Huntington Atomic Plant Burial Six Months of No Asking, Telling; Radiation Exposure Sometimes Increases with Distance

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter

1970s Artist Conception of Uranium Recycling Plant
1970s Artist Conception of Uranium Recycling Plant
 HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – Depending upon your degree of ‘trust’ in government agencies, the revelations about dangers at the former Huntington uranium processing plant and the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant either border on disrespect or symbolize how the truth slowly ebbs out exposing even the best planned cover up.

Actually, Piketon, Ohio, atomic plant workers such as Owen Thompson and Vina Colley joined the ranks of whistleblowers long ago which eventually led to the unraveling of decades of denial.

Thompson had a special security clearance. He worked in the  “E Area” of the huge diffusion facility. Between 1978-1979, he just followed order by driving a hay wagon to some already dug trenches. When the contents were dumped, he saw a green goo. Thompson also observed that the wagons , trucks and other tools were entombed.

He knew the debris were contaminated. He just did not know the degree. Or that walking home in his work shoes carried the radiation to his wife and children.

As an example, Thompson got calls “Saturday night… They would have a hay wagon. They would have all these parst on it and contamination was filthy. We would get so contaminated. They brought in a strip-mining dozer from West Virginia. They would dig these hole and we would go in and dump this stuff right in on the ground. We would see water coming up [out of the holes] and it would just be turning soupy green like pea soup.”

He referred to “big tins of oxide in E area… that would burn hot. The processing of the heat would cause what uranium was left in this jug  [to] go into the sloop tanks and it would be plutonium, transuranic , everything that comes out of a nuclear power plant. They were looking for a way to do away with nuclear waste and IT DID NOT WORK.”

Huntington Atomic Plant Burial Six Months of No Asking, Telling; Radiation Exposure Sometimes Increases with Distance
After working around the oxide, he asked to be examined at the plant hospital. “They could not get a Geiger counter to me. It was so hot that they could get one within three feet or it set it off at its highest rate. I had thousands of counts of radiation on my body.”

“I did my country wrong. I buried dumps nobody knows about under machine gun guard under bond. I did job under the Energy Research and Development Administration. We would get so contaminated that they did me like they did Karen Silkwood…for four days I stood in the showers and had two me scrub me down with boric acid until I looked like a lobster.,” Thompson testified.

While Thompson assisted with the burial detail as machine gun armed guards oversaw the operation, other workers at the facility had not been told what was happening. It was classified. Even in the darkness of night, it’s hard to maintain the secrecy of dumping the remains of an entire plant into trenches.


Based on a 2005 report on Radiation and Worker Health, “The AEC work at Huntington involved the processing of scrap nickel to produce refined nickel powder for use in the manufacture of gaseous diffusion barriers for gaseous diffusion plants. The feedstock for producing the nickel powder was uranium –contaminated nickel that originated from the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (ORGDP). The contaminated nickel scrap metal was offloaded by rail at Huntington , weighed and placed in buckets, while it was still in the steel cartons, [then] the nickel was loaded into a furnace, and melt refined, and in the process, the uranium contamination was separated from the nickel through a special step in the process involving the application of carbon monoxide, referred to as the nickel carbonyl process. After the scrap was melted, it was transferred to the nickel carbonyl chamber , where the carbon monoxide gas (CO) was added, forming two separate streams, nickel carbonyl gas and enriched uranium.” (Since the contaminated nickel remained in shipping cartons until melting, it had been concluded worker exposure was low prior to the melt.)”

Vina Colley, a former worker and president of PRESS, told that  formerly classified documents indicated Huntington facility received “trace quantities” of plutonium and neptunium, which came from “residue” in nickel from reactors at Hansford, Savannah River, Oak Ridge, West Valley, New York, and others.

Be it nickel, uranium, plutonium or what isotope, one supervisor told of regularly venting the dust into East Huntington at night.

Huntington Atomic Plant Burial Six Months of No Asking, Telling; Radiation Exposure Sometimes Increases with Distance

Area E, where Owen Thompson labored, had “lots of accidents, cold traps, and ruptures.” Thompson wrote in his own handwriting, “Never forget Area E.”

