Nuclear/Uranium Facilities

There were over 350 nuclear and uranium facilities across the U.S. involved in the development of nuclear weapons.  Below is a list of a few key facilities.

Years in operation: 1949-1952

One doesn’t have to look too far to find a great example of an American industrial giant stepping up to the plate to assist America in its time of need.  The Bethlehem Steele Corporation, founded in 1886, was responsible for helping America become connected by supplying steel for the railroads during the company’s early days.

In 1949, the federal government called on the corporation to change its plant’s mission from rolling steel to rolling uranium fuel rods for nuclear reactors.  These rods were used in the Lackawanna Plant in New York.  The plant quit producing the fuel rods in 1952.  Sadly, many of the heroes working in this plant did not realize they were handling such radioactive material.

Years in operation: 1940-1945, 1949-Present

The Iowa Army Ammunition Plant (IAAP), located just west of Burlington, was the home to a top-secret nuclear program.  From 1949 through 1975 this one-of-a-kind plant that provided research, development, production, testing, inspection, assembly, packing and demilitarization of nuclear weapons for the Department of Defense.  These weapons and the accompanying research helped keep America free and safe throughout World War II and the Cold War.

The plant is still helping America maintain its role as a world leader.  Even though the plant was transformed from a nuclear production plant to a conventional ammunition plant in the mid-1970s, it continues providing for our country and freedom.

Having produced and commercially sold magnesium and aluminum alloy since the inception of the company, it was a logical step for the government to contract with DOW Chemical for assistance with the nuclear effort of the Cold War.  Located in Madison, Illinois near the Mississippi River, the site was given two separate but equally important assignments.  One was to work with nuclear reactor fuel and the other to work with uranium.  It was important for DOW Chemical to research and develop a process of extrusion of uranium metal and also to develop a way to conduct uranium metal rod straightening.  The finished products were then shipped to Mallinckrodt Chemical Works to be used in advancing America’s nuclear development.

Years in operation: 1951-1989

Was the Fernald Feed Materials Production Center part of the Manhattan Project or was it a company which made livestock feed?  During the 1950s and 1960s many of Fernald’s town’s people would have told you the plant made livestock feed.  In fact, a large red and white checkerboard pattern was painted on the water tower, some say to mimic a nationally known animal food company.  In actuality, the plant, located in southwestern Ohio, was a “feeder facility” which means it produced nuclear products for other plants to use in the creation of nuclear weapons.  In the name of national security, the government did not try to correct the confusion around the plant’s mission.

In 1990 Congress approved this site for closure and environmental cleanup.  By 2006 the cleanup of the site was complete and the former site was transformed into a park.

Sometimes great and important discoveries are made by accident.  This is exactly how Grants, New Mexico ended up playing a critical role in America’s nuclear arms race.  Paddy Martinez, a Navajo sheepherder, stumbled upon a large supply of uranium ore about 15 miles west of Grants in July 1950.  After some site investigation and shallow drilling it was determined there was enough ore at the site to justify constructing mills in the area.  A year later, the Santa Fe Railroad and the Anaconda Copper Mining Company formed a partnership that led to mines, mills, and more exploration and property acquisition.

Interestingly, almost all of the uranium in New Mexico is located in the Grants mineral belt which stretches northwest to southeast and contains the Laguna, Chuska, Ambrosia Lake, and the Gallup uranium mining districts.  If it wasn’t for the careful observation of Mr. Martinez, it is possible that America would not have had the same success with its nuclear programs.

Years in operation: 1943-1987

The work completed at the Hanford site has a direct and strong link to history—and our freedom.  The site, established in 1943 on the bank of the Columbia River, was part of the top secret Manhattan Project.  Located within the confines of the Hanford site was the “B” Reactor.  Like the site, this reactor holds significant historical value.  The plutonium created by this reactor changed the world forever.  The first nuclear bomb tested at the Trinity site, and the “Fat Man” bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, were developed using the plutonium created in this reactor.

Great rewards can come at great costs.  From 1944 to 1971, pump systems drew water from the Columbia River to dissipate the heat produced by the reactors.  Once the reactors were cooled, the water was then discharged back into the River.  A 1992 government report estimated that 685,000 curies of radioactive iodine-131 had been released into the river and air between 1944 and 1947.  To bring the site back to its original state, it is now home to the nation’s largest environmental cleanup.

Years in operation: 1949-Present

The Idaho Engineering National Laboratory, formerly known as the National Reactor Testing Station, is located on over 890-square miles in southern Idaho.  For more than half a century this plant has been playing a significant role in our nation’s security.  Originally, the site was used as a firing and bombing range by the Navy and Air Force until it was transformed into a nuclear reactor testing site in 1949.

