Zero Power Plutonium Reactor

In the 1960s, before fear and stupidity came to govern energy policy in the United States, it was envisioned that by the year 2000 around half of the electrical power in the country would be generated from nuclear energy, with a growing fraction by fast breeder reactors with which, when used in a uranium/plutonium fuel cycle, “Nuclear Fission Fuel is Inexhaustible” (2022-04-25).

In 1964, work began on the Zero Power Plutonium Reactor, designed by the Argonne National Laboratory and built at the Idaho National Laboratory. The facility was a split-table design which had the ability to simulate the operation of fast neutron reactor cores ranging in capacity from 300 megawatt electrical demonstration plants to one gigawatt commercial generating reactors. In operation, the reactor generated negligible thermal power output (not “zero”, but around 100 watts), which meant it needed no cooling system and was easy to dismantle and reconfigure to test different core designs, compositions, and materials.

The reactor first went critical on 1969-04-18 and remained in operation until 1990. At some point during its lifetime, it was renamed the “Zero Power Physics Reactor” because “Plutonium” was too scary. It has since been dismantled and the building that housed it reused for other reactor research projects.

This film was made in 1970 and shows the build-up to first criticality in the reactor.


The intentional abandonment of nuclear power generation will go down in history as one of the most stupid public policy errors of all time.


Indeed! We can look at this as Darwinism in Action at the level of nations. While Western Political Classes uniformly cancelled nuclear power – or fatally throttled it through excessive arbitrary regulation – other Political Classes went their own way. Today, we see China and Russia charging ahead with nuclear power. Even oil exporters like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are building nuclear power plants (which leaves them with more oil to export), and countries like South Korea have the industrial capacity to profit from them.

The real irony is that China is profiting from selling unpredictably unreliable short-lived solar panels and bird-whackers to the West, while reinvesting their profits in reliable 24/7 long-lived nuclear power. It’s Darwinism! Those societies which do not have the intelligence to adapt … die.