b'C H A P T E R 14I M A G I N I N G T H E W O R S Teral years to develop because the liq- a plant for recycling the spent fuel and To facilitate the design of EBR-II (anduid-metal coolant and the fast-neutron recovering the plutonium economically. Fermi), Ar gonne turned EBR-I to thehabit of breeders were in scientific ter- Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR- task of exploring excursions and theritory entirely different from water II) would be a compact industrial plant: reac tors inherent shut-down potential. It reactors, and they required safety-test- generating electricity and recycling its appeared that under certain conditions,ing all their own. 20 own fuel. The idea was still in the the reactivity in the core increased whenrealm of experimentation. To consum- temperatures went up. This was undesir-Cisler had followed the progress of the mate the vision, the project would have able. Zinn wanted to push EBR-I fuel toEBR-I. Early in 1953, technicians at the to solve one problem after another, a temperature of 500 degrees C. to see ifEBR-I removed samples of the U-238 safety and otherwise. Zinn and the it would lose reactivity. To get the fuelblanket around the core and shipped AECand Detroit Edisonfelt the that hot, he had to take the drastic stepthem to Argonnes chemical engineer- problems were well worth solving. of shutting off the flow of coolant. Heing laboratory in Chicago. The also purposely disconnectedchemists found what they were the safety mechanisms thatlooking for: plutonium. The would automatically scramword went quickly to AEC the reactor before it reachedHeadquarters. Gordon Dean, his test temperature. Heone of the commissioners, rec- knew that this could cause aognized a momentous achieve- meltdown if a scram wasntment in nuclear history and timed perfectly and informedannounced to the world, The the AEC accordingly. 2 2reactor is.burning up uraniumand, in the process, it is chang- On November 29, 1955, theing non-fissionable uranium EBR-I reactor was ready forinto fissionable plutonium at a the test. The plan was torate that is at least equal to the scram the reactor when therate at which U-235 is being power level reached 1,500consumed. 21 kilowatts or when the dou-bling of the fission rateArgonne had proved the prin- occurred at a one-secondciple. Zinn presented a long- interval. When this momentrange development plan to the arrived, an assistant misun-AEC, convinced that in the derstood the operatorslong run, breeder reactors instruction and scrammedwere the only type that would the reactor with a slow-compete successfully against moving control rod, not thefossil fuel plants. He proposed indicated faster one. Thethat Argonne build a prototype operator quickly reachedbreeder reactor in Idaho. Argonne National Laboratory-East 103-237 over and pushed the properUnlike EBR-I, this one would The core of EBR-I was about the size of a football. button, but the lapse hadhave a significant power production The 1955 incident melted about half of it. cost two seconds. Fifteen minutes later,capacity and be built to safety-test full- radioactivity within the control roomsize commercial hardware. Since pluto- set off the alarms and everyone evacu-nium was to become fuel, the ated the building. Half of the football-accessories to the reactor would include sized core had melted. Unlike BORAX,135'