Our travels after leaving Oregon took us to Idaho and our first destination we were heading to was Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho. I and my family had moved to Ketchum Idaho in 1983 for a job with ACI campgrounds. We were to be running the North Fork Store and Campground outside of Ketchum before heading up into the Sawtooth Mountains. At the time of our move from Washington state, my husband and I had two children, our 5-year-old daughter, and a 4-month-old son. Our home was attached to the back of the store with the kitchen and dining room area downstairs and the living room and bedrooms all upstairs. The grandchildren that were traveling with me on this trip were the children of my daughter, so this was a place where their mother had lived for a year. I may have to share this story on another blog as this blog is about my return visit and my grandchildren’s first visit. One of the unique things about this particular place was that it was famous for the filming in 1956 of the movie “Bus Stop” which Marilyn Monroe starred in. And just a few miles down the road was Steve McQueen’s Idaho home in which his sister-in-law was living at for a time. It has been so many years I have forgotten her name but we met her and became acquaintances during our time there and I was able to visit the home which had on display the motorcycle Steve McQueen rode in the movie “The Great Escape.”
Driving into Sunvalley it had changed so much in the 30 plus years since I had been back that I was wondering if I was in the right town. There is no distinction between Sunvalley and Ketchum, the area has grown so much that it just all blends into one now. As I drove out of town many things had changed there as well, more homes had been built, trees and bushes had grown. I tried looking for the small log cabin driveway of Steven McQueen’s home, but nothing looked familiar……..I read later when I searched the internet that it had been sold a few times, remodeled, and additional square footage added to the point that the original small log cabin home it once was, was gone and had become this huge home that was unrecognizable. As we drove up to the North Fork Store and Trailer Park my mind went back to many memories here. I was saddened by how run down it was and no longer in operation as a place of business. The gas pumps had been taken out at some point. I took a few pictures and shared some stories and memories with my grandchildren.
Here are a few pictures from we lived here in 1983-1984. The first picture is downtown Ketchum, a view of Bald Mountain and the North Fork Store.
Since it was late in the day I drove down the road a short distance to the North Fork Campground where we stayed for the night. The next morning I fixed us all some breakfast and we went on a little walk around the campground and to the river.
EBR-1 (Experimental Breeder Reactor 1) Atomic Museum
Our next stop was to visit the EBR-1 located 18 miles southeast of the town Arco, and 50 miles from Idaho Falls. Looking out over the flat landscape that is mostly sagebrush it is pretty to see why this place would be picked to be used for nuclear reactor experimentation and development. EBR-1 is a decommissioned research reactor and became a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1965. It was the world’s first breeder reactor and on December 20, 1951, it became one of the world’s first electricity-generating nuclear power plants when it produced enough electricity to light four 200-watt light bulbs. EBR-I was able to generate enough electricity to power it’s building, and continued to be used for experimental purposes until it was decommissioned in 1964. EBR-1 was not only the world’s first breeder reactor, it was also the first to use plutonium fuel to generate electricity.
We took a self-guided tour which is “Free” and found EBR-1 to be an interesting and educational visit that we really enjoyed. When you first enter the building there is an area where you can sit, like a waiting room. The decor is definitely straight out of the ’50s.
Uranium was the first nuclear fuel that is mined from the earth. Less than 1% of naturally-occurring uranium ore can be used as fuel. Well after World War II, uranium was thought to be a rare element. There did not seem to be enough for both military and civilian needs, and certainly, not for all the reactors, the U.S. government planned to build. The military controlled the uranium supply and planned to use it for weapons. A man named Enrico Fermi developed an idea for a reactor that would “breed” plutonium, another nuclear fuel while consuming uranium by creating more fuel than it used. EBR-1 was built to test Fermi’s concept.
When the fuel rods were removed from the reactor, some radioactive NaK remained on them. The rods were lowered into the basement through holes in the floor covered by the metal plates. the NaK was washed off with acetone and alcohol. When clean and dry, the rods were then stored in the rod farm in evenly spaced storage locations in concrete with individually numbered holes. The chalkboard was used to keep track of the inventory. Past the rod farm is the hot cell, this was used to visually inspect the used fuel rods. Each window consists of 34 layers of lead glass totally 39 inches thick, with mineral oil filling the space between each layer of glass to provide clarity. The walls are also 39 inches thick for radiation protection. The manipulators are some of the first-ever devised for handling radioactive materials. Mechanical “fingers” inside the hot cell duplicated the operator’s motions.
This was the control room where operators started, controlled, and shut down the reactor.