and looking down at where the core would have been. She recalled thinking how amazing it was that something so distinctive could be found out in “the middle of nowhere.”
When she broached the topic of visiting EBR-I to other club members, they were thrilled by the idea. Many of the club members are engineers, so this visit was right up their alley.
Steiner said several of the men already knew about EBR-I, but the women were perhaps even more excited upon learning some of the history of this singular destination. Steiner also works as a FIRST Robotics coach and is always trying to encourage more young women to pursue careers in STEM fields. She said, “it was so fun to see these older women get excited about the sciences, too.”
Several of the IBCC members touring EBR-I opted for an hourlong guided tour of the facility, after which they described particular fascination with the control room, top of the reactor, and hot cell. Many expressed interest in bringing children and grandchildren around for a tour of the facilities as well.
The IBCC is based out of Boise, but has membership throughout Idaho and the Intermountain West. Membership includes owners of antique British models and longtime British car enthusiasts. Mechanical expertise is not a prerequisite. Aside from their annual summer tour, the club members enjoy taking monthly drives to various sites closer to their home base and eating together.
Through its membership, the club boasts about 40 antique British cars, with models ranging in age from 1950 to 1998. Suzie and her husband, Randy Steiner, are proud owners of a Jaguar XK8 and Jaguar XJS.
Randy Steiner is a software engineer with a long fascination about nuclear engineering. He serves as the current president of the IBCC, and chuckled as he described how excited members were to stand on top of a decommissioned nuclear reactor.
“It’s amazing to see the heritage of nuclear power in Idaho. We forget we have such a rich heritage here in this state,” said Randy, echoing his wife’s sentiments about the singular nature of the EBR-I experience.
Randy Steiner also was pleased to see the high levels of enthusiasm for this particular stop on the Atomic Tour.
“We’re trying to get people more aware [of nuclear], trying to get away from the fear and uncertainty around nuclear power,” he explained. “It’s still one of our cleanest options for power generation.”