Scientists at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory have constructed 52 reactors throughout the life of this facility—13 still remain.  In addition to testing nuclear reactors a large amount of research and development has occurred at this site.  In 1974, the site was designated a national laboratory and has been providing scientific and engineering expertise in environmental energy and nuclear technology to maintain our national security.  For example, only two nuclear-powered jet engines have ever been created and both were made at this facility.  Currently, the lab has the largest concentration of technical professionals in the Rocky Mountain region.  Thanks to the hard work and dedication of these individuals, past and present, America continues to be a world leader in the nuclear field.

The Kansas City Plant, part of the Bannister Federal Complex in Missouri, has a rich history of providing for American safety.  Starting during the Second World War, the plant manufactured jet engines for the Navy.  During the Cold War, the plant’s mission shifted to a nuclear focus.  To say the Kansas City Plant played a supporting role in our Nation’s defense during the Cold War would be an understatement.  During the Cold War nearly 85% of all nonnuclear materials used in the nuclear bomb arsenal were produced in this plant.

The plant has evolved into a high-tech research production facility and has been manufacturing electrical, electromechanical, mechanical and plastic components for nuclear weapons for years.  Moving forward, the plant is relocating to a smaller but more efficient property in southern Kansas City where it will continue to build nonnuclear components to help safeguard America.

Years in operation: 1952-Present

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) was established in 1952 by the University of California as one of America’s primary nuclear weapons design and testing facilities.  In the 1950s, physicists designed a thermonuclear warhead that could be launched from a submarine.  The warhead required multiple innovations to fit into the compact ballistic missiles.  LLNL remains just one of three laboratories in the U.S. where classified scientific research is undertaken.  Their mission includes keeping our nation’s nuclear deterrent safe, secure and reliable.

In addition to keeping the nation’s nuclear defense system prepared, the laboratory also tackles other issues important to keep America as a world power.  In 2004 the site was home to one of the world’s fastest computers and is regularly recognized as a premier facility for continuing to design products which make the world a better place.

Years in operation: 1943-Present

Strict criteria needed to be met when selecting a location for one of the world’s largest science and technology institutions.  The site needed to be far enough in-land to be protected from air attacks, have a road with limited access for security purposes, and be located far enough from the general public to prevent any curious onlookers from getting too close.  Manhattan Project scientific director, Robert Oppenheimer, suggested placing the laboratory at the Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, as it met the requirements.

Would you believe a school’s academic schedule could play a major role in determining when the United States could begin building a significant portion of the Manhattan Project?  Well, it did.  Since the land belonged to an active school and a term was in session, land acquisition was not made possible until the end of the term in 1943.

From 1943 through 1945 the site was home to some of the smartest scientific minds of the day.  These heroes played a major role in designing and building atomic bombs as well as conducting research which would help advance science and physics for years to come.

The strong tradition of conducting valuable research for the Nation has continued through present day. More than 30 million dollars has been awarded to the Lab as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.  These awards will assist with the development of creating renewable resources and alternative energy forms.

Years in operation: 1942-Present

The plant was operating before World War II, but in 1942 Dr. Arthur Compton asked Edward Mallinckrodt of Mallinckrodt Chemical Company if they would take part in a top secret program to help America win the nuclear race.  Although located in the heart of a bustling metropolitan area this plant was able to provide valuable high-purity uranium for the war effort, as part of the Manhattan Project.  The plant was very efficient and by 1956 had produced more than 50,000 tons of natural uranium products.   From 1961-1985, Mallinckrodt produced C-T from uranium and thorium ores.  Today, Mallinckrodt is undergoing decontamination from the C-T processing areas while at the same time undergoing new manufacturing in the pharmaceutical business.   So, while the nuclear aspect of Mallinckrodt is no longer active, they continue to operate with a new owner, Covidien.

Years in operation: 1952-1984

Who would have thought a pig farm could help keep America free?  In the summer of 1952, Charlie Steen, a geologist from Texas found an abundance of uranium ore near Moab.  After its discovery, Steen collaborated to create the Uranium Reduction Company and opened a uranium mill, located on land that was at one time a pig farm.

The Atlas Corporation absorbed the mine in 1962 and produced more than 2.7 million pounds of yellow-cake during the time they owned the mine.  The last uranium concentrate for the weapons program was produced at the end of 1970.  Due to the collapse of the commercial uranium market in 1984, Atlas was forced to terminate its Moab mill.  It was never reactivated and is currently in remediation.

