William P. Gammill 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 emergency alarm, Gammill, 32, health physicist, and other men gathered outside the building. It was determined that the three specialists 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. Two men ascended the stairway and entered. They saw one of the specialists lying on the floor, noted him move slightly, and left to get help. Reporting the situation to the others, they informed that their radiation detector had registered the maximum level. Gammill and two other men joined the first two in going back into the reactor room. They wore no protective attire except respirator masks, which fogged due to the change in temperature, and they moved cautiously while in the room lest they trigger further activity in the reactor or come in contact with a dislodged fuel element. The rescuers moved to the first victim. The second victim was lying nearby, but he was dead. Gammill and two of the other rescuers carried the first victim to the door and placed him on a stretcher, and then Gammill left to make arrangements for removing him to a hospital. Other rescuers carried the first victim from the building and searched for the third specialist. Finding him dead also, they left the room. The two bodies were removed later. The first victim succumbed while being transported to a hospital. All of the rescuers absorbed considerable radiation but were found to be in satisfactory condition. 45883-4576
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William Price Gammill, 79, a retired Branch Chief of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, died after a prolonged battle with cancer on Oct. 11, 2008 at Alive Hospice in Nashville, Tenn. He was born on Nov. 25, 1928, in Ozark, Ark., where he spent his childhood.
Gammill was an Army veteran and graduated from Arkansas State Teachers College with a bachelor of science degree in physics. He attended Vanderbilt University Graduate School of Nashville in 1952-53 under a U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Fellowship in radiological physics.
Gammill began his career as a health physics technician with Phillips Petroleum, and later was a health physicist with the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission at the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
In 1961 he was awarded the Carnegie Medal for his life saving efforts following the fatal SL-1 Nuclear accident that occurred at the National Reactor Testing Station outside of Idaho Falls on Jan. 3, 1961.
In 1966, he moved his family to Maryland to work at the headquarters of the AEC, which later became the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. His career ranged from the writing of early saftey standards for nuclear reactors and site placement, to setting standards for the safe dismantling of nuclear power reactors.
He had a great love for the outdoors and was an avid skier, hunter, fisherman, and sailor. In 1978, he moved his family to Annapolis, Md., where they could more closely enjoy sailing the Chesapeake Bay. He retired from government service with the Idaho Engineering Laboratories in 1998. In his retirement, he enjoyed sailing and the company of grandchildren, and he found great interest in doing genealogical research. In December 2005, he and his wife Geraldine moved to Nashville, where he continued to enjoy his family and his passion for genealogy.
(Edited from an obituary provided by a family member.)