Journal-News, Monday, Feb. 1,1993
High school basketball game upstaged Fernald announcement
(This is the first in a five-part series on the history of the Fernald uranium feed materials plant.)
By Jim Blount
High school basketball was the major topic in Hamilton Friday, March 30, 1951, when the Atomic Energy Commission announced it would "construct a uranium ore refinery and other facilities for the production of uranium feed materials" on a site about 10 miles southwest of Hamilton.
That night Hamilton beat Canton McKinley in Columbus in a semifinal game of the Ohio Class A basketball tournament.
Coach Warren Scholler's Big Blue, led by all-tournament selections Don Nuxhall and Phil Lillard, finished with a 26-2 record after losing to Columbus East in the state final game Saturday night.
Elsewhere on March 30,1951, U. S. tanks were crossing the 38th Parallel into North Korea. By then U. S. casualties in the Korean War had topped 57,120, including more than 8,500 killed, after nine months of fighting.
U. S. units had entered the fight in Korea in June 1950 as part of a United Nations force after troops from communist-controlled North Korea invaded South Korea, which was allied with the United States.
In the last week of March 1951 — after falling back into South Korea — U. S. troops had resumed the offensive while American military planners, members of Congress and the Truman administration debated the use of atomic weapons in Korea.
The same day the AEC announced it would build an "atomic plant" southwest of Hamilton, U. S. senators were reviewing laws and policies regarding the use of atomic bombs and atomic weapons by American field commanders.
"Although never authorized, the use of atomic weapons was seriously considered several times during the war," observed Harry G. Summers Jr., a Korean War historian.
"From the start, General Douglas MacArthur and the Joint Chiefs of Staff advocated such weapons against enemy lines of communication," Summers said.
The March 30 AEC release said "no atomic weapons would be made" at the new Ohio plant which would "produce uranium in forms suitable for use in the AEC's fissionable materials production plants" in other areas of the U. S.
The AEC news release said the "exact boundaries of the site have not yet been determined, but it lies north of Fernald station between the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and U. S. 50 Bypass" and that "a portion of this site may lie in Butler County."
In 1951, few people in Hamilton and Butler County had heard of Fernald (population about 30) and even fewer could locate it on a map.
The major landmark of the unincorporated Hamilton County community then was a depot on the C&O Railroad's Cincinnati-Chicago mainline.
A Journal-News editorial said because Hamilton was the nearest city, "much of the retail activity, much of the educational and recreational needs of persons employed" in building and operating the plant "will be in Hamilton."
Civic leaders immediately had questions about the atomic plant's impact on Hamilton. They included:
Q. How would it effect the local construction industry? The government said 3,000 construction workers would be needed to build the uranium-processing complex.
Q. Would it entice employees away from Hamilton plants? Most Hamilton factories already were involved in defense work.
Q Would additional housing be needed for Fernald employees? Hamilton was still experiencing a housing shortage which had started in the early months of World War II.
Less than two weeks after its announcement, the Fernald atomic plant yielded the headlines to another Korean War story.
April 11, in a controversial move, President Harry Truman fired MacArthur as commander of United Nations forces because the general was "unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States government and of the United Nations in matters pertaining to his official duties."
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Journal-News, Monday, Feb. 8,1993
Atomic Energy Commission viewed Fernald as prime spot
(This is the second in a five-part series on the history of the Fernald uranium feed materials plant.)
By Jim Blount
Hamilton was one of three final sites considered by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1951 as the location for a new uranium processing plant. Although it wasn't reported then, the three leading sites were Hamilton and Fernald in Ohio and Terre Haute in Indiana.
The exact location of the possible Hamilton site is unknown, and apparently few people here were aware the city was in the running for what officially became the Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC) at Fernald.
Some news stories called it an "atomic energy plant." The AEC press release described it as "a uranium ore refinery and other facilities for the production of uranium feed materials," and said "no atomic weapons would be made at the site."
As the selection of Fernald was announced, the Senate Banking Committee released a 91-page report on the status of the changing U. S. defense industry.
