Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Fernald ties strong with former workers

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CROSBY TWP. - Jim Anness has seen the highs and lows of Fernald.

A retired pipe fitter who toiled for 30 years at the former uranium processing plant and current Superfund cleanup project, Anness hammered asbestos off pipes while it fell around him like snow, and was once sent to cap a pipe atop a concrete silo that contained radioactive waste from the first nuclear weapons tests.

All that work was done without a respirator.

On Tuesday, as part of the last public tour of the facility, the 65-year-old Dover, Ind. resident saw the high point of Fernald: A $4.4 billion cleanup that is nearing it's 2006 completion date on time and on budget.

It's a restoration that will eventually return more than 900 acres to nature in the form of undeveloped park and wetlands.

"It was a hard way to make a living, but it was the best money around," Anness said. "Driving around here, all the memories came back and it almost felt like yesterday. I worked in every building, on every roof and in every hole on this site."

Some of the people Anness worked with are dead; others still work at the plant. Anness is in good health, although he suddenly went blind in his left eye last year. He doesn't know why - radiation or growing older. The one thing he's sure of is that he was exposed to a lot of radiation.

Still, like most of the 400 former employees who took the tour, Anness is proud of what was accomplished here: More than 500 million pounds of high grade uranium were manufactured at the foundry between 1953 and 1989, providing the raw materials for the country's nuclear weapons program during the Cold War.

"I was a part of history, and that's a good feeling," Anness said. "I know one thing for certain: we made the best uranium in the world."

Homer Bruce feels the same way. He started at the plant before production did, in 1952. The 75-year-old Mount Healthy man started as a clerk in production and ended his career in the public relations department. In between, he worked in personnel, where he interviewed and hired hundreds of people and met his wife. His career at Fernald spanned 43 years.

Many of the people Bruce interviewed for jobs were there Tuesday, giving him a hearty handshake or a slap on the back along with a sincere thank you.

"Most of the people we hired in the early days were just home from the war, then protected the country again by working in a facility like this," he said. "The dedication of those people was just incredible. Coming back, it's great to see those people I loved like brothers and sisters.

"And I'll go away with a pretty good feeling. What they set out to do (clean the site), it looks like they're well on the way."

Fernald looked more like a carnival Tuesday than a Superfund site.

School buses drove people around the site, while workers grilled hotdogs and bratwurst with baked beans. Families - sometimes four generations worth - sat at picnic tables in front of the administration buildings.

Jamie Jameson, president of the company hired by the government to clean up the site, got into the act by serving hot dogs.

"I've been cooking all afternoon," he said. "We've got a good group of people here. You've got to appreciate the people who did all the work."


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