Fluoride Action Network

Radioactive sludge found in Oak Ridge sewers

Source: HuntingtonNews.Net | December 30th, 2015 | by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Industry type: Nuclear Industry

Found near factory similar in function to former Huntington uranium/nickel processing facility

Radiation migrated into the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, sewers following uranium enrichment and demolition activities at various sites in that city from where the former Huntington Pilot Plant (HPP) received materials for processing and recycling.  The Oak Ridge discovery came in 2014 after following up on the demolition of a structure. Technetium-99  migrated from a demolition project at the federal government’s K-25 uranium-enrichment plant on the other side of the Clinch River.

During the past two years 75,000 gallons of contaminated sludge have been removed, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. The report indicated that radioactive contaminants there became mobile and infiltrated pipelines leading to the sewer system. Radioactivity did not “pose a health threat to workers at the plant or drinking water supplies, in the area, it prompted cleanup actions including efforts to remove technetium in the sewage treatment systems

Disposal continues, but the issue lingers.

The Oak Ridge scenario has similarities to the removal of HPP from the grounds of International Nickel (now Special Metals). After sitting on cold stand by until 1978, the Atomic Energy Commission contracted with Cleveland Wrecking to disassemble the plant. The most highly contaminated materials were taken to a classified burial site in Piketon, Ohio, on the grounds of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

HPP worked with uranium, nickel carbonyl , plutonium , technetium -99, and other materials that came from starting materials at the Oak Ridge, Portsmouth and Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plants. Properly certified former Huntington workers qualify for energy employee compensation from the federal government for developing cancer and other illnesses.

A security guard who witnessed the burial of the HPP debris at Piketoo cautioned that the Department of Labor site specific findings indicate the former presence of plutonium, uranium 235, and TC-99 in Huntington. Workers qualify for compensation due to ingestion of radiation. Jeff Walburn, now a nurse, stressed that during the plant’s operating period workers would have excreted residue into the sewer system.

He hypothesized that Oak Ridge contamination could be ingestion from workers who used their home toilet. That wasn’t even suggested as a cause.”

As for Huntington, plutonium had been found 0.6 km downstream from the HPP, according to documents supplied by Walburn.


In the 1950’s, the diffusion processes were expanded to much larger systems (000 designs) and the larger design used almost a thousand 3,300 HP motors tied to axial compressors that looked much like jet engine turbines. The diffusion stages were then made of hundreds of 1/4 inch sintered nickel powder tubes housed in tanks larger than gasoline tanker trucks. Typically, in K-33 groups of 8 diffusion stages were housed in house sized heat retention enclosures and the groups called “cells.” The compressor motors were supplied with air from cooling ducts sealed with PCB impregnated gaskets for fire prevention.

The diffusion stages were made from nickel powder sintered with calcium- fluoride. A DOE plant in Huntington, West Virginia made fine nickel powder using the nickel carbonyl process to precipitate uniform sized metal particles from the nickel gas. The 5 micron sized nickel dust was mixed with calcium fluoride powder of similar fineness and cooked, at near 1400 degrees Centigrade, or “sintered” in a mold to make the barrier tubes of about 3/4 inch outside diameter and 3/8 inch inside diameter. The fluorine resistant tube arrays of around a hundred of these tubes were fitted to aluminum plates to fashion “tube bundles” that became the 1 micron diffusion barrier of the diffusion process. These aluminum parts became poisonous AlF3 after being exposed to the process fluoride. The sintered metal diffusion barrier design came from a Kellex process for making paint spray nozzles, and the K-25 plant and K-25 building carried this symbolic letter “K.”

Persons that worked in making the barrier or removing it from stages with electric chain saws were exposed to calcium fluoride dusts that break down in stomach acid and leads to a cumulative fluoride type poisoning of the pineal gland and thyroid hormone processes. The nickel dust that they are exposed to simultaneously causes additional toxic metals health problems. The calcium-fluoride exposure damage the glutathione enzyme clearance of toxic metals, like nickel, and causes increased free radiation damage to the cells leading to higher risk for illness. Most of the illness for K-25 workers are rooted in exposures to fluorides and toxic metals, which leads to debilitating CFS type health problems for many.

The fact that the chemical process system had thousands of seals that all had leak rates means there were serious problems. The biggest problem was the air leaking into the system and the need to remove these gases. This means that operation of the plant, by design, resulted in continuous releases of the dangerous and cumulative poison called HF into the plant and region air. Entire huge buildings called “Purge Cascades” were dedicated to remove these gases, which damaged the system production efficiency.


The Oak Ridge clean up continues. A building which conducted activities apparently similar to the HPP has been scheduled for demolition. Barriers for the diffusion process were manufactured there.

The barrier is sintered nickel powder,” Mike Koentop, executive officer in DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, said in response to questions from senior writer Frank Munger of the Knoxville News. “Any elaboration beyond that is classified.”

K-1037 still contains intact machines that produced weapons. Munger’s article indicates that rather than radioactive contamination, the Dept. of Energy is concerned with revealing the classified contents. It is still unknown how it will be disassembled and whether portions might be crushed.

The barrier technology is reportedly one of the most classified parts of the gaseous diffusion operations that the United States used to produce its stockpile of enriched uranium for the Cold War arsenal.

Those classification concerns will affect how DOE and its contractors deal with the equipment and how the building will be taken down, Munger’s KNOX blog states.

The demolition has not yet started. Surprises are still possible. Millions will be spent.

Flashing back, the HPP came down in 1978-1979 with classified and the most contaminated portions shipped by rail and open bed truck to Piketon for burial. The burial location leaked later contaminating an aquifer. Issues such as this have brought a reconsideration of digging up the HPP remains and reburying them elsewhere.

For the full article, visit: http://knoxblogs.com/atomiccity/2015/12/26/oak-ridge-buildings-classified-contents-add-to-difficulty-of-demolition-project/

Unknowns exist in the examination of the former HPP site and associated locations. One of the factors would be the last examination was in the early 80s. Detection technology has remarkably improved since that period.

What materials , sludge or other residue stayed near Huntington during the HPP Cold War operation? Could radioactive elements have floated from their burial site(s)? What about the sewage that workers flushed down the drain? Would you like to know more?

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