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EBR-1 now offering free virtual online tours

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Courtesy Sarah Neumann

IDAHO FALLS — One of Idaho’s most important historical sites is now offering two new ways to explore it.

The Experimental Breeder Reactor (or EBR-1), located on the Idaho National Laboratory site, was the first nuclear reactor to produce usable electricity. The original reactor lit a string of four 200-watt light bulbs on December 20, 1951.

EBR-1 played a vital role in America’s nuclear power narrative and was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1965.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the museum at EBR-1 to close its door to the public this year. Thankfully though, there are still ways for people to get a glimpse into the museum using remote technology. People can now explore the museum virtually through the free TravelStorys phone app and website.

“There are a couple of things we have been doing prior to the COVID-19 situation,” INL tour guide Ryan Weeks told EastIdahoNews.com. “We were already working with TravelStorys, which is an app you can download on your phone. As people drive across the desert, they can listen to interesting things about the laboratory and they can also take it into the EBR-1 museum and do their own tour from the app their phone.”

Courtesy Sarah Neumann

TravelStorys currently includes over 135 tours. The INL/EBR-1 tour covers a route along US Highway 20 from Idaho Falls to Arco. As you drive, professional narration gives you interesting information about the lab and tells you the history of the area.

Tour stops are triggered by GPS coordinates and the app is optimized for traveling at 70 miles per hour. You can also download the tour and take it without leaving home by clicking through the stops on your phone.

Click here to download TravelStorys.

In addition, you can tour EBR-1 through one of the museum’s free guided virtual tours. These tours utilize 360-degree photographs of the site, with museum staff members guiding you through each photo, pointing out interesting features and dispensing valuable information.

“The virtual tour is a combination of PowerPoints,” said Weeks. “We start with a few PowerPoints to give you some information about the museum and then we go into the 360-degree photos and have a tour guide talking as they walk you through the pictures.”

Courtesy Sarah Neumann

Weeks said the guided tours are a way to continue to educate the public even though they can’t actually come into the museum.

“When it came to the point where COVID-19 made us all go home, we figured we’re not going to open up the museum and we’re not going to give tours for a while,” he said. “So we had to figure something else out to get that information out and talk to people about our mission and let them enjoy the museum and everything else while they couldn’t actually come here physically.”

Weeks said other labs have taken notice of how they’re using virtual tours at the INL.

“We’ve actually had other laboratories ask us what we’re doing so that they can see what we’re doing,” he said. “But didn’t base it off anyone else. We just looked at what resources we had and said ‘Let’s make this work.’”

If you’re interested in taking a free guided virtual tour of EBR-1, email the lab at tours@inl.gov. The public can also browse through the lab’s collection of 360-degree photos by visiting the EBR-1 museum’s website.

Courtesy Sarah Neumann
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