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Talon Lister

Ms. Rhonda Davis

ENG 151H-007
26 September 2015
Nuclear Trauma
For years, humans have been experimenting with the realm of nuclear reactions
and physics. Perhaps the most publicized and well known encounter was Project
Manhattan and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Nowadays though, we are in a different time; a time of relative peace (stateside, at
least), and a time where possession of nuclear warheads by pretty much anyone except
the US is frowned upon. Nuclear fuels arent just used for warheads, however. They
are also used in many nuclear power plants around the world as a cleaner source of
energy. Dealing with nuclear fuels, however, is a risky business indeed. Not only are
most nuclear fuels extremely radioactive, and therefore detrimental to anything living,
but many of the processes that go into producing these nuclear fuels arent so kind to
the environment.
My great-grandfather, Alton Ridings, began working at the Paducah Gaseous
Diffusion Plant in the 1950s. Then owned by a corporation called Union Carbide, it was
one of many Uranium Enrichment facilities to begin operating in the United States
during the early parts of what would eventually become known as the Cold War. At the
height of its nuclear tension, the US held over 30,000 nuclear warheads in its stockpile
("NRDC: Nuclear Data - Figure of US Nuclear Stockpile, 1945-2002). Alton told many
stories about his experiences at the Union Carbide facility, most of which unfortunately,

have been lost through the times. He passed away in 2010 of a combination of causes,
but there were always suspicions that the conditions in which he worked at the uranium
enrichment facility contributed in some way to the health complications he had
throughout much of his life.
The plant he worked at, then known by its parent companys name Union
Carbide has came up against quite a bit of scrutiny over the years. Perhaps the most
well-known incident of whistleblowing in recent memory was that of Joe Harding. In a
film released in 2000, he and his family deliver some hard-hitting claims towards Union
Carbide and their handling of the environmental and personnel safety of facility ("An
American Nuclear Tragedy). Al Puckett, a friend of Joe Harding, is seen in the video as
well, and also makes some bold claims, particularly about the working conditions. Al
says, Later on, they took the geiger counters out, and they told us That stuff wont hurt
you even if you ate it, it wont hurt you. The stuff Mr. Puckett is referring to is called
Uranium Hexafluoride, and it is the primary radioactive chemical used at the plant in the
process of enriching uranium-238 for nuclear fission processes.
This substance is present at all gaseous diffusion enrichment facilities, and
although it isnt extremely radioactive (only about 10-40 times normal background
radiation, or about the same as a chest x-ray), what is dangerous is the chemical it
forms when it reacts with even minute amounts of water (such as when ingested),
Hydrogen Fluoride ("Health Effects Associated with Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6)).
Hydrogen Fluoride exposure is a real concern when dealing with UF6 because it can
react with water vapor in the air and form HF, which is toxic to humans and can cause
permanent lung damage resulting in death.

There have been many contamination events at the now DOE controlled site
throughout history, but many remain unreported due to contamination event reporting
not being required until 10 CFR 76.120 was added to the Federal Code of Regulations
on January 1, 1999 ("10 CFR 76.120 - Reporting requirements.). This leaves nearly 50
years of completely voluntary contamination event reporting, meaning they could
choose to notify employees and the public, or not. With this large of a gap in required
reporting, its no wonder they were able to get away with so much contamination of not
only their employees, but the environment as well.
In 1988, the McCracken County Health department conducted water samples in
wells near the facility. They found levels of Trichloroethane (a neurotoxic solvent used
as a degreaser at the plant) and Technetium-99 (a radioactive byproduct of the nuclear
fission process) that were far above allowable levels ("U.S. DOE Gaseous Diffusion
Plant"). The EPA was notified, and as a temporary solution, the residents and
businesses affected were put on a purpose-constructed municipal line funded by USEC
that feeds from the Ohio River. As part of the same study, PCBs (carcinogen/
neurotoxin found in chemicals used at the plant, banned in 1979) were found in the Big
and Little Bayou Creeks near the facility, which feed into the Ohio River ("U.S. DOE
Gaseous Diffusion Plant"). This was of concern, particularly because people frequently
fish in these creeks, and consume those fish.
In 1999, a rather serious event was publicized nationally by the Washington Post.
Reports of a Black ooze outside of the plants borders were received, and confirmed
by plant operators (Warrick, Stephens, "Radioactive Ooze Found in Paducah"). This
was a major concern because not only was it highly radioactive, it was also bordering a

