1950–1959 Bringing Energy to the World


In Illinois, groundbreaking takes place for the Dresden nuclear plant, the largest nuclear power facility in the United States at the time. Bechtel helps design and construct the plant, which is completed in 1959.


Bechtel begins to build three power plants for South Korea, doubling that country’s energy output.


Swift Dam, Washington state: a hydroelectric project adds 204,000 kilowatts to the regional power supply.

1960–1969: Structuring for a New Era


Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. becomes president of Bechtel Corporation.


Bechtel signs on to develop the West Irian copper project on the Indonesian part of the island of New Guinea. The copper, extracted from a deposit at an elevation of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), is transported to the coast by a 70-mile- (113-kilometer-) long slurry pipeline.


Bechtel begins the largest chemical plant to date, the Ponce petrochemical complex in Puerto Rico. It is capable of producing 3 billion pounds (1.36 billion kilograms) of chemicals each year.


Bechtel, as part of a joint venture, begins work on the monumental Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. 


Chocolate Bayou, Texas: among the largest petrochemical plants ever built.


Athabasca Tar Sands in northern Alberta: the first large-scale operation to recover oil from enormous tar sand deposits.


First mass-transit project: Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in the San Francisco area. In 1976, it becomes the first totally new rapid transit system to be completed in the United States in 40 years and significantly eases traffic.


In Papua New Guinea, Bechtel begins work on the Bougainville copper project, which included pipeline and roads through a mountainous jungle—from sea level to 2,500 feet (762 meters)—as well as the implementation of one of the most complex telecommunications networks to date, linking the remote job site to the outside world.

1970–1979: A Decade of Megaprojects

Silver Line Metro


Bechtel begins work on the Washington, D.C., Metro transit project, which includes 98 miles (158 kilometers) of track. 


Bechtel signs an agreement with Saudi Arabia to develop Jubail Industrial City, one of the largest civil developments in history. The project includes the development of industries (petrochemical, fertilizer, and metal processing), a major harbor and port facility, a national airport, public service utilities, roads and highways, rail lines, telecommunications systems, and a city to house 370,000 residents.


Algeria’s first LNG plant is dedicated. Built by Bechtel, the plant triples Algeria’s export capacity of liquefied natural gas.


Bechtel assists in the cleanup and recovery of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, developing several generations of robotic devices for use in decontaminating the damaged unit.


Bechtel helps manage and coordinate work on the huge James Bay hydroelectric complex; work continues into the mid-1980s.


Syncrude, Alberta: extraction complex


Palo Verde, Arizona: nuclear power plant


King Khalid International Airport, Saudi Arabia. The King Khalid project includes five terminal buildings, a control tower, a mosque, a ceremonial mall, and support and utility buildings, as well as a self-contained community for 3,000 people.

In March 1979, the Unit 2 reactor core of the nuclear power station at Three Mile Island (TMI) experienced a partial meltdown that damaged the fuel rods and possibly other internal reactor components. Radioactive materials were released from the core into the reactor coolant system and into the reactor building. An avalanche of frightening questions came crashing down in response. What were the true dangers of the accident? How close could one get to the reactor without being exposed? What were the conditions in the reactor?