On the corner of Ruby Hill Avenue and Monroe Street is the Eureka Sentinel Museum, housed in the old Eureka Sentinel newspaper building in Nevada.
An unassuming display case of artifacts from the Sentinel offices contains the 1954 Nuclear-Chicago Model 2302 Super Sniffer.
To capitalize on the uranium fever spreading across the West, Nuclear-Chicago created this low cost, general purpose instrument for the detection of x-rays, gammas, and high energy betas, specifically designed for uranium prospecting. Using standard flashlight batteries, it could be used continuously for up to 2 hours. The unit came with earphones, batteries, radioactive check source, a U.S. government prospecting book and instructions — all for $49.50.
While visiting friends in Livermore, California, we drove along Highway 84 in the Sunol area to see the Vallecitos Nuclear Center nestled among the rolling hills of Alameda County.
The Vallecitos boiling water reactor (VBWR) was the first privately owned and operated nuclear power plant to deliver electricity to a public utility grid. Inaugurated in 1957 with the US Atomic Energy Commission’s “Power Reactor License No. 1,” the main power generating facilities operated until 1963.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company and General Electric (now GE Hitachi) built the facility, which generated about 5 megawatts of electricity, and was mainly used for testing in anticipation of larger commercial plants. The remaining reactor at Vallecitos generates just 100 kilowatts and performs neutron radiography imaging.
The Center is now used for testing, training, and research. Below is a newsreel story from November 25, 1957, of the opening of the plant.
As you drive through Arco on US 26, before the junction of West Grand Avenue and South Front Street, you’ll find a grand building faced with lava rock from the area with the lighted sign claiming to be the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power (elevation 5320).
On July 17, 1955, electricity generated by Boiling Water Reactor No. 3 (BORAX-III) was fed over the lines serving Arco, producing approximately 2,000 kilowatts of electrical power for about two hours.
Charles Pieper, along with Zeke Stewart (directing from his hospital bed after suffering a heart attack), and John Yeates (Philips Electrical Engineer), devised the method for putting the atomic power generated by BORAX-III into the lines which Utah Power used to serve Arco.
The building has served many purposes in the past from visitor center to civic offices, and is currently a community center. The anniversary of the event is celebrated each year with Atomic Days, the weekend closest to July 17.