Meltdown Man John Pace in 2009
Meltdown Man John Pace in 2009

John Pace was an eyewitness to the meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment in July 1959. We interviewed him for the July 22, 2009 LA Weekly article “Wrinkles in Runkle Canyon – 50 Years After a Santa Susana Nuclear Accident Holds Up Land Development” and on with “Meltdown Dustup.”

Pace, 70, has provided even more detail about the meltdown, in which 13 of 43 fuel rods melted. It reportedly released hundreds of times more radiation from the uncontained building than the more infamous Three Mile Island meltdown did twenty years later in Pennsylvania.

In our newly expanded “Meltdown Man,” Pace adds, among other things, “They had two broken fuel rods they had to remove from the reactor core with a cherry picker. The last one pulled and fell off the cherry picker and fell on the floor before they could get it into the lead cask, and contaminated the High Bay area.”

In our expanded “Meltdown!” photo gallery, Pace adds even more hair-raising insights.

“This is a picture of the men trying to unstick the second fuel rod that broke off in the reactor,” Pace says. “They are looking under the lead shield of the Fuel transporter trying to see where the broken fuel rod was stuck at. They are on top of the reactor getting radiation from the reactor core through the open fuel rod hole with the fuel rod half in and out of the reactor. You will see one man with a gas mask on and the other laying down looking under the lead safety shield with a flashlight and no gas mask breathing in all that radiation.

“This is why I took this picture; because of it being so dangerous. I used a company camera not mine to take this picture. I took this picture from the SRE control room through the window looking out in the High Bay area.”

25 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting

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