Tuesday, October 14, 2008

World's First Nuclear Accident, in Idaho

It's often said that there have been no fatalities from nuclear accidents in the US, including Three Mile Island, but I was doing some research today on another subject I was surprised to come across this:
On January 3, 1961, the first and only fatal nuclear reactor accident in the United States occurred at the NRTS ["National Reactor Testing Station," near Idaho Falls, Idaho]. An experimental reactor called SL-1 (Stationary Low-Power Plant Number 1) was destroyed when a problem control rod was removed incorrectly leading to core meltdown and explosion. All three military personnel working in the reactor were killed. Due to the extensive radioactive isotope contamination, all three had to be buried in lead coffins. The events are the subject of a book published in 2003, Idaho Falls: The untold story of America's first nuclear accident.
By the way, Idaho National Laboratory's budget is about $800M/yr. Who knew?

6 comments:

John Fleck said...

Fascinating! I'd never heard of this one either.

Anonymous said...

There have been mistakes using radiation for medical therapy. Have you heard about this Canadian contribution, the result of a software error --->

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25

See too -->
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_radiation_accidents

Phil. said...

Frequently the comment is prefaced by 'civilian' to exclude this event. As I recall it's suspected that one of the workers actually deliberately caused the accident to commit suicide. It wasn't the first nuclear accident though since it had been preceded by an accident at Windscale in the UK.

Stephen said...

According to the BBC Radio4 show “Material World (March 19, 2009 episode) the “world’s first nuclear power plant accident” was in 1952 at Chalk River Canada.

Anonymous said...

Stephen is correct. Perhaps a less encompasing title would have been more accurate. "Idaho's first nuclear accident"

Jari said...

Just kinda randomly stumbled upon this article looking for the book "Idaho Falls: The Untold Story of America's First Nuclear Accident."

What's important to remember about the claim that "there have been no fatalities from nuclear accidents in the US" is that the actual claim is "there have been no fatalities from nuclear accidents in commercial nuclear facilities in the US."

Fatalities in nuclear accidents are as old as the Manhattan project (e.g. Louis Slotin).