One of my readers sent me some information about the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Paducah, Kentucky. The plant was built in 1952 and was the only uranium enrichment facility in the United States (wikipedia). One of the secret missions of the plant was to recycle nuclear warheads retired from service.
According to the 1999 Washington Post article, Gold May Have Too Much Glow:
Workers used hammers and acetylene torches to strip away bits of gold and other metals from the warheads’ corrosion-proof plating and circuitry. Useless parts were dumped into trenches. But the gold – some of it still radioactive – was tossed into a smelter and molded into shiny ingots.
Exactly what happened next is one of the most intriguing questions to arise from a workers’ lawsuit against the former operators of the U.S.-owned uranium plant in western Kentucky. Three employees contend that the plant failed for years to properly screen gold and other metals for radioactivity. Some metals, they say, may have been highly radioactive when they left Paducah, bound perhaps for private markets.
How interesting… it seems as if recycled gold from retired nuclear warheads at the Paducah plant was not tested and sent back into the public market. The article makes the following points:
Recovering gold and other valuable metals from retired nuclear weapons had been a little-known mission of the government’s uranium enrichment plants over the past five decades. At Paducah, the process began in the 1950s and was conducted under extraordinary security, with heavily armed guards escorting warheads into the plant under cover of darkness.
(Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Paducah, KY)
Garland “Bud” Jenkins, one of three Paducah workers involved in the lawsuit filed under seal in June, says he worked for several years in Paducah’s metals program recovering gold, lead, aluminum and nickel from nuclear weapons and production equipment.
“We melted the gold flakes in a furnace to create gold bars,” Jenkins said in court documents. “The gold was never surveyed radiologically prior to its release, to my knowledge.”
Now, according to the Department of Energy Report released December 21, 2000 on the Cold War ERA activities at the Paducah site:
In a separate report, DOE also investigated past metals recovery programs performed at the site from 1952 to 1986. The review included an extensive study of historical documents and interviews with current and retired employees. During this period, large quantities of steel, nickel, aluminum, copper, monel, cobalt, gold and silver were recovered at Paducah.
Based on available records, DOE estimates that between 2,800 and 5,300 pounds of gold from retired nuclear weapon assemblies and scrap parts was recovered and shipped from the Paducah Plant from 1964 to 1985. The operations used to reclaim gold were kept separate from other materials and contaminated processes onsite, but were conducted in contaminated areas of two buildings. For much of this period, recovered gold was shipped to the U.S. Department of Treasury for refinement and reuse. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, some gold was sold to commercial reprocessors.
So, there you have it. The Department of Energy confirms in the released reports that 2,800-5,300 pounds of gold were recycled and shipped from the Paducah plant. What is really interesting is the sentence that states, FOR MUCH OF THIS PERIOD, RECOVERED GOLD WAS SHIPPED TO THE U.S. TREASURY FOR REFINEMENT AND REUSE.
Now…. I don’t see how that sentence could be misconstrued as it was from an official government agency. Of course, we don’t know how much gold was recast into bars and made it into the U.S. Gold Reserve, or how radioactive this gold may have been, but we do have clear evidence that it did occur.
If we consider that say 3-4,000 pounds of gold were recycled and made their way into the U.S. Gold Reserve, that’s upwards of (160) 400 oz bars sitting in Fort Knox or sold to some POOR CENTRAL BANK SLOB… who has no idea the gold they received may indeed be glowing.
How ironic… we were stupid back then when it came to knowing the dangers of radioactive elements and today we are stupid when it comes to understanding the dangers of a highly leveraged derivative financial paper system. I would imagine, both will cause us serious trouble in the future.
That being said, one of the personal tragedies of the Paducah plant is worth mentioning (even though there are probably countless others). Joe Harding was an employee at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant who died in 1980 with stomach cancer…. he was 58 years old.
In the article, A Deathly Postscript Comes Back To Life (written by Joby Warrick, Washington Post):
It was “important, patriotic, secret work,” Harding wrote of the job he started in 1952, the year the plant opened. “Brainwashing started in training school: ‘Don’t talk to anyone. Never mention radiation. The public is stupid about radiation.’ “
Soon Harding was put to work as a “process operator,” mixing powdered uranium with fluorine and other chemicals. Inside the buildings, he wrote, the air was “heavy” with uranium dust, which is mildly radioactive and toxic if ingested or inhaled. Unknown to workers at the time, it also contained small amounts of plutonium and other radioactive metals that are thousands of times more dangerous than uranium.
“I spent all those years breathing uranium hexafluoride gas so thick and heavy that you could see the haze in the air,” Harding said in a hand-written account in 1979. “You could taste it coated on your teeth and in your throat and lungs. . . . Powder on the floor was thick enough that you would leave tracks.”
This next excerpt shows the compassion of the corporation that ran the Paducah Plant:
Harding had worked at the plant less than a year when the first medical symptoms appeared, according to records made available by his widow. Lesions appeared on his legs, and slowly spread through the rest of his body. His weight dropped from 175 to 125 pounds. Searing pain radiated from his stomach and he vomited so frequently his co-workers mockingly called him “Joe Erp.”
Later, fingernail-like calcium growths began emerging from his finger joints, elbows and knees. X-rays of his lungs turned up odd-looking pockmarks. He lost most of his stomach to cancer.
….. Eventually Harding’s increasingly vocal complaints about working conditions earned him a reputation as a troublemaker, and he bounced around from one section of the plant to another. Finally, in 1971, the plant offered him a full-disability pension, citing a leg injury that Harding had received on the job.
Harding accepted the offer and went home to wait for his first check. It never came. He later learned that his disability claim had been rejected, and along with it his pension and medical insurance.
As we can see, nothing has changed in Corporate America.. that is, unless you are a CEO or upper management. Harding was promised full-disability pension, which was reneged soon after he left the plant.
What I find even more interesting is the investigation by the Department of Energy at Harding’s request. Again.. according to the article:
After 18 months and a two-day visit to Paducah, the department concluded that Harding’s illnesses were more likely caused by smoking and by the fact he “frequently ate country ham,” according to the 1981 report.
It wasn’t the two decades of uranium powder exposure that caused Harding’s stomach cancer, but his smoking and “Frequent consumption of country ham.”…LOL. You can’t make this stuff up.
Two decades after Harding’s death, the U.S. Govt Department of Energy had a change of heart. On August 10, 1999, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson stated publicly that “Joe Harding was a hero of the Cold War”, and that the government owed Harding and other workers an investigation on whether their work at the Paducah plant put them in harms way.
Currently, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is now being decommissioned and will cost $billions and many years to complete. Of course the private companies such as Lockheed Martin and Union Carbide that ran the plant at various times, does not have any financial exposure to the clean-up… its all from the public coffers.
So, as the lights go out at the only uranium enrichment plant in the United States, there is high probability that gold bars are glowing brightly at some lucky vault. The real question is this… are they part of the remaining gold at Fort Knox, or does some unfortunate Central Bank now the owner of the HOTTEST GOLD on the planet?