Romance, intrigue and science converge in an interesting though blandly told tale of the first fatal nuclear accident in the United States.
Three people were killed when a military test reactor exploded on Jan. 3, 1961, in Idaho’s Lost River Desert. Through extensive archival research and interviews, Tucker (The Great Starvation Experiment, 2006, etc.) reconstructs the specifics of an accident few Americans recall. Although the 1979 partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island is better known, the author makes a persuasive case that the Idaho explosion played a significant role in the development of nuclear power in America. Seeing this story as a morality tale with heroes and villains, the author is especially critical of Admiral Hyman Rickover, who used his considerable stature within the Navy to squelch anyone who questioned “his powerful advocacy of nuclear propulsion…to the exclusion of all other forms of sea power.” Tucker scants rumors that an adulterous affair had sparked enmity between two reactor crewmen who were killed, though he does acknowledge that they had clashed ever since arriving at the site 15 months earlier. Debates over the value of the nuclear navy, combined with political and personal maneuverings, could have produced a riveting, genre-crossing account—if, say, Tom Clancy and Danielle Steele had collaborated on it. Unfortunately, Tucker lacks their storytelling flair; his workmanlike prose sometimes makes it a chore to get through the text.
Cliché-filled take on a compelling story.