Kentucky State Wildlife Reserve, and in an area where people frequently walk and ride
horses through. It was also not far from the aforementioned creeks, and near a pond
where a sign is posted reading Notice: All grass carp caught in this lake must be
released immediately. Presumably because Carp are especially notorious for
absorbing and holding onto radioactive and neurotoxic contaminants. Studies backing
up this claim were done in cooling ponds and rivers in Ukraine following the Chernobyl
disaster ("Long-Term Observation of Radioactivity Contamination in Fish around
This also shows that the ecological impacts of nuclear power arent contained
only to Paducah. The Chernobyl Disaster is quite possibly the most well known nuclear
disaster in history. There are others though, such as the Three-Mile-Island Accident in
Pennsylvania, and the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster in Japan. Another one that is related
more than you may know is the Bhopal Disaster. The Bhopal Disaster is consistently
considered the worlds worst industrial disaster. Over 200,000 workers in and around a
plant in India were exposed to nearly 30 metric tonnes Methyl Isocyanate, a gaseous
chemical used to produce pesticides, and over 20,000 people died (Varma, "The Bhopal
Disaster of 1984").
The plant in reference was operated at the time by Union Carbide, the same
corporation that operated the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant from its open in 1952
until April 1984. During this time many safety inconsistencies were reported and
lawsuits based off of said inconsistencies were filed later in time. There are no statistics
on the number of animals who were affected by the Bhopal Disaster of 1984, or the
environmental impacts of Methyl Isocyanate, but one could assume it was as large, or

larger than the human death toll. Even to this day, the city of Bhopal, India has still not
fully recovered.
There are many more indirect impacts that nuclear fuel production and power
have on the environment, though. At its peak production times, the PGDP consumed
about 3,000 MW of electricity, or about enough to power an estimated 2.43 Million
homes at any given time ("Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant | Centrus Energy")
("Frequently Asked Questions- How much electricity does an American home use?).
This takes quite a bit of energy to produce, and quite a bit of money to buy, spending an
estimated $600 Million in 2012 to buy energy from their provider, the Tennessee Valley
Authority, or TVA (Flessner, "TVA suffers blow, loses biggest customer). This took an
estimated 2 coal-fired power plants to produce, and although TVA wont reveal which
two powered the plant, one could estimate that nearly 20 Million Tons of CO2 per year
and 60,000 Tons of S02 (Sulphur Dioxide) were emitted into the atmosphere to produce
the energy needed to power the USEC facility. It is rumored, although not confirmed,
that at one point, the PGDP was the largest single consumer of electricity on planet
The facts are undebatable: the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and those
involved had quite an impact on the environment of the region. The issue is that
although later on people started to realize that what they were doing had negative
repercussions on both people and the environment, no one knew that in the beginning.
In the 1950s, the world of nuclear physics was quite new, and not many studies had
been conducted regarding the safety of many of the chemicals and materials that they
were dealing with at that time.

Overall, the plants closure in 2013 was most likely in the best interest of both
the people working there and the environment around it. Although the plant employed
nearly 1,100 workers before its closure, around half were able to keep jobs at the
facility; instead working for a company named Fluor, contracted by the DOE to
decontaminate the site. The site is currently undergoing cleanup, and it is expected to
take until 2040 to fully decontaminate the site, although engineers estimate the cleanup
will be 70 percent complete by 2017(Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant Fact Sheet).

Works Cited
NRDC: Nuclear Data - Figure of US Nuclear Stockpile, 1945-2002." NRDC: Nuclear Data Figure of US Nuclear Stockpile, 1945-2002. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <
An American Nuclear Tragedy." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <https://>.
"Health Effects Associated with Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6)." Health Effects Associated with
Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6). Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <
"Health Effects Associated with Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6)." Health Effects Associated with
Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6). Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <
"10 CFR 76.120 - Reporting Requirements." 10 CFR 76.120 - Reporting Requirements. US
Government Publishing Office, 1999. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <
"U.S. DOE Gaseous Diffusion Plant." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 27 Sept.
2015. <>.
Warrick, Joby, and Joe Stephens. "Radioactive Ooze Found in Paducah." Washington Post. The
Washington Post, 29 Aug. 1999. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <
"Long-Term Observation of Radioactivity Contamination in Fish around Chernobyl." Paul
Langleys Nuclear History Blog. 31 Aug. 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <https://>.
Varma, R. "The Bhopal Disaster of 1984." Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society (2005):
37-45. Print.
"Frequently Asked Questions- How Much Electricity Does an American Home Use?" US Energy
Information Administration. US Energy Information Administration. Web. 28 Sept. 2015. <http://>.
"Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant | Centrus Energy." Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant |
Centrus Energy. Centrus. Web. 28 Sept. 2015. <>.
Flessner, Dave. "TVA Suffers Blow, Loses Biggest Customer.", 31 May 2013. Web. 28 Sept. 2015. <

"Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant Fact Sheet." National Conference of State Legislatures.
National Conference of State Legislatures. Web. 28 Sept. 2015. <