June 2, 2011

Army Nuclear Power Program

The Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to demolish the deactivated SM-1 Nuclear Power Plant at Fort Belvoir, Virginia that was part of the Army Nuclear Power Program (ANPP) from 1957 to 1977.

The ANPP mission was to train military people to staff small nuclear-powered electrical generation plants in remote locations. That role is arguably more relevant today than when it was being discussed during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950's. At that time our dependence on foreign oil and our understanding of environmental impacts of carbon dioxide were practically zero.

Yet the program that trained over 900 Army, Navy, and Air Force men to operate nuclear power plants in places like Greenland, Alaska, Wyoming, Panama, and Antarctica has been forgotten, and the SM-1 is to be destroyed as an insignificant piece of our history.

The SM-1 at Fort Belvoir was the first nuclear power plant in the United States to put electricity into the commercial grid (April 1957) as it provided the operational foundation for operator training. Many of the trained personnel went on to play critical roles in the civilian nuclear industry that now generates 20% of our nation's electricity. It is doubtful that the start-up of these 100+ plants would have been so successful without those veterans.

The deactivated SM-1 should take its rightful place in our nation as a designated Historic Site and be made available for tours so today's young Americans can get a first-hand look at what is possible when properly motivated people come together to do something never attempted before.

Russia provides tours of the destroyed Chernobyl plant which has a very troubled history.

Should we do any less for the SM-1 that played such a distinguished role in our history?

Rex A. Hoover