Nuclear Power History: Timeline From Inception To Fukushima

06/13/2012 10:37 am ET | Updated Aug 13, 2012

June 13 (Reuters) - Below are significant dates in the history of nuclear power as some countries cut reliance on it following the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear site in Japan and others work on solving the problem of storing radioactive waste.

Japan, Germany, Italy and Switzerland have moved away from nuclear energy, prompting the International Atomic Energy Agency to revise down its forecast for growth in the industry. The United States, China and India still plan to increase the number of reactors.

1942 - The worlds first nuclear chain reaction takes place in Chicago as part of the wartime Manhattan Project.

1945 - U.S. stages first test of a plutonium weapon, code-named "Trinity", before dawn in the New Mexico desert. On Aug. 6 an American bomber drops atomic bomb on Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki.

1951 - An experimental breeder reactor in Idaho produces the world's first useable electric power from nuclear energy - illuminating four light bulbs. The Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EBR) proves that a breeder reactor can produce more fuel than it uses.

1954-1956 - The Soviet Union opens a 5 MW nuclear power plant in 1954, the first to generate electricity for a power grid. Two years later, Britain opens Calder Hall in Sellafield, the first commercial nuclear power station for civil use. The power station, with an initial capacity of 50 MW that later increased to 200 MW, closes in 2003. France's nuclear programme generates its first electricity with the opening of a reactor at Marcoule in 1956.

1957 - The first large-scale nuclear power plant in the United States begins operation in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. Built by the federal government but operated by the Duquesne Light Company in conjunction with the Westinghouse Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, the pressurised-water reactor supplies power to the city of Pittsburgh and much of western Pennsylvania.

1979 - A plant at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, experiences a major failure when a water pump in the secondary cooling system of a pressurised-water reactor malfunctions. A jammed relief valve then causes a buildup of heat, resulting in a partial meltdown of the core and releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere. The worst U.S. nuclear accident hurts the image of nuclear power around the world.

1986 - World's nuclear jitters intensify when a major accident at Chernobyl power station near Kiev sends radioactive dust across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and western Europe. Thirty-one people die in the immediate aftermath.

1996 - Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc (TEPCO), Japan's biggest power utility, starts commercial operation of the world's first advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR). The reactor, at the utility's Kashiwazaki Kariba nuclear power complex, has a capacity of 1,350 MW. TEPCO starts commercial operations of the plant's seventh reactor in July 1997, raising the total power generation capacity of the plant to 8,212 MW, making the complex the world's largest nuclear power plant, surpassing a plant in Canada.

2005 - Finland approves construction of one of the world's largest nuclear power plants, raising the dormant atomic power industry's hopes for a revival. The first of the third-generation units ordered for Finland - the 1,600 MW European PWR (EPR) Olkiluoto 3 - suffers repeated delays in construction work, pushing back an initial 2009 start date. The reactor will not be ready for electricity production before August 2014.

2007 - Construction starts on France's Flamanville 3 reactor. Initially expected to open in 2012, it is delayed to 2016 as costs have escalated. The 1,600 MW European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) - France's first - will test a technology that could be used to replace France's existing 58 reactors, which produce 80 percent of the country's power.

2011 - A 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 wrecks the Fukushima nuclear plant, triggering nuclear meltdowns that contaminated food and water and forced mass evacuations. Nearly 16,000 people are killed in the earthquake and the tsunami and 3,300 remain unaccounted for.

2012 - Japan shuts its last working nuclear power reactor following the nuclear disaster, leaving it without nuclear power for the first time since 1970. Nuclear power had provided almost 30 percent of the electricity before 2011. (Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit, editing by Jane Baird)