Idaho National Environmental Engineering Laboratory

Idaho National Environmental Engineering Laboratory

Nuclear Aircraft Hangar

Location: The INEEL is off Highway 20, beginning 30 miles east of Idaho Falls, continuing for 20 miles. The hangar is on site.

History: The nuclear aircraft hangar was designed for a nuclear powered airplane bomber which was never built. The bomber was to have been powered by an on-board nuclear reactor, and could have flown without landing for months on end. The idea was scrapped, but not until after the hangar had been built. The hangar currently houses various types of materials, offices, and manufacturing facilities

The INEEL, or the Reactor Testing Station, as it was once called, was established in 1949 by the Atomic Energy Commission. An Idaho Operations Office in Idaho Falls administers the INEEL, does experimental work for the government. Since 1949, more nuclear reactors—more than 50—have been built on this plain than anywhere else in the world. The 900 square mile INEEL is the birthplace of the nuclear Navy. Commercial power reactor prototypes, including reactors that breed more fuel than they consume, were developed here. Internationally renowned for its materials testing reactors and reactor programs, this laboratory has become a major research center for developing peaceful use of atomic energy.

Interesting points: Two prototype nuclear aircraft engines are on public display near the EBR-I reactor facility.

The EBR-1 site, a red brick building 51 miles from Idaho Falls, contains the inoperative Experimental Breeder Reactor-1, which on December 20, 1951, became the first power plant to produce electricity by using atomic energy. It is two miles from the highway, and open mid-June to mid-September, seven days a week. Admission is free. The self-guided tour explains in a non-technical manner, a great deal about its workings. You can see the turbine, control room, rod farm, fuel rods, the reactor itself, and the hot cell with 34 layers of oil separated glass that is used for inspection and repair of radioactive materials. Additionally, three films on aspects of nuclear energy can be viewed.

Arco, 18 miles west on highway 20, was the first city in the world to be lighted from electricity generated by nuclear power.

Statistics: At an initial construction cost of over eight million dollars, the nuclear aircraft hangar has an area of 82,865 square feet, nearly two acres, or the size of three football fields. Its Quonset hut shape can be seen from over 20 miles away.

Construction: A nuclear powered aircraft would need to be exceptionally large in order to house the nuclear reactor that would be used to power it. In accordance with its size, the mass of the airplane would also be substantial. In answer to this, engineers developed a floor that was rated at 2000 pounds per square foot, enough to support the large mass of the aircraft. Access to both sides of the hanger is made possible by doors 60 feet tall. Though most construction and design plans are currently classified information, it is clear that the building was constructed with concrete. The roof is a partial cylinder.

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