Nuclear Reactors for Generating Electricity
U.S. Development from 1946 to 1963
Between 1946 and 1963, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) managed nuclear reactor research and development and, beginning in 1955, conducted the Power Reactor Demonstration Program. Through the mid-1950s, reactor technology was both technically and economically uncertain; commercial firms were unwilling to invest heavily in R&D and plant construction. The AEC's demonstration program was aimed at generating R&D information about reactor engineering and operation, involving both private and public utilities, to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of various reactor concepts. A number of projects suffered from the AEC's failure to clearly differentiate R&D from demonstration. In addition, technical goals were not always matched with appropriate institutional and contractual arrangements. By the early 1960s, light water reactors — under intensive development since the late 1940s — were ready for commercial operation; no other reactor types could compete with them or with conventional fossil fueled power plants.