Years in operation: 1947-1955

Having the distinction of being the first Post-War AEC site to be constructed, the Mound Plant is located in southern Ohio near the town of Miamisburg.  This plant, part of the Dayton project, was responsible for producing polonium in addition to other technical components.  Other activities carried out on this site included the manufacturing of detonators and timers for explosives in nuclear warheads as well as the development of isotope separation methods, tritium recovery and molecular science research.

The site halted all weapons related work in 1955.  Due to the severity of contamination at the site, it was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List in 1989 and cleanup began in 1995.

Years in operation: 1953-1973

Due to the arms race with the Soviet Union, the American government encouraged companies to seek out and mine uranium during the Cold War.  This was encouraged so America could build and stock pile nuclear weapons in an effort to keep America safe.  In 1953, the Kerr-McGee oil company started construction of a uranium mill in Shiprock, New Mexico.  The mill was located about 50 feet above the San Juan River.

As the majority of America’s uranium deposits are located in the western part of our country, it is not surprising to learn many deposits are located on the Navajo Nation.  Realizing how important mining uranium was to national security, the Navajo Nation leased land to the government.  In 1973 the lease expired and the land was returned.  During the mill’s life cycle  three separate companies had been in charge of its operations.  The uranium processing from the previous 14 years had left millions of gallons of local ground water contaminated.  In 1986 the DOE completed its cleanup of the mill site after contractors demolished most of the buildings and removed a large amount of contaminated materials.

Years in operation: 1951-1992

To boost the Nation’s security during the Cold War a rapidly accessible nuclear testing site was required.  This new site would be home to the testing of new nuclear weapons as well as provide a training ground for civil defense.   Up until this point, all nuclear testing was conducted on the Pacific Ocean.

The Nevada Test site was born (previously called the Nevada Proving Grounds) in 1951.  Wasting no time to utilize the new site, the first test was conducted on January 27, 1951 with a 1 kiloton bomb dropped on Frenchman Flat. This site was instrumental in protecting America’s freedom.  From 1951 to 1992 more than 925 nuclear tests were conducted at the site which is located roughly 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.  At least 100 of these tests were conducted in the open air and the rest were underground.

Aside from the important research conducted at the site, the sheer size and magnitude is impressive.  Composed of nearly 1,350 square miles, it has 1,000 buildings, 400 miles of paved roads, 300 miles of unpaved roads, ten heliports, and two air strips.  It is estimated that nearly 125,000 people worked at the site during the Cold War.

Years in operation: 1943-Present

Oak Ridge, also known as “The Atomic City” or “The Secret City”, was established as a production site for the Manhattan Project in 1942.  This site was crucial to the development and creation of nuclear weapons during World War II and the Cold War.  Four separate plants, each with its own specific purpose, comprised the plant and worked in unions to safeguard America.  Three of the four original plants still stand today.

The K-25 plant enriched uranium by the gaseous diffusion process and stretched over 44 acres, becoming the largest building in the world at that time. Y-12 was originally used for electromagnetic separation of uranium and is still in use for nuclear weapons processing and materials storage, while the X-10 plant was the site of a test graphite reactor and is now the site of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The S-50 liquid diffusion plant was demolished soon after the war.

Today the site is home to two of the most advanced neutron science centers in the world and is also home to the world’s most secure location to store enriched uranium.

When people think of America’s efforts to build and maintain a nuclear defense system and arsenal, images of vast deserts and plants tucked away deep in Appalachia come to mind.  Rarely are blue seas, sandy beaches, and islands ever thought of.  These tropical images played a huge part in the research and development of early nuclear weapons, thanks to the Pacific Proving Grounds.

Between the early 1940s and early 1960s more than 100 nuclear tests were conducted over, and sometimes deep within, the Pacific Ocean.  The tests proved the effectiveness of nuclear weapons against a wide array of targets and further strengthened America’s nuclear arsenal.

Years in operation: 1952-Present

The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant housed over 85,000 control instruments and had an excess of 160 buildings spread over more than 3,000 acres.  The plant was originally designed to act as a “feeder facility” which created uranium to be used at other nuclear facilities across the country.

In the 1960s the mission of the plant changed.  Now, rather than making highly enriched uranium for military purposes, the plant was tasked with creating enriched uranium to power commercial power plants.  Currently the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant holds the distinction of being the only U.S. owned uranium enrichment facility in the United States.

Years in operation: 1942-Present

The ability to be flexible and adapt to changing needs of the nation has always been a strong suit for America.  The transformation of the Pantex Plant is no exception.  Originally built in 1942 to build conventional bombs for the war effort, the plant had its mission change in the early 1950s.