"None of our existing plants, either old or relatively new, are structurally capable of handling efficiently the greatly increased size and weight of many of our new defense products," said the committee report.
"New methods of weapons, such as atomic weapons and other guided missiles, will place impacts on localities that never had them in World War II, as well as the location of new plants for varied defense production," said the report.
Fernald exemplified the change. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) began operations Oct. 38, 1946, inheriting makeshift production facilities acquired and built during World War H (1941-1945) by the top-secret Manhattan Project.
The Manhattan Project had succeeded in producing the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, but its installations weren't adequate for the Korean War era demands for atomic weapons and the prospect of nuclear power development.
The AEC began its site search in December 1950; evaluating 62 places in the Midwest and South before narrowing the list to only three which met its specifications for location, size and facilities, including railroad access. Assisting the AEC in the survey were the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and industrial representatives of 10 railroads.
The selection of Fernald in northwest Hamilton County was announced March 30,1951, but the exact boundaries weren't known until April 13 when the AEC revealed that about a sixth of its acreage was in Ross Township in Butler County. Later, the Butler County portion was reported as 213.85 acres.
The Butler County tracts included parts of the former Eliza Francis and Helen Gray farms, and sellers of "the rich farmland" were identified as Henry Knollman, Raymond Ir-win, Arthur Fuchs, Ethel W. Wilpers, Joseph Bader, Win-field C. Schmid, Gertrude Lewis, Walter and Alma Bross and Walter Turner. Nine families were relocated from 13 parcels sold to the government.
The entire site — about 1,050 acres— was purchased for the AEC by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers who are believed to have paid about $600,000 for the land. Court documents showed an average of $533 an acre for some of the Butler County land.
"There are no cemeteries to relocate; no schools to be affected," said a Corps of Engineers spokesman. "It is not likely that any roads or highways will be disturbed."
Building the Fernald complex — designed by the Catalytic Construction Company — was expected to provide jobs for about 3,000 construction workers.
The George A. Fuller Company of New York was the general contractor, and that firm relied on Hamilton businesses and industries for some of the materials and services needed to erect the plant.
The AEC said it expected its 1,200 permanent Fernald employees to come from within a radius of 30 miles. Officials said the staff would include "up to 300 scientists — chemists, metallurgists, physicists and similar specialists," plus "an engineering staff of civil, electrical, mechanical and chemical engineers."
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Journal-News, Monday, Feb. 15,1993
Massive task awaited Fernald developers
(This is the third in a five-part series on the history of the Fernald uranium feed materials plant.)
By Jim Blount
Mud, mobility problems, cramped working quarters and the absence of telephones were among conditions faced by the first employees at the Feed Materials Production Center at Fernald in the early 1950s.
Work on the Atomic Energy Commission's uranium-processing plant started in May 1951, only days after farmers had abandoned their houses and barns.
The farm houses were converted to offices, a medical center and laboratories until permanent facilities were built. Working space was so scarce, according to an employee, that "every foot of space in these houses was used, even the porches."
A railroad steam locomotive supplied power and heat until a boiler plant was built.
There were no paved roads on the 1,050-acre project for several months, and mud posed a problem for motor vehicles, especially construction trucks, reported The Atomizer, a company publication, in reviewing the early years of the controversial atomic plant southwest of Hamilton.
"One man operated a large bulldozer and his sole job was to pull out trucks that became bogged down in the mud," recalled the June-July 1961 issue of the Atomizer.
Buses hauled workers to and from Cincinnati and Hamilton before car pools were formed by Fernald workers. Two buses also shuttled employees around the site from 1951 until 1953.
An enterprising construction worker who owned a plane parked it on a level part of the north end of the property and, at $5 per person, flew passengers to the Greater Cincinnati Airport in Boone County in Kentucky.
The early hardships were shared by about 3,000 construction workers and the first of an expected 1,200 administrative and production employees to report to the rural site about 10 miles from Hamilton and 19 miles from Cincinnati.
Operations started in October 1951, during the Korean War, although the entire plant wasn't completed until October 1954.
