Editors Note:
This is the fourth in a periodic series on energy events in Nebraska.

State's First Nuclear Plant Buried Near Lincoln


What is believed to be the largest tomb in Nebraska is located near Hallam, about 25 miles southwest of Lincoln.

The tomb holds the remains of the Hallam Nuclear Power Facility, a sodium-graphite nuclear power plant which operated briefly from 1962 to 1964. The power plant had been built and operated as a demonstration project by the Atomic Energy Commission and Consumers Public Power District, the predecessor to Nebraska Public Power District.

Industrial Boom?

When negotiations began in November 1955, residents of Hallam were hopeful that the atomic plant would reinvigorate the town. Construction of the power plant over a three-year period would employ 600-700 people. About 70 people would be needed when the plant began operating.

Local visionaries hoped the nuclear plant would lead to spin-off industries such as food processing by irradiation, insect and fungus control in agricultural products, and food sterilization.

The plant, the first of its kind in the nation, would be built on a section of land one mile north of Hallam. The cost of the nuclear portion of the plant was estimated to be $29 million.

The initial unit, Sheldon Station, had three major components: a conventional fossil-fueled boiler system, a nuclear reactor and a turbo-electric system which used steam from both the nuclear and fossil boilers.

A second turbo-generator was to be constructed and coupled with the conventional boiler after the nuclear power plant reached full operation.

The two electric units would produce 175,000 kilowatts of electricity, enough electricity for more than 81,000 residential customers for a year.

Festive Event in '58

Thousands were on hand for the June 28, 1958, ground breaking. U.S. Senator Carl Curtis termed the plant "a great tribute to the foresight of many able Nebraskans." C.C. Sheldon, dean of electric power in Nebraska, pondered the future when he said, "I just can't visualize what will come from this experience."

By August 1961, the atomic plant was near completion and testing began shortly thereafter. The nuclear plant began operating in 1962 and was at full power by May 1963.

Electricity production, however, was short-lived. In 1964, the Atomic Energy Commission ordered the plant decommissioned because of a design flaw. The stainless steel skins of several of the plant's moderator elements had cracked, allowing sodium to come in contact with the graphite, halting the nuclear process.

By 1969, decommissioning and dismantling activities were completed. The Atomic Energy Commission retired the facility in 1971.

Down in the Ground

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy, successor to the Atomic Energy Commission, is responsible for the remaining buildings of the Hallam Nuclear Power Plant, but Nebraska Public Power District owns the facility.

There is no known environmental contamination at the site. In dismantling the reactor, its core, most of the radioactive materials and bulk sodium were removed from the site. All other potential contaminants were entombed and remain below ground. The entombment structure contains the reactor vessel, the guard vessel surrounding it and most of the internal parts of the vessel, stainless steel thimbles which contain process tubes, control rod tubes, dummy elements, and a spent neutron source. Twelve storage cells within the structure contain the damaged moderator elements.

90 More Years of Monitoring

Activities at Hallam now consist of semi-annual surveillance and monitoring by the federal Energy Department under an agreement with the Nebraska Department of Health. This monitoring will continue until 2090.

Geoscientists monitor wells around the entombed reactor for ground-water conditions and radiological contaminants. Annual cost of the surveillance is $23,000.

The 1955 hopes of Hallam residents were largely unrealized. Although the atomic power venture was a failure, electricity has been generated by conventional means at Sheldon Station since 1960. With a generating capacity of 229 megawatts, Sheldon continues as a major factor in Nebraska Public Power District's electric system.

Curiously, there may be some limited opportunities at the Hallam facility. A recent U.S. Department of Energy publication offered information on contracting opportunities at the facility near Hallam.


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