ATOMIC CITY — For a few hours Thursday evening, the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 returned to Dec. 20, 1951.
Now a historic landmark and museum, EBR-I, located in the desert about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, is most famous for that day, when usable electricity was generated from nuclear energy for the first time, enough to light up four 200-watt lightbulbs.
Thursday evening Idaho National Laboratory staffers milled around, eating hors d’oeuvres and filling out cards with different science-related tasks on them. Some were dressed in 1950s-style attire or white or light blue lab coats meant to harken back to the era when nuclear energy was first harnessed here.
They were there to watch opera singer Eric Meyer perform and film a music video commemorating the discovery.
Meyer climbed up onto the metal balcony, looking down on everyone on the ground floor, and sang a few Elvis Presley songs with an atomic twist. He started with “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” with the “with you” reimagined as “with U,” the periodic table symbol for uranium.
“U-235, U-238, U-233, fission for you and me,” he crooned.
Meyer is the head of Generation Atomic, a nonprofit he founded in 2016.
“We’re trying to build a grassroots movement to advocate for nuclear power,” he said.
Meyer grew up “surrounded by wind turbines” in the Buffalo Ridge region of southwestern Minnesota, hearing about both wind energy and ethanol. He said he started to think about nuclear power when he was a little older, and watched a video that a friend shared with him about the possible uses for molten salt reactors.
“It seemed irresistible,” he said. “I wanted to devote my life to solving the world’s challenges with nuclear power.”
Meyer was a “theater kid” when he was in school, and realized after he took a few voice lessons in college that he could do it professionally.
“Once I learned that and won a couple competitions and had a few professional singing gigs, there was a real opportunity to pursue that and make a living out of it,” he said.
When Meyer was in graduate school, he was part of a group that visited several dozen elementary schools in northern Minnesota, putting on a show called “Pirates of the Carrot Bean.” Meyer played Captain Cook, wielding a four-foot long whisk as a sword. This was when he realized he could combine his two interests.
“I thought if music can be used to teach kids about healthy eating habits, then perhaps it can be used to teach people about nuclear energy and climate change,” he said.
Meyer is editing the video he filmed at EBR-1 now and plans to share it on social media once it’s done.
“Hopefully it catches on a little bit and the spectacle of a nuclear Elvis at the Experimental Breeder Reactor is worth sharing,” he said.
Opera Singer Goes Nuclear