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Idaho Falls: The Untold Story of America's First Nuclear Accident [Paperback]

William McKeown
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 13 2003
Was the world's first fatal nuclear accident — the 1961 explosion of a SL-1 military test reactor in Idaho — the result of a crime of passion? Was the disaster promptly covered up to protect the burgeoning nuclear industry? Idaho Falls documents one of America's best-kept secrets and investigates the question of conspiracy.

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“McKeown does succeed…in exposing how it was possible for the wealth of rumors and speculation to gain so much momentum.” -- Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Chicago, Illinois

About the Author

William McKeown is a newspaper reporter and editor living in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Feb. 13 2004
In the interest of full disclosure I will say up front that I am not in any way connected to The Site (locals' name for the facility out on the desert now called the INEEL) I have friends who work there and friends who would love to see it shut down.
That said I think McKeown does an excellent job in telling what's known about the SL-1 accident (if that's what it was) and the rumors that surrounded it. I found it an first-rate read (I read it in two days) and very informative.
McKeown goes to great lengths to delineate between what can be and is known and what is rumor and supposition. He also repeatedly explains (which keeps me from giving the book a 5th star) how different attitudes were then, particulary among the personel working at and responsible for the facility. This is the excuse given and accepted by the author for the lack of disclosure at the time. There's nothing here about what changed, or more importantly, what didn't change, as a result of SL-1.
Its unfortunate that the story of this incident is completely unkown by the general public. Both the heroism of those there immediately after the incident and the behavior of those in charge should be common knowledge. Reading this book goes a long way in correcting that.
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4.0 out of 5 stars quite interesting Aug. 2 2003
I read this book while visiting my son in Idaho Falls this summer. I found it quite interesting, so much so that I drove the fifty miles or so out of the city into the Lost River desert, and toured the facility where nuclear energy was first generated back in 1951.
This is a well-written book, and I thought the author did a fine job of presenting all sides of this little-known mystery.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A rehash of a supposedly untold story July 23 2003
McKeown certainly has a flair for the dramatic. A pity that when he applies this flair to an 'analysis' of the SL-1 accident he comes across as someone bucking for a movie deal. He plays up every possible innuendo and rumor about the servicemembers who died in the reactor explosion, along with all the gory details he could muster from the reams of technical information available about the incident.
If the story is unknown to most people, it is because most of them have never heard of Idaho, to say nothing of the National Reactor Testing Station (now the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory).
The story of SL-1 can hardly be described as as unknown to anyone in the nuclear industry. A pity he didn't pay a bit more attention to technical accuracy in his descriptions than to the dozens of pet theories about the state of mind of the operators on duty in the control room. SL-1 was an experimental reactor built in the late fifties at Idaho's National Reactor Testing Station. It was a prototype for small, portable reactors the Army hoped could power radar stations along the Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar line along the northern edge of the continent during the Cold War. It and dozens of other reactors were built on the Idaho desert in order to advance the science of reactor design, safety and engineering.
Dozens of technical factors contributed to the accident, but McKeown ignores everything that was learned from the accident, and admits we'll never know the 'real' cause of the incident, implying cover-up and conspiracy. I could swear I heard the 'X-Files' music playing as I finished the book.
If you're after a bit less dramatic version of the accident, try 'Proving the Principle' by Susan Stacy.
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