National Geographic : 1978 Jun
What does one do with an aging nuclear plant, I wondered, as I headed for Shipping port, Pennsylvania. But Shippingport Atomic Power Station has acquired a new lease on life and chalked up another Pennsylvania first. Recently equipped with a special reactor core, it is the nation's first light-water breeder reactor. Theoretically that core should "breed" more fissionable fuel-in this case, uranium 233-than the reactor uses. If it is a success, the concept can be used in other light-water reactors-virtually all commercial atomic power stations are of that type. Our urani um supplies will last longer, and the process does not create significant amounts of pluto nium, a substance that is potentially explo sive in both weaponry and words. Even at best, Shippingport's new core will breed slowly. "It will be a matter of years," Carl Goldstein of the Atomic Indus trial Forum remarked, "before we'll know whether or not it really is producing a sur plus of fuel." Meanwhile the state stands fourth in the nation in the use of nuclear power, with five reactor units in operation and six more un der construction. Producing a New Breed of Rabbit Pennsylvania's appetite for electric power is understandable. In manufacturing it ranks fourth in the nation. Near New Stan ton, 25 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, an im mense silver and blue auto factory should, by now, be spawning Volkswagen Rabbits and employing a sizable percentage of New Stanton's work force. Making an informal survey at a down town lunch counter, I found most New Stanton residents very happy to see the Ger man firm come. But mixed with the enthusi asm was a fear that the town would grow too dependent on the giant factory. My waitress didn't share those views. "The plant hasn't even opened yet, and al ready real estate prices are way up here in town. There'll be new stores, homes, motels; more money floating around." She sniffed. "I don't see what there is to worry about. How can you have too much of a good thing?"