Nuclear reactor at Fort Belvoir to be decommissioned

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Tucked away on the Fort Belvoir army base, the SM-1 nuclear reactor was fully operational for many years, but now there's a plan to take it all down and build over it.

Stepping into the former nuclear power plant is like a blast from the past. It's been virtually untouched since the day it was deactivated back in the 1970s. The plan now is to tear it down and haul it away.

"We actually had several former operators come back and tour the facility, do interviews. And they recall it as it is now, you can see some of the on-shift boards are the same the day that it was shutdown," said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Brenda Barber.

The now rundown abandoned building is straight out of a retro movie set. What was once buzzing with energy -- literally -- as the country’s first nuclear power reactor to provide electricity to a power grid, is now at rest.

The 2 megawatt SM-1 reactor began operations at Fort Belvoir in 1957 and for 16 years would power the base and serve as a training facility for nuclear technicians from all branches of the military.

But it is now one of three deactivated nuclear plants that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is tearing down. The first one they completed was a floating barge on a Virginia military base.

"We did that one because it was mobile and it was more vulnerable from our perspective. The second one is here cause it's in D.C. proper -- it's close to the White House so we are moving to this facility to remove this potential risk and then the last one is in Alaska in a very remote location," said Barber.

Project manager Brenda Barber tells FOX 5 that all nuclear fuels and harmful radioactive waste was removed from this Fort Belvoir site, when it closed in 1973 they had to wait decades before bulldozing over it to allow for any remaining radioactivity to decay.

But starting in 2020, nearby communities could begin to see materials from this site on the move on some of their city streets.

"We will try to remove all the radioactivity. All the impacted items first. They will be properly secured into department of transportation shipping containers and they will leave via truck from the installation," said Barber.

"We feel this is a very low-risk project, safety is a number one priority but we do want to engage public early," she said.

The very first public meeting on the dismantling was scheduled for Tuesday night, but because of the snow it was postponed til next month.