In 1953, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory also became a center of excellence for research, development and testing of nuclear energy, non-nuclear liquid metals and alternative energy sources, including solar.
Much of the work conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy at the Energy Technology Engineering Center, or ETEC, involved metallic sodium systems. This research on liquid metals technology was used to support the design and development of nuclear power throughout the U.S.
The Sodium Reactor Experiment was one of the first commercial nuclear power plants to provide electricity to the public, powering the city of Moorpark in 1957. The SRE experienced an accident in 1959 when overheating caused fuel damage in the reactor’s core. During the accident, primary power and cooling were maintained, coolant continued to circulate throughout the reactor core and the reactor vessel remained intact, preventing a meltdown. Following the accident, the SRE was repaired and operations continued, without incident, until the end of the project in 1964.
The System for Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP) program was developed to test SNAP nuclear reactors in a simulated space environment. The SNAP10A was the first U.S. reactor to be placed into orbit when it was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1965.
ETEC also supported studies on advanced solar collectors for commercial electricity production, as well as the development of energy conversion processes designed to turn coal into liquid and gas fuels.