After Demolition of Huntington Pilot Plant, U 235 and U 238 Contamination Deemed Low; Baseline Soil in Ohio River Basin High in Nickel Contamination Then

Updated 6 years ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
After Demolition of Huntington Pilot Plant, U 235 and U 238 Contamination Deemed Low; Baseline Soil in Ohio River Basin High in Nickel Contamination Then
Photo by Jim Evans

EDITOR'S NOTE: The statements and conclusions expressed are based solely on the contents of the historical documents from 1975-1980. However, ten years AFTER the statements made in these documents,  the plant was  included for nuclear worker health  compensation under the act approved in 1990. The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) is a federal program created by Congress to compensate nuclear weapons workers who were made ill, or the surviving family members of deceased workers, by work done in the US nuclear weapons industry beginning in WW2.

Congress determined that nuclear weapons production and testing involves unique dangers and workers could be harmed by exposure to even small amounts of radiation or beryllium.  Congress felt that many Cold War nuclear weapons workers at Department of Energy (DOE) sites had been put at risk without their knowledge or consent.  Previously secret records documented unmonitored exposures to radiation, beryllium, and toxic chemicals. Studies also show that 98% of radiation induced cancers in nuclear workers occurred at radiation levels less than the existing maximum “safe” levels.

About $6.3 million has been paid to Huntington workers/survivors. This story does NOT attempt to analyze ; it only reports the newly received memorandums and data. Additional data/info has been posted in PDF form. An analysis will follow.

The Huntington Pilot Plant (Reduction Pilot Plant), which processed starting materials for two gaseous diffusion plants, was demolished for "regulatory reasons" and removal of classified nickel materials and nickel carbonyl , according to recently released Department of Energy documents obtained by HNN under the Freedom of Information Act. The plant utilized Uranium 235 and Uranium 238 from gaseous diffusion plants which performed uranium enrichment operations.

Until the receipt of the documents, the government decision making process to demolish the plant had not been made public.

The Huntington plant was built on four acres of the International Nickel campus in 1951. It was demolished in 1978-1979. According to the documents the decision to remove the structure was more for regulatory and classified decisions, rather than health concerns. During a cold stand by period from 1963 until prior to demolition, the site was maintained by Huntington Alloys under a "separate appendix to the original contract" with the Atomic Energy Commission.

Based upon the results of a January 15-16, 1975 radiation survey and security inspection , "the presence or potential presence of nickel carbonyl and the presence or potential presence of classified starting materials determined portions of the plant for disposal at the classified landfill at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

"The process equipment and piping were unsuitable for conventional disposal," the November 14, 1979 RPP Clearance Report stated. "The residue unloading system and the building walls, floors and structural members surrounding it were slightly contaminated and contained classified starting material. The CO holding tanks were slightly contaminated and were all scheduled for burial at Portsmouth."

59 truck and four railcar loads of scrap were transported to the Portsmouth Plant. 138 truck loads of clean scrap were removed by Cleveland Wrecking.

Demolition started November 27, 1978 and was finished May 18, 1979. All contaminated material had "left the site" by May 15, 1979. During demolition contaminated equipment was  color coded. Red indicated carbonyl contamination and white indicated uranium contamination. The two colors included all classified materials. Clean scrap was placed south of the compressor Building outside the fence.

According to Richard D. Smith, health physicist Health Protection Branch, certified that as of May 15, 1979, "the site radiation level" qualified the property to be "released for unrestricted use."

Decisions about the site are based on "Guideline for Decontamination of Facilities and Equipment Prior to Release for Unrestricted Use or Termination of Licenses for by product, source, or special nuclear Material" published in 1976 by the Division of Fuel Cycle and Material Safety of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Oversight for the "unrestricted use" decision was to be filed with both the Fuel Cycle and Material Safety division of the USNRC and the Director of the Regional Office of Inspection and Enforcement of the USNRC.

Under these guidelines, the NRC could authorize the relinquishment of possession or control of premises, equipment or scrap having surfaces contaminated with material in excess of limits. One of the "special circumstances" included "razing of buildings, transfer of premises to another organization continuing work with radioactive materials."


At the time of the only radiological survey in 1980 (following removal), the site was tested for Uranium 235, Uranium 238, and Radon. Hot spots were found on the site.

For instance, "hot spots" were found in the change and shower areas with "elevated gamma level" readings. The loading pad had been a prior hot spot for "elevated radionuclide concentrations." Describing a northern portion containing a concrete pad, the report states that subsurface testing there was "unnecessary" due to "the presence of coarse gravel" and "subsurface concrete pads."

Baseline/control soil samples from near the Ohio River flood plain (1.5 miles from the plant)  were substantially higher for nickel  than on-site samples, the documents state. This suggests that "general nickel contamination of surface soil may exist throughout this area as a result of past International Nickel Operations."

The Radiation Contamination Clearance Report prepared by Oak Ridge Operations or the DOE on April 4, 1980 concluded that "the only uranium introduced into the plant was in the form of contamination contained on the surface of recycled barrier materials."  The report stated that primarily uranium "ash" was extracted from the Huntington facility "at the bottom of the reactor and was vacuum transferred to the residue system."  The document stated that the ash was "drummed and shipped to Oak Ridge . No material was disposed onsite."

 William H. Travis , director Safety and Environmental Control Division , stated that there were no "drains or sumps" inside the building.

 Based on the data available in that time frame, Travis wrote "the only area which might not have complied [with criteria for unrestricted release] was "the housing of the residue system and the residue system itself."  Further , at the time, there was no "de minimis [inappropriate] quantity" for enriched uranium under NRC Regulatory Guide 1.86.

The letter stated that "contamination levels were already below the applicable guidelines" for unrestricted release; however Traavis noted based on a radiological survey that  "political pressures may dictate otherwise."

Argonne National Lab report

  1. NRC PT 1.pdf (2.91 MB)
  2. NRC PT 2.pdf (1.77 MB)
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