The handwritten document tells of a pipe rupturing “when we were illegally running 97 percent assay 14 uranium, small amounts of plutonium, transuranics, and other isotopes.

We had a pipe rupture while we were illegally running 97 percent assay uranium, small amounts of plutonium, transuranics and other isotopes. This was an experimental secret. ERTA was calling the shots then. "Shortly after DOE took over, another accident with an operator, who I will not name, turned on the fire burning tower when the ash pot was not hooked up to it, and an explosion of radioactive smoke, fire and dust melted a Plexiglas box covering it.

"We at times had to enter that plexiglass box to clean inside so we could see better. We had to crawl around ash pots. That's where the by-products fell into. Radioactive trash or waste, they've got a three billion or million life span,” Thompson testified.

"Once while I was inside the box, my air hose to my head gear or hood came uncoupled. I was tangled  up with hoses. It took Ken Stevens approximately three to five minutes to crawl out ahead of me to get to where my hose was broken. I had to breathe, so I lifted my hood three times. I had to. While working there the hair on my chest got so radioactively contaminated, I spent three to four days in the plant hospital showers scrubbing with boric acid and soap trying to bring down my Geiger counter readings. It was in the thousands. Plant limit is 100.’”

Thompson told that a Goodyear inspector from a Nevada or Utah plutonium plant inspected the accident prone area. “He immediately told them , everything you got here is outrageous. If I had my way , I’d lock this place up forever and bury it with lead.” Once he left, the doors were locked, lead shots and sack were placed on the roof and the walls were leaded up. Thompson said, “Cold traps still have plutonium residue. The crawl box and feeder has dust. The tower is still there, and was very highly contaminated.”

The operator from out west had told the Piketon operators that “everything we did [here] was done [there] with mechanical fingers. Yet, they had us crawling around inside….”

Vina Colley, a former worker and President of PRESS,  recalled an incident in 1978, where a cylinder of atomic weapon grade uranium spilled in Piketon.

A cylinder was dropped because the straddle buggy used to move it off the line and ready for shipment had been defective, and reported as so, the straddle buggy failed and it was dropped. That cylinder ruptured and it released that 2 pounds of uranium hexafluoride into the atmosphere on that site.

It was never reported as such in the newspapers…the only reports that ran in the paper was how the spill was minimal, the cleanup right away by work persons on site. There were no alarms.

The minimum spill has no counter product that I'm aware of in any military production history; 2,100 pounds in the air. And what didn't go in the air was piled, they were piling snow on the cylinder because it was very hot, temperature-wise and everything else. And then they flushed that material down the sewers. The servers feed Scioto River. That goes directly to the Ohio River. That has never been addressed as a problem, but in 1979, the year after this happened, Layton Hammond, who owns 1,500 acres on three sides of the plant site, had most of his trees die on one of those sides. But that has never been addressed.Uranium Hexafluoride Process


Radiation Exposure Table
Radiation Exposure Table

A technical report prepared by Oak Ridge National Laboratory on April 1, 1977 discusses exposures to total body from airborne effluents of a 1500 metric ton /year uranium fluoride recycling (UF6) plant, which is SIMILAR to the HPP/RPP. However, the millirem annual dose per year in some instances vary little whether within 1.5 miles or as far as 55 miles away. Data assumes 20 m2 intake of air and 0.25kg of vegetables, 0.3 kg of beef and one liter of milk . It assumed 100% of food consumed is produced or grown at the reference location. (Editor’s Note: This study was NOT for Piketon, Ohio, specifically)

A second dosage for radwaste is included which contains total-body and organ doses of individuals both 1.5 miles and 55 miles from the uranium recycle plant.

Interestingly, at 1.5 miles the following elements provide total body doses as listed first; the data for 55 miles follows after the semicolon : Pathways for External/Internal Exosure

U 232 25.3; 26.5

U 234 27.4; 26.2

U-235 9.81; 10.4

U-236 7.83; 7.78

U-237 0.19; 0.20

U-238 21.2; 21.6

Np 237 1.82’ 1.70

Pu 238 2.61; 2.15

Note: Climate has an impact on exposure amounts at 55 miles distant.

View PDF, here. Compare Radiation Doses

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