Someone once said you die twice. Once when you stop breathing, and the other when your name is spoken for the last time. We need to remember to say their names and teach our young about those who died during service to our country.
On Jan. 3, 1961, two soldiers and a sailor died as a result of the Stationary Low Power Reactor 1 (SL-1) accident.
Over 61 years later, there is finally a place to honor and remember the ultimate sacrifice of Richard Legg, John Byrnes and Richard McKinley. Their names may never have appeared on the same memorial until now. The SL-1 Memorial is at the Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EBR-1) National Historic Landmark near Arco, Idaho, less than 10 miles from where they died.
While a student at the Naval Reactors Facility (NRF) in Idaho, twice a day our bus ride took us past the turnoff from U.S. 20 to the old SL-1 site. I always wondered why there was no marker or memorial.
I started up my first reactor at NRF a few days before my 20th birthday. I was a teenage reactor operator and would go on to operate a nuclear reactor aboard a ballistic missile submarine.
One of my jobs aboard the sub was to calculate the Estimated Critical Position (ECP) of the control rods when the reactor would go critical during a startup and, because of those lessons I learned from SL-1, I took that job very seriously. Whenever I performed an ECP, I would do it three times - for Legg, Byrnes and McKinley. Of course, my calculation was checked by my boss and my boss’ boss, but I wanted to make sure my calc was done correctly and error-free.
In 2018, I toured the Idaho National Laboratory and our tour bus took us past that same turnoff to where SL-1 once stood. I was saddened to see there was still nothing to remind us what took place beyond that locked gate.
After the tour, I emailed the Secretary of Energy asking why there is no SL-1 memorial to remind us of their sacrifice and the lessons we learned.
Within a few months, I got a reply saying a decision was made to memorialize the three men at EBR-1. Also, the reply said the SL-1 Memorial should be in place next year in 2019.
In 2020, I contacted the new Secretary of Energy for more information and was told it was a work in progress. I contacted his replacement in 2021 and was assured we were just waiting on the weather to cooperate.
It was installed a few weeks before Memorial Day 2022.
Thanks to INL and DOE for making the SL-1 Memorial a reality.