Idaho Falls, ID Atomic Reactor Accident, Jan 1961

Idaho Falls ID Reactor Building Before Accident 1-1961.jpg Idaho Falls ID Reactor Building Accident.jpg Idaho Falls ID Removing Reactor.jpg



Idaho Falls, Idaho, Jan. 4. -- A violent explosion killed three men and ripped open an atomic reactor late Tuesday at the National Reactor Testing Station near here. And by late Wednesday, only one body had been recovered from the "hot" wreckage.
The blast, which destroyed the Low Power Reactor No. 1 facility at NRTS Tuesday at 9:02 p.m., was not revealed by the Atomic Energy Commission until Wednesday morning.
Officials said the radiation level in and immediately
around the reactor building was so high that only one body could be recovered immediately. But they emphasized there is absolutely no radiation danger outside the immediate area.
The three victims were the only persons on duty at the reactor building when the explosion occurred.
A team of AEC experts arrived from Washington, D.C., Wednesday to investigate the blast, the first fatal one ever in a U.S. test reactor.
The Army identified the victims of the explosion as:
SP. 5.C. JOHN A BYRNES, 24, Utica, N.Y.
SP. 4.C. RICHARD L. McKINLEY, 22, Canton, Ohio, both U.S. Army personnel.
Construction Engineer 1.C. RICHARD C. LEGG, 26, Roscommon, Mich., a Navy man.
The unit destroyed in the blast was the stationary prototype of a mobile Army reactor designed to generate electric power in the field.
It had been shut down 10 days before the explosion so workmen could insert wires in the reactor core to measure power distribution, officials reported.
They said the program Tuesday night was to continue hooking up control rods prior to startup of the reactor.
It could not be determined immediately whether the blast was nuclear or chemical or a combination of both. Whatever the cause, it ripped open the core and released streams of hard radiation in the immediate area.
The radiation level is so high one AEC source on the scene said "it may take days" before the other two bodies can be recovered safely.
Investigation of the cause of the blast and its precise nature is also being handicapped by radiation, officials reported.
Wind at the time was blowing from northeast to southwest at about five mph. Chemical samples of sagebrush taken downwind from the blast site showed no evidence of radioactive contamination.
Wednesday morning the AEC's Idaho Operations Office in Idaho Falls said a section of U.S. Highway 20 which cuts across the desert testing stationi only one-half mile from the blast scene is safe for travel.
Specialist BYRNES, who resided at 637 Cambridge Dr., Idaho Falls, came to the NRTS in February, 1960, after eight months of nuclear power training at Ft. Belvoir, Va.
Specialist McKINLEY came to the NRTS Nov. 5, also after eight months of nuclear power training at Ft. Belvoir. He was a mechanical specialist scheduled for certification as a reactor operator next month.
Engineer LEGG, who lived at 725 Saturn Ave., in Idaho Falls, also had undergone eight months of academic training at the Ft. Belvoir nuclear power school. He had been an electrical specialist operator and a shift supervisor at the reactor since Oct. 23, 1959.

The Salt Lake Tribune Utah 1961-01-05