'Atoms for Peace'

August 13, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Many people don’t realize that Penn State's University Park is home to the longest continuously running university nuclear reactor in America — the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor.

In 1953, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his famous “Atoms for Peace” speech to the United Nations General Assembly, in which he outlined reasons for the peaceful applications of nuclear energy. Soon after, the U.S. began the "Atoms for Peace" program, providing nuclear equipment and information to schools, hospitals and research institutions.

Penn State President Milton S. Eisenhower — Dwight's brother — wholeheartedly supported the program, and in 1954, Eric Walker, then Dean of the College of Engineering, made a proposal to the Atomic Energy Commission for a reactor to be built on campus “for the purposes of research, education and outreach.”

Engineering Professor William Breazeale designed the reactor. It was dedicated Feb. 22, 1955, and began operation in August of that same year.

During the 1960s, a nuclear engineering department was established within the College of Engineering with both graduate and undergraduate degree programs. In 1971, the reactor was named to honor Breazeale — the University's first professor of nuclear engineering, the reactor’s first director and its first licensed operator — who had died the previous year.

In 1991, the American Nuclear Society named the reactor a Nuclear Historic Landmark.

The reactor supports activities across a variety of academic departments, project collaborations with related institutions around the world, plus training for future generations of scientists and public education about nuclear energy applications.

A 60th anniversary event is scheduled for Aug. 18. Susan Eisenhower, CEO and chairman of The Eisenhower Group Inc. and granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower, will speak.

The University Libraries also is hosting an exhibition — “Penn State Power: 60 Years of the Radiation Science and Engineering Center” — through Aug. 19 in Sidewater Commons in Pattee and Paterno Libraries.

  • Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, pre-1965

    This pre-1965 photograph shows researchers working on the bridge of Penn State's nuclear reactor, which is submerged in deep water underneath the bridge.

    IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

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Last Updated August 17, 2015