Visit the world’s first nuclear power plant – virtually

November 7, 2022

By Liza Raley

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop a group of Scouts in Richmond, Kentucky, from getting their nuclear science merit badges.  

Ted Simmons, nuclear science merit badge counselor, grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, home of Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and Experimental Breeder Reactor-I, the nation’s first electricity-generating nuclear reactor.  

“I had been to EBR-I several times and when I was invited to teach the nuclear science merit badge, I wished that I could pack up the troop and head to Idaho.”  

Instead, Simmons took advantage of INL’s virtual tour. 

At 1:23 p.m. on December 20, 1951, Argonne National Laboratory Director Walter Zinn scribbled into his logbook, “Electricity flows from atomic energy. Rough estimate indicates 45 kw.”

In 1949 it was becoming clear what could be destroyed by splitting the atom. Some of the scientists working on the weapons project in the United States wanted to find out what could be created with nuclear energy instead. A mere two years later, on Dec. 20, 1951, in a remote location in eastern Idaho, those scientists produced enough electricity to power four light bulbs. It was the first time in history a useable amount of electricity was generated from atomic energy.  

About 10,000 people now visit the EBR-I Atomic Museum every year between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That changed when the museum closed its doors during the pandemic. That’s when the INL Tours department created a series of virtual tours – one of them highlighting EBR-I.  

 “We’re very proud of the work we do at INL, and we wanted to continue sharing the history, and the future of nuclear research, with everyone who wants to learn about it, whether in-person or online,” said Shelly Norman, INL Tours lead.  

EBR Lightbulbs th anniversary
The first production of usable nuclear electricity occurred on Dec. 20, 1951, when four light bulbs were lit with electricity generated from the EBR-1 reactor.

The virtual tour, just like the in-person tour, takes you from the beginning, when scientists wondered what could be created by splitting the atom, to the very moment electricity was generated by nuclear power. Visitors can see the control room, the top of the reactor, the first pair of manipulator arms and much more. According to Scoutmaster Kent Wilson, “The virtual tour was very interesting and well done. The Scouts’ attention was captured, and it was the perfect wrap-up for the four-week merit badge sessions. And the Scout leaders were just as intrigued as the boys and girls.” 

 Scoutmaster Mike Hale said, “There are so many times you earn a merit badge and only get to read about what professionals are doing in the field. This allowed us to see and experience what they do under the guidance of an actual professional.”  

Moxen Hale, a 13-year-old Scout, recommends the virtual tour.  

“It was very enjoyable,” he said. “It was fun, and I got to see everything without the long car ride.”  

The chalk drawing at the top of the historic sign, created by engineer Reid Cameron, was inspired by Zinn’s saying, “If a man can whistle, he can generate steam.”

In addition to EBR-I virtual tours, INL offers virtual tours of the Advanced Test Reactor, the Materials and Fuels Complex and more. Although now closed for the season, the EBR-I Atomic Museum is free and open to the public seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day. To learn more about virtual tours at Idaho National Laboratory, visit or email [email protected] to schedule a virtual tour for your group. 


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About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted November 7, 2022

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