If you’ve lived in Cincinnati for any amount of time, the name Fernald likely evokes a knee-jerk negative reaction as someplace you’d rather stay far away from. From 1951 to 1989 Fernald, a short drive outside the city of Cincinnati, produced high quality uranium metal for the U.S. weapons program.
The general public paid little attention to what was going on at the 1050 acre site inside a secured fence line until 1984 when the Department of Energy (DOE) “reported that nearly 300 pounds of enriched uranium oxide had been released to the environment. . .That same year, DOE also reported that in 1981, three off-property wells south of the site were contaminated with uranium. The impact of nearly four decades of uranium metal production suddenly became the center of public controversy.” (Fernald Secrecy)
Negative news about Fernald was in the local paper headlines during the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1984 local residents filed a class action lawsuit for emotional distress and decreased property values. In 1989 the DOE paid $78 million dollars in settlement fees to individuals and industries within a five-mile radius of the Fernald site.
Fernald gained national and international publicity in 1986 because of the venting of two waste storage silos and a crack in the pilot plant vessel.
“In 1988, two nearby camps for children closed, citing concerns about Fernald and attributing reduced attendance to the negative publicity.” (Fernald Secrecy)
A local joke sprang up in Cincinnati about being able to see a “green glow” if you were driving near Fernald at night.
“Approximately 136 acres in the center of the site were used in the actual production process; the remaining acreage included administration facilities, laboratories, waste storage areas, and buffer land. The production area contained 10 primary plants, each with a specific mission to support the uranium metal production process.” (Fernald Secrecy)
“In 1989, after 37 years of operations to support the U.S. weapons program, site management shut down uranium metal production to concentrate on environmental compliance, waste management and remediation.” (About Fernald)
In 1992 the cleanup of Fernald was begun.
The cleanup included the following projects (the links take you to the Fernald website where you can see photos and project information):
Silos 1 and 2 – 8,900 cubic yards of low-level radioactive, radium bearing waste
Silo 3 – 5,100 cubic yards of low-level radioactive waste
Waste Pits – 790,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste
Soil and Disposal Facility – 2.2 million cubic yards of contaminated soil
Building Decontamination and Demolition – 223 buildings and structures
Aquifer Restoration – 170 acres of the Great Miami Aquifer
Waste Management –2.5 billion pounds of waste
Nuclear Material Disposition Project – 31 million net pounds of uranium product
You can see a slide-over photo of the Fernald production facility and the Fernald nature preserve plan here.
The good news is that today Fernald is a uranium-free nature preserve with unique sustainable site solutions that you can read about here. “The ecological restoration is transforming the site into a haven for wildlife. Over 170 varieties of birds including waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds have been observed.” (Fernald)
Hopefully with enough time, I will think of Fernald only as the beautiful serene healed prairie land that it is now and it will evoke only memories of swaying golden fields, flittering monarch butterlies, and a great blue heron on the wing.