71 – TRADITION OR ?

Arco, Idaho, has a unique cliff with numbers painted on it. It began with a very small 20 painted by members of the 1920 graduating class of Butte County High School. This started a tradition which has survived nearly a hundred years, each graduating class climbing and painting two large digits on the rock. The Class of 2000 was the one exception. They painted the entire four numbers of their year. Many in town refer to this addition to the Black Cliffs as graffiti, but “tradition” has a much nicer connotation.

As well as being the gateway to the Craters of the Moon National Monument, Arco is known for being a close neighbor of Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 (usually referred to as EBR-1), which was responsible for the world’s first peacetime use of nuclear power. It’s called a “breeder” reactor because it “bred” more plutonium-239 atoms than the uranium it consumed. An historical marker on the highway declares that “Since 1949 more nuclear reactors—over 50 of them—have been built on this plain than anywhere else in the world.”

In 1955 the town of Arco became the first city to be lit by atomic power, from a reactor built nearby, though it was for only a very short period of time. However, that laid the way to commercial use of nuclear power and enabled the development of such things as atomic submarines.

Tours of the facility are self-guided (and safe from radiation), made quite understandable to the layman by displays and printed explanations of how atomic energy is used to produce electricity. The tour has been made as handicapped-friendly as possible. Exhibits on the entire main floor are easily accessible and cover the many attempts and the final break-through by Enrico Fermi to light a string of three light bulbs with nuclear power. One of the bulbs is still on display, and there are some “hands on” opportunities in the main control room as well. From 1961 to its decommissioning in 1964, whenever the reactor operated, EBR-1 generated enough electricity to supply all the power for its own building.

Long flights of stairs lead to the tour area on the second floor. This space is accessible only if you’re able to climb long flights of stairs. The lab had been declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966, so by the time the research area was opened to the public no further modifications could be made, even at the behest of the ADA. However, this has been overcome very nicely. The alternative to climbing stairs is sitting in a comfortable armchair in the reception area and reading the illustrated contents of Binder No. 1, covering the first floor, or Binder No. 2, covering the second. The rest of the 900-square-mile Idaho National Engineering Laboratory is closed to the public.

Trivia Note: The lead windows used for protection within EBR-1 absorb not only radiation but light as well.

Another bit of trivia: The conning tower of the submarine U.S.S. Hawkbill, decommissioned in 2001, rests in Arco.o, Idaho, has a unique cliff with numbers painted on it. It began with a very small 20 painted by members of the 1920 graduating class of Butte County High School. This started a tradition which has survived nearly a hundred years, each graduating class climbing and painting two large digits on the rock. The Class of 2000 was the one exception. They painted the entire four numbers of their year. Many in town refer to this addition to the Black Cliffs as graffiti, but “tradition” has a much nicer connotation.

As well as being the gateway to the Craters of the Moon National Monument, Arco is known for being a close neighbor of Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 (usually referred to as EBR-1), which was responsible for the world’s first peacetime use of nuclear power. It’s called a “breeder” reactor because it “bred” more plutonium-239 atoms than the uranium it consumed. An historical marker on the highway declares that “Since 1949 more nuclear reactors—over 50 of them—have been built on this plain than anywhere else in the world.”

In 1955 the town of Arco became the first city to be lit by atomic power, from a reactor built nearby, though it was for only a very short period of time. However, that laid the way to commercial use of nuclear power and enabled the development of such things as atomic submarines.

Tours of the facility are self-guided (and safe from radiation), made quite understandable to the layman by displays and printed explanations of how atomic energy is used to produce electricity. The tour has been made as handicapped-friendly as possible. Exhibits on the entire main floor are easily accessible and cover the many attempts and the final break-through by Enrico Fermi to light a string of three light bulbs with nuclear power. One of the bulbs is still on display, and there are some “hands on” opportunities in the main control room as well. From 1961 to its decommissioning in 1964, whenever the reactor operated, EBR-1 generated enough electricity to supply all the power for its own building.

Long flights of stairs lead to the tour area on the second floor. This space is accessible only if you’re able to climb long flights of stairs. The lab had been declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966, so by the time the research area was opened to the public no further modifications could be made, even at the behest of the ADA. However, this has been overcome very nicely. The alternative to climbing stairs is sitting in a comfortable armchair in the reception area and reading the illustrated contents of Binder No. 1, covering the first floor, or Binder No. 2, covering the second. The rest of the 900-square-mile Idaho National Engineering Laboratory is closed to the public.

Trivia Note: The lead windows used for protection within EBR-1 absorb not only radiation but light as well.

Another bit of trivia: The conning tower of the submarine U.S.S. Hawkbill, decommissioned in 2001, rests on display in Arco.

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