Friday, September 24, 1999
Possible plutonium exposure at Fernald probed
DOE documents hint substance was sent to plant
BY PAUL BARTON
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON The Energy Department plans to investigate whether Cold War-era workers at the federal uranium processing center at Fernald were unknowingly exposed to highly radioactive plutonium, officials said Thursday.
The investigation into the Fernald Feed Materials Production Center, which operated from 1951 to 1989, is a spinoff of the recently initiated examination of workers at Paducah, Ky., being exposed to plutonium without their knowledge.
The department is calling the investigation the mass flow project a detailed study of how plutonium and other radioactive materials traveled throughout the government's nuclear weapons production system, which stretched from Idaho to the South to the Northeast.
The department has set a target of June 2000 to complete the study.
Gene Branham, vice president of the Fernald Atomic Trades and Labor Council, the union representing Fernald workers, said it has long been known that there were at least trace amounts of plutonium at the site.
But he said he would not be surprised if the investigation shows higher exposures than previously known.
It is a never-ending chase to get to the bottom of this, to find out the truth, he said. Is there more we don't know about? There is a good possibility there is.
Plutonium, which is much more radioactive than uranium, was a core ingredient of many Cold War weap ons. It is produced in nuclear reactors.
David Michaels, assistant secretary of Energy, said in documents presented to Congress this week that preliminary analysis indicates some plutonium-laden materials went through Fernald.
It (Fernald) is part of the investigation, DOE spokeswoman Natalie Wymer said Thursday.
The Energy Department has been rocked by revelations of workers at Paducah being exposed to high doses of plutonium without their knowledge doses believed to have caused cancers and other severe problems.
Preliminary analysis also indicates that recycled materials may have also been transferred to the Fernald Feed Materials Production Center and the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge (Tenn.), Mr. Michaels said.
The department has already learned that uranium-bearing ash, with plutonium mixed in, was regularly sent from Paducah to Fernald.
During the Cold War, the department estimates, it produced more than 100,000 metric tons of materials containing at least trace quantities of plutonium and other products of nuclear reactions.
We are concerned not only with the flow of this material, but also its characteristics such as the level of residual plutonium and fission products, Mr. Michaels said. Today our understanding of where that material went is limited.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson ordered the study of how plutonium-containing materials flowed throughout the weapons complex.
Other plants involved in the flow of materials included Weldon Springs, Mo.; Ashtabula, Ohio; Portsmouth, Ohio; Oak Ridge; Barnwell, S.C.; the Idaho Laboratory in eastern Idaho, and the West Valley Demonstration Project near Buffalo, N.Y.
CDC rejects Fernald study
AROUND THE COMMONWEALTH
Bauer proposes 16% flat income tax, cuts in breaks
Budget battle may last
Candidates push for better schools
Council candidates push for improved schools
GOP social spending bill advances
Answers coming, chief assures firefighters
Auction for symphony to include artwork, violin
Bombings put black college on edge, alert
Brush fire tests 10 departments
Cities reconsider gun trade-ins
City not giving up on housing grant
Do two Ludlow jobs conflict?
'Ejay' Callner assisted HUC archivist
Ex-guard jeered by family of victim
Ex-guard to become a prisoner
Ex-magistrate back in jail
FBI focuses on scientist in telescope lens theft
Former Butler Co. magistrate back behind bars
Futurists think global
Guardsmen hailed for tornado work
Gulf War vets sought for medical study
Independence considers law regulating vicious animals
Landen rape not by serial rapist, DNA proves
Lawmaker says state profiting illegally from license plates
Lucas asks seniors for copies of prescription drug bills
Muslims plan International Academy
New era begins for UC
Paducah workers fear they are dying
Playground lesson in unity
Police chief says alcohol eased job stress
Possible plutonium exposure at Fernald probed
Take a trip back to 1800s with Blue Ash Heritage Day
Turfway has party air for Day of Champions
Two are sought in Covington shooting
Union chief urges study on workplace violence
Voters hold key to new high school
Woman loves fest to the core
Woman's body found in Bond Hill alley