"Meals consisted of a box lunch, eaten in the shade of a giant tree," recalled Ellen Reidy, an AEC employee, in an Atomizer article. "But this peaceful enjoyment only lasted a week" before heavy construction equipment arrived.
"From then on, things were a mess," she wrote. "When it rained, there was nothing but mud. When it didn't rain, there was nothing but dust."
She said Paul Fiehrer, who owned the Venice Pavilion in Ross, probably knew more about the Fernald project than the architects and engineers who were responsible for building it.
Catalytic Construction Company, the designers of the plant, rented office space in the bar, restaurant and bowling alley.
Reidy said "calls were constantly coming in from New York, Cincinnati and other places with information for the surveyors and engineers" through the Pavilion phone.
"At times, Mr. Fiehrer would jump into his car and go find the person wanted on the phone, then bring him back to Venice," she wrote. "Other times, he just relayed the message."
Reidy said the Venice Pavilion fed 300 to 400 people daily. At lunchtime, waitresses set "plate lunches on the tables. People filed in, picked out a place and sat down and ate. One diner, one price"
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Journal-News, Monday, Feb. 22, 1993
Fernald plant result of Cold War defense
(This is the fourth in a five-part series on the history of the Fernald uranium feed materials plant.)
By Jim Blount
Construction of the federal government's Feed Materials Production Center at Fernald started during an era of atomic uncertainty in the early years of the Cold War.
A Cincinnati newspaper, reporting on the reaction of farmers forced to relocate by the project, said "all of them feel that the atomic age is important and that they can make the sacrifices needed to fit it in the picture."
Public awareness of atomic energy had started Aug. 6, 1945, in the final days of World War II when the U. S. dropped a 400-pound atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing more than 100,000 people. Three days later, a second bomb killed at "least 36,000 people in Nagasaki. Japan surrendered five days later.
The American atomic monopoly was short-lived as the U. S. and the Soviet Union became adversaries in the Cold War. President Harry Truman disclosed Sept. 23, 1949, that "we have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the USSR."
That report prompted a review of U. S. nuclear policies which, in turn, led to the realization that existing atomic production facilities were inadequate if the nation was to survive in a worldwide atomic arms race.
American concerns over building an atomic arsenal mounted in June 1950 when U. S. forces entered the Korean War.
In March — the same month the AEC announced it would build the Fernald plant — the Hamilton Civil Defense organization, directed by Dwight Thomson, was preparing for the possibility of a Soviet atomic attack on the city.
"We must have definite plans worked out in the event of an atomic attack to prevent panic." said Arthur D. Fille, director of training and operations for Hamilton Civil Defense.
It was during this period of concern over atomic readiness and fears of communist infiltration into the U. S government that construction began on the Fernald uranium-processing plant, located 10 miles southwest of Hamilton and 19 miles northwest of Cincinnati.
Work started Thursday, May 16, 1951, and most of the plant was completed by May 20. 1954, by the George A. Fuller Company of New York, the general contractor.
During construction, the AEC's area manager was James F. Chandler, a civil engineer, who had worked for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Operations started in October 1951, and other parts of the complex opened in phases through October 1954. Production peaked in the early 1960s.
Uranium metal production ended in July 1989. Since then, the emphasis has been on environmental restoration.
When announced in 1951, the cost of the installation was estimated at $30 million. A year later it was up to $60 million and in 1953 the estimate reached $100 million. It is now reported at $118 million for buildings and equipment.
In 1951 the plant was reported to be designed to employ 1,200 people.
By May 1953, employment reached 1,187 and peaked at 2,891 employees in 1956. There were 2,325" people working there in 1961, but the total had dropped to 1,600 during 1966.
Cutbacks in federal nuclear programs in the 1970s eliminated hundreds of Fernald jobs There were fewer than 700 workers there in 1971 and the ail-time employment low was 538 in 1979. By 1985, employment climbed back to 1,280 people.
More than 2,000 people were working at the end of 1992 in cleanup efforts.
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