WSJ Wasteland Series Continues in Pennsylvania where Uranium Processing Site had "Birdcages"

by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Birdcage at National Atomic Museum
Birdcage at National Atomic Museum

Early this fall the Wall Street Journal published a database of former Atomic Energy Commission sites spread throughout the United States. Among the locations in the database, Huntington, WV for its former Reduction Pilot Plant (Huntington Pilot Plant), which was  dismantled and buried at a landfill in Piketon, Oho o the grounds of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

On November 22, the WSJ published a story of a Pennsylvania town’s $500 million dollar cleanup.

Much like Huntington, Apollo , Pennsylvania ,  has a blue collar legacy that included a large factory that produced nuclear fuel for submarines and “other customers.” At Apollo and a “sister” facility in Parks Township tons of atomic waste had been buried.

Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC)  existed in Paris Township from June 1, 1960 to December 31, 1980 and the parent facility was known as NUMEC Apollo Nuclear Fuel Facility.  The NIOSH/CDC draft overview of these sites can be found at:

The Apollo location performed uranium conversion activities  and uranium scrap recovery. Their products went to commercial nuclear power plants, while the HPP took in feed materials from the Gaseous Diffusion Plants. Unlike Huntington, the Parks Township site produced highly enriched uranium  including  zirconium/hafnium bars. That included the manufacture of  americium (Am)-beryllium(Be) neutron sources, Pu-238 pacemakers, and high-activity radiography sources, including cobalt-60 (Co-60) and iridium-192 (Ir-192). The Parks Township Site also handled and processed cesium-137(Cs-137), Am-241, Be-7, polonium-210 (Po-210), Pu-238/239, depleted uranium (DU), thorium(Th), and other transuranic (TRU) and fission product elements for use in source production and radiographic examination programs, including spent fuel examination. ,states the document prepared in part by Dr. John Mauro, who wrote a similar evaluation of the former HPP/RPP I Huntington, WV.


The summary continues describing “birdcages” as a uranium processing starting point. HNN has interviewed former HPP workers who described the presence of the so-called “birdcages” at the Huntington Plant.

This description, however, comes from the aforementioned Pennsylvania locations:

Notable among Apollo Site operations is the receipt of enriched UF6 in “birdcages,” which were used as the starting point to convert the enriched UF6 to various uranium oxides.  The implications of these operations are that, in addition to photon and beta exposures, enriched UF6  creates the potential for neutron exposures by fission neutrons and alpha/neutron reactions. During the uranium conversion processes, a filter cake was produced that was then dried and  perhaps manually handled (not necessarily under a hood), which created an enhanced potential for the production of airborne uranium particulates.


The company denied harming the public, however, government and company documents raised questions about rooftop stack releases and bomb grade uranium “lost” in a 1963 fire.


One employee was interviewed who fought the blaze. He was scrubbed for six hours to remove radioactive contamination. He died at 76 of kidney and prostate cancer. Physicians say it is “impossible” to determine a link between cancer and radiation.


A case went to Pittsburgh federal court for trial in 1999, the WSJ stated. The jury awarded $36.5 million to the plaintiffs for community contamination. Later, the judge ordered a new trial. A settlement of $80 million was made. Babcock & Wilcox ,the defendant, has insisted in a current court response to litigation that Patty Ameno, one of the plaintiffs’ is trying to scare the community. Ms. Ameno has crusaded for clean up of the site, including renting a helicopter to fly over the dump where radioactive waste is buried.


By 2011 the Corp of Engineers began excavating the site. They found “larger amounts” of complex material.  Digging stopped and documents were classified.


For the full article and information about the WSJ series, click on one of these links:





 ALSO: Radiation Poisoning in Pennsylvania, and mega federal suit




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