Topics: Nuclear power, Enrico Fermi, Sellafield Pages: 2 (502 words) Published: September 23, 2014

On January 3, 1961, nine days after Christmas, Richard Legg, John Byrnes, and Richard McKinley were killed in a remote desert in eastern Idaho. Their deaths occurred when a nuclear reactor exploded at a top-secret base in the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS). Official reports state that the explosion and subsequent reactor meltdown resulted from the improper retraction of the control rod. When questioned about the events that occurred there, officials were very reticent. The whole affair, in fact, was not discussed much, and seemed to disappear with time. In order to grasp the mysterious nature of the NRTS catastrophe, it helps to know a bit about how nuclear reactors work. After all, the generation of nuclear energy may strike many as an esoteric process. However, given its relative simplicity, the way in which the NRTS reactor functions is widely comprehensible. In this particular kind of reactor, a cluster of nine-ton uranium fuel rods are positioned lengthwise around a central control rod. The reaction begins with the slow removal of the control rod, which starts a controlled nuclear reaction and begins to heat the water in the reactor. This heat generates steam, which builds pressure inside the tank. As pressure builds, the steam looks for a place to escape. The only place this steam is able to escape is through the turbine. As it passes through the turbine on its way out of the tank, it turns the giant fan blades and produces energy. On the morning of January 3, after the machine had been shut down for the holidays, the three men arrived at the station to restart the reactor. The control rod needed to be pulled out only four inches to be reconnected to the automated driver. However, records indicate that Byrnes yanked it out 23 inches, over five times the distance necessary. In milliseconds the reactor exploded. Legg was impaled on the ceiling; he would be discovered last. It took one week and a lead-shielded crane to remove his body. Even in...
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