Nuclear plant reaches age 50

There are now 1,000 people employed at the nuclear facility.



SHIPPINGPORT, Pa. — If you live in eastern Ohio or western Pennsylvania, chances are good that some of your electric power is generated at the nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pa.

This week marks the 50th year that nuclear power began flowing from that facility.

The nation’s first nuclear power plant, Shippingport Atomic Power Station, sent its first batch of electricity out Dec. 18, 1957, to homes in Pittsburgh. As the years progressed, the plant increased in size and capacity and now contributes to the national power grid.

What started 50 years in this Beaver County, Pa., community, which borders Columbiana County, has spawned a network of 104 nuclear power generating units at more than 60 locations nationwide. Today, 20 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from nuclear power.

“There’s a lot of pride here in relation to the Shippingport Atomic Power Station,” said Scott Waitlevertch, community relations director for what is now called the Beaver County Power Station, “When you talk to folks from Beaver and Columbiana counties, there’s a deep, rich history of people who worked at the plant or those who helped build the plant.”

Being the first meant the plant set operating standards for all plants to follow, Waitlevertch said.

The original plant was small compared to today’s standards, employing 250 people and generating just 68 megawatts of energy compared to the 900 megawatts of energy produced by just one of the two newer reactors now operating on that site. One megawatt can power up to 1,000 residential homes.

Constructed as part of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station was part power generator, part science and education center, Waitlevertch said.

In its early days, before there were concerns over terrorism, regular tours were given and visitors were permitted to look into the nuclear reactor, he said.

Today, the facility is under tight security and employs 1,000 from the entire region including the Youngstown area.

On Tuesday, those employees are expected to mark the 50th anniversary of the first nuclear power plant with a small ceremony on the grounds, Waitlevertch said.

Waitlevertch said they also plan to recognize employees who worked in the first power plant, which was decommissioned in the mid-to-late 1980s.

The decommissioning of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station was also a first.

Dave Dillon, spokesman at the Beaver County Power Station, said it was the first time a nuclear facility was taken out of service. He said they were able to successfully restore the grounds to a green space. That 71⁄2-acre site sits just west of the two newer reactors that make up today’s Beaver County Power Station.

Dillon and Waitlevertch say the future is bright for nuclear energy.

With concerns about greenhouse emissions and the environment, nuclear power is one of the few energy sources that don’t emit harmful gases in the environment.

They are also looking at training the next generation of people to work in nuclear power.

Dillon said the facility has forged a relationship with the University of Pittsburgh’s nuclear engineering program, which they hope will supply new workers to the plant when this current group nears retirement.

He said they are also in talks to start programs at Youngstown State University and the Beaver County campus of Penn State University.

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