Idaho: Runaway Reactor

Early in the subzero night, alarms flashed in three fire stations dotted across the lonely Idaho Falls test site of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Fire crews raced toward the gloomy silo housing the experimental nuclear reactor that the Army calls SL-1 (Stationary Low No. 1), suddenly ground to a halt at the silo door when their detection equipment registered lethal radiation. Lead-suited rescue workers took over, but inside the reactor room radiation was up to 1,000 roentgens an hour (450 is a man-killing dose). They could stay inside for just a few moments at a time—long enough to...

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