by Will Davis
It was released this week that the US Army Corps of Engineers has decided to enter into the process of decontaminating and dismantling the historic SM-1 nuclear plant at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  This early military prototype plant isn’t often discussed or even remembered today, so let’s look at the history of this project through photos.
APPR, later redesignated as the SM-1.
After having been tasked by the US Atomic Energy Commission in 1952 with exploring uses of atomic energy, the US Army paired its Army Corps of Engineers with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to design a conceptual nuclear plant which, small in output, could be transported anywhere by airplane and then constructed and operated.  In 1954, ALCO Products, formerly one of the world’s largest railroad locomotive builders (its name was a contraction standing for American Locomotive Company) decided to form a nuclear power department and get into the business.  Amazingly, when the AEC and US Army decided to go ahead with the packaged reactor project that year ALCO got the contract – although it was said at the time to have been a case of underbidding on the part of ALCO to ensure it could get a foot in the door in this new business.  Construction partner on the project was Stone & Webster Engineering (which itself bid a $1 fee for engineering the Shippingport Atomic Power Station for exactly the same reasons ALCO bid low on this project.)  The designation for this project was to “APPR,” or Army Packaged Power Reactor.
This is an extremely rare ALCO Products press photo from my collection.  The original caption is as follows:  “First views approved for publication of the Army Package Power Reactor designed by American Locomotive Company under a contact received from the Atomic Energy Commission in December, 1958.  The APPR will

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