In 1951 the Plant was transformed so it could begin producing nuclear weapons and components.  Celebrating over 70 years of service, this plant played a significant role in protecting America’s freedom during the Cold War and still today.

Years in operation: 1957-1995

Nuclear weapons are incredibly complex to build and operate.  For the weapon to operate successfully, precision products must be used.  Starting in 1957, the Pinellas Plant, which occupies the land of a former dairy farm, had been researching and developing these high precision products.  The neutron generators, which maximize the yield of nuclear weapons, are the component most closely associated with the Pinellas Plant.   In 1992 weapons production was halted and the plant was redeveloped in 1995 for commercial use.

Years in operation: 1954-2001

Sitting on over 4,000 acres in southern central Ohio, the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant played an instrumental role in America’s safety during the Cold War.  Built in secrecy in 1952 for a cost of over 1 billion dollars, this plant was originally tasked with contributing all of the uranium it enriched to the national defense effort during the 1950s and early 1960s.  While still providing a great benefit to the American public, the plant had its mission shifted in the 1960s.  The new responsibility was to provide uranium to power plants worldwide.

Not only did this plant play a pivotal role in strengthening our national security, it also created a strong local economy.  If the three process buildings were combined, they would have a total footprint roughly the same size as 200 football fields.  As can be imagined, a construction project of this magnitude required a tremendous workforce.  During peak construction of the plant, more than 22,500 people in various trades were employed.

Years in operation: 1952–1992

The end of World War II allowed most Americans to breathe a sigh of relief.  However, not all were so lucky.  Almost instantly America was thrust into another war.  Although a different type of combat, the Cold War threatened Americans on a large scale.  To safe-guard our country, President Truman issued an order to increase our nuclear arsenal.

In order to fulfill the President’s order, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) needed to increase the number of plants where weapons could be produced.  It was determined an ideal location for a new plant was located 15 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado.  The site, given the name Rocky Flats, opened in 1952.  In 1953, Rocky Flats began production of bomb components, manufacturing plutonium and uranium triggers, or pits.  Interestingly, this was the only site in the country that could mass produce the pits for any size or type of atomic bomb.

Due to President Bush’s 1993 order to reduce America’s nuclear weapon complex and stockpile, the site was phased out of existence.  In 2001, the site was transformed into a wildlife refuge.  Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the heroes who worked at this site, future Americans can enjoy the great outdoors in the land of the free.

Years in operation:  1948-Present

Started in 1948, Sandia was originally created as the Z Division for Site Y in Los Alamos to manage weapons development, testing and assembly.  The plant was later moved from Los Alamos to Albuquerque to team with technical personnel from the Wendover Army Airfield.

J. Robert Oppenheimer thought the move was necessary to reduce overcrowding at Los Alamos and to create a separate division for the development and research of the non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons.  The site is also responsible for ensuring the U.S. nuclear arsenal is safe, secure and reliable.

After Congress made Sandia a Department of Energy national laboratory in 1979 their research has been helping keep America safe from international and national threats.

Years in operation: 1951-1992

America called and South Carolina answered.  In order for the Savannah River Site to become a reality, a massive amount of land needed to be acquired by the national government.  Aiken, Barnwell, and Allendale counties answered the call and provided a total of over 200,000 acres in the name of national security.  Without the generosity of these counties, the nation would not have had the level of preparedness to thwart the potential devastation caused by the Soviet Union.

The responsibility of building the site was given to the DuPont Company.  As DuPont already had proven its expertise in nuclear operations (they designed and built the plutonium production complex at the Hanford site for the Manhattan Project) the choice was obvious.  During construction, some 38,000 people were employed at the Plant.  Although the employment numbers tapered off after construction, the plant has consistently employed thousands of personnel since being put on line in the late 1950s.

After the Cold War the need for nuclear weapons diminished and the operations of the plant were reduced.  By 1992, all uranium processes were phased out.  Within the past three decades a massive environmental cleanup has been undertaken to restore the region’s natural beauty.

Uranium mining is nothing new in Colorado.  The earliest mines date back to the early 1870s and the state is considered to have the third largest uranium reserves of any state.  In fact, the Uravan mineral belt supplied half of the world’s radium from 1910 to 1922, which produced the by-products of uranium and vanadium.

The region supplied materials essential to the production and development of the first atomic bomb.  A company town, Uravan, was established by the U.S. Vanadium Corporation in 1936 to extract vanadium ore from the region.  After the Manhattan Project started, Uravan switched its focus and began producing uranium.  To assist with supplying the Manhattan Project with the required materials, the Vanadium Corporation opened a mill in Durango. If you wanted to tour these two historic sites, you would not be able to.  No evidence remains of either site.