Edward J. Vallario assisted in rescue efforts following an explosion in an atomic reactor, Atomic City, Idaho, January 3, 1961. On the second floor of a building at the National Reactor Testing Station, three specialists were working on an atomic reactor when it exploded and scattered debris. Radioactive particles and a heavy concentration of radioactive iodine filled the air. Following an automatic alarm signaling an emergency, Vallario, 33, health physicist supervisor, and other men gathered outside the building in near-zero temperature . It was determined that the three men had not left the reactor room, and tests near the foot of a covered stairway leading to it showed a high degree of radiation present. Because the incident was without precedent, no one had any way of knowing what conditions existed inside the room. Those who entered the room attempting rescues wore no protective attire except respirator masks, which fogged due to the change in temperature. All moved cautiously while in the room lest they trigger further activity in the reactor or come in contact with a dislodged fuel element. Vallario and Paul R. Duckworth ascended the stairway and entered the reactor room. They saw one of the specialists lying on the floor, noted him move slightly, and left to get help in removing him. Vallario and Duckworth reported the situation to the others, adding that their radiation detector had registered the maximum of which it was capable. With Sidney Cohen, William P. Rausch, and William P. Gammill, Duckworth and Vallario went back into the reactor room and moved to alongside the first man. The second man was lying nearby, but he was dead. Duckworth, Cohen, and Gammill carried the first man to the door and placed him on a stretcher which had been left there. Duckworth’s respirator then gave out, and he was forced to leave the room. Soon afterward Gammill left to make arrangements for removing the man to a hospital. As the other three men carried the specialist toward the opposite side of the room where a door led to an open stairway which would provide easier passage with the stretcher, Vallario’s respirator stopped operating. In order to breathe, he had to open the glass front of his mask and take in contaminated air. Finding passage to the other door blocked by equipment, Rausch, Cohen, and Vallario carried the man back to the closed stairway and descended it to the outside. Lovell J. Callister and Delos E. Richards, with an Army captain and an Air Force sergeant, then entered the room to search for the third specialist. Finding him dead, they left the room. The two bodies were removed later. The first man succumbed while being transported to a hospital. All of the seven men who entered the reactor room absorbed considerable radiation but were found to be in satisfactory condition.
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