b'P ROVING THE P RINCIPLEAutomatic scrams or human judgment r ea c t o r, he would pull the control rod the way nature took its course, not would not have to intervene. The more out of the reactor core, for example, and because automatic controls, machinery,bubblesor voidsthe slower the the water would bubble and hiss, spit and human judgment operated perfectlyreaction. The only way to prove it, scalding water 150 feet above the tank. one hundred percent of the time. Zinnhowever, was to try it. He set about Then the reactor would shut itself down, thought the commercial possibility ofdesigning a suitable test reactor. the gush diminish, and the water grow boiling water reactors should becalm. Tourists passing by on Highway e xpor e d.4lUntermyer obtained the support of 20/26 reported seeing a geyser like OldWalter Zinn and the AEC, and they set Faithful erupting on the Arco Desert. It was wise, Untermyer thought, torup an experiment in Idaho. The two of The team tried endless variations, diffe- make the point that a boiling waterthem didnt realize it at the time, but ent types of fuel elements and diff e re n t reactor could be pushed too far. He their innovative and unprecedented types of errors. With each series of acquired the permissions needed to runBoiling Water Reactor Experiment experiments, they gradually increased a final test provoking the complete(BORAX) began an epoch spanning the power level of the reactor. 3 destruction of the reactor. He and Zinnmore than three decades in which calculated how much radioac-the nuclear power industry all tivity might be released intoover the worldand later the the atmosphere and consultedspace programobtained many with IDO health physicists andof its important safety answers the meteorologists at the U.S.from the NRTS. Only at the Weather Bureaus NRTS sta-NRTS were scientists free to do tion. Zinn justified the experi-experiments in which explosions ment to AEC Headquarters:or meltdowns might confirm or The worst situation imagin-contradict their predictions. 1 able is one in which the imme-diate BORAX site would haveNews reporters liked to call to be inactivated for someBORAX-I the runaway reactor.weeks while decontaminationConstruction began with a simple is performed, he wrote. Buthole in the ground about a half unless scientists began tomile from the EBR. The reactor quantify the impacts of acci-sat inside a shielding tank ten feet dents, nuclear hazards wouldin diameter and open to the sky remain a topic for speculation,like a small swimming pool. T h e not knowledge. 5tank was partly above ground, soa hill of earth ten feet thick was Argonne National Laboratory-West 103-42 On the day scheduled, July 21,mounded up against it for more BORAX-I geyser during another experiment. 1954, the wind was blowing inshielding. Asmall platform over the the wrong direction, so the meteorolo-earth gave access to the top of the tank. gist aborted the test. Official guestsBy May 1953 water and reactor were in went away disappointed. The next day,the tank ready to go. 2 The results proved Untermyer correct. In amidst talk of using dynamite to simu-every case, the chain reaction stopped late a visually satisfying event in caseUntermyer and his colleagues conducted before the aluminum fuel plates became the reactor fizzled, the BORAX teamover two hundred experiments in the hot enough to melt. It appeared that boil- welcomed the visitors again and posi-next fourteen months. Positioned inside ing water reactors might therefore be tioned them at an observation post.a control trailer a short distance from the inherently safe; that is, safe because of Physicist Harold Lichtenberger was at130'