Nuclear Reactors for Generating Electricity

U.S. Development from 1946 to 1963

by Wendy Allen


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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.

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