by Will Davis
Shippingport Atomic Power Station as pictured in original press package; photo PR-19109
December 1957 would prove to be a month of firsts for the Shippingport Atomic Power Station; the plant had only recently been completed, and its new and novel reactor had only just achieved its first criticality on December 2nd. These were pioneering days, though – after all, the plant project had only been authorized in July 1953, some four and a half years earlier, give or take. Groundbreaking for the plant, after a selection process to decide who would partner with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in the project happened on land provided by Duquesne Light Company in September 1954 with real construction work starting in March, 1955. Thus, the plant had been constructed in about two and a half years. In that spirit, operating the plant to see what it could do wouldn’t wait for a battery of tests.
So, on December 18, 1957, after having operated the reactor and the plant’s steam systems on and off for about two weeks, it came to pass that the first full-scale atomic power station to be built in the United States was synchronized with and connected to the grid. At first, the plant was operated at just low power levels. It didn’t take long to complete some tests and reach full rated power on December 23, 1957, with the plant putting its full rated 60,000 kilowatts onto Duquesne’s commercial grid. Atomic power had arrived in the United States.
Control Room, Shippingport Atomic Power Station. Westinghouse photo PRX-19630 from press release package on Shippingport in Will Davis collection.
So How Did It Do?
Shippingport Atomic Power Station was a hybrid, of sorts; it wedded a nuclear steam supply system (NSSS) intended originally for an aircraft carrier prototype plant, heavily modified, with a steam
by Will Davis