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First Name: Richard

Last Name: McKinley

Birthplace: OH, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: L.

Date of Birth: 01 December 1933

Date of Death: 03 January 1961

Rank: Specialist 4

Years Served:
Richard L. McKinley

•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Richard L. McKinley
Specialist Four, U.S. Army

Richard L. McKinley was born on 1 December 1933.

On 3 January 1961, a small, 3MW experimental BWR called SL-1 (Stationary Low-Power Plant No. 1) in Idaho was destroyed when a control rod was removed manually. At 9:01 p.m., alarms sounded at the fire stations and security headquarters of the U.S. National Reactor Testing Station where the reactor was located. Investigation found two operators dead (a third died later) and detected high radiation levels in the building.

A careful examination of the remains of the core and the vessel concluded that the control rod was manually withdrawn by about 50 centimeters (40 centimeters would have been enough to make the reactor critical), largely increasing the reactivity. The resulting power surge caused the reactor power to reach 20,000MW in about .01 seconds, causing the plate-type fuel to melt. The molten fuel interacted with the water in the vessel, producing an explosive formation of steam that caused the water above the core to rise with such force that when it hit the lid of the pressure vessel, the vessel itself rose 3 meters in the air before dropping back down.

The SL-1 accident was the first fatal nuclear accident in the U.S. The men killed in the incident were two Army Specialists, Richard McKinley, age 27 and John Byrnes, age 25. Also killed was Richard Legg, Navy Electricians Mate, age 25.  Richard McKinley was interred in Arlington National Cemetery; John Byrnes and Richard Legg were buried in their hometowns in New York and Michigan.

The U.S. Army claims that the "accident" at the Idaho plant was a suicide by one of the civilian scientists working at the site on the night of the explosion, but most believe that the accident was legitimate and was caused by human error.

Death and Burial

Specialist Four Richard L. McKinley died on 3 January 1961. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. McKinley is buried in a lead-lined casket which was then sealed in concrete and placed in a metal vault. Per the records at Arlington National Cemetery, the body, which was contaminated with long-life radioactive isotopes, cannot be moved from its location without the approval of the Atomic Energy Commission (U.S. Energy Department).

Honoree ID: 2842   Created by: MHOH




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