60 Years Ago — On this day, August 26, 1956, the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) achieved the first critical self-sustained nuclear reaction at the Reactor Critical Facility (RCF) in Schenectady, NY. This low-power experimental facility was designed to provide the physics data necessary to assist ALCO in the design and construction of the first Army Package Power Reactor (APPR-1, later called SM-1, constructed in Ft. Belvoir, VA), and it was one of the first privately owned and operated criticality facilities in the US.
In 1963, ownership of the RCF was transferred to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which has operated it ever since. The very low power operating environment provides unique educational and research opportunities. It has been used to provide instruction on nuclear operations and reactor physics to hundreds of nuclear engineering graduates. Many have gone on to positions throughout the nuclear industry, including the first woman to be licensed to operate a commercial nuclear power plant, who got her start as an operator at the RPI reactor. As a research tool, it is well suited to reactivity benchmarks and low neutron flux measurements of critical and sub-critical conditions.
To this day, the RCF continues to support leading-edge nuclear research and the education of the next generation of nuclear engineers. Cheers for a great anniversary!
More information about these awards can be found here.