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Nation's first commercial reactor gets heave-ho

Lifting a 1,000-ton reactor vessel from its underground site at the nation's first commercial nuclear plant was the hard part, but officials still have to take the 41-foot vessel 7,800 miles to the dump. The reactor pressure vessel and neutron-shield tank, packed with concrete, were lifted from the ground Wednesday at the Shippingport nuclear plant and placed on a specially made transporter to be taken to a storage site until spring.

The vessel then will be loaded on a barge and shipped 7,800 miles via several rivers and two oceans to a military dump in Washington State.

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The plant is the largest nuclear unit and only commercial reactor in the world to be dismantled. Although several nuclear plants have been mothballed or entombed.

The raising of the reactor pressure vessel is the most dramatic stage of the five-year dismantling of the plant, dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957 and retired in 1982 after generating about 6.5 billion kilowatts.

The Energy Department estimates 15 US nuclear plants will reach the end of their 30- to 40-year useful lives by the year 2000. Almost all of the 12,000 metric tons of spent uranium from private reactors is being stored in holding ponds.

Federal officials intend to remove all radioactive material so the site 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh can be returned to unrestricted use. The decommissioning is expected to be completed by 1990 at a cost of $98 million.

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