Get a once-in-a-lifetime peak inside SEFOR nuclear reactor

For almost 50 years, people in northwest Arkansas have been living next to a nuclear reactor. It’s been shut down since 1974… but has always been one of the biggest mysteries in the region. Now, officials want to tear it down. But they wanted to give people a look inside first.

It doesn’t exactly rest. More like it looms down a dirt road in rural Washington County. Most people have only heard about SEFOR (Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor). Even cell phone service doesn’t make it that far in the country.

“You feel like you’re viewing a part of history there,” says Anita Burns. “It’s fascinating.”

It was built in 1968 and decommissioned in 1974. It’s been sitting dormant, but alive with a community’s fear.

“They’re afraid of the spread of contamination,” says project manager Dean Wheeler. “Afraid of the unknowns associated with radioactivity.”

Energy Solutions is handling the demolition; like many others, they’ve done in the country. They promised the community an open house, the first and last, to give people a glance.

“There’s a pretty big lack of knowledge when it comes to nuclear operations and radioactivity,” Wheeler says. “So we’re trying to eliminate those fears.”

The tour looped through the aging building, hard hats and safety goggles required. But there’s no real danger, you’re not growing any extra appendages after you walk through.

“You could basically hug that reactor for a couple of hours, the time it would take to fly to Denver,” Wheeler says. “And you’d pick up more radiation from that flight to Denver than you would hugging that reactor vessel.”

Fears swept aside, awe and curiosity took its place.

“They’re fixing to tear this down and it’s all going to be gone,” says Rick Clay, who lives just a few miles away. “I’ve got enough pictures now to at least show people what it looked like.”

More than 400 people stood in line for hours to catch a glimpse. Twenty at a time filed through the tour. Just for their chance to see a piece of history.

Officials say the demolition will take about 18 months.