Fernald recalls 50 years of environmental history

FERNALD, OH: A former uranium processing plant which is being

slowly wound down celebrated its 50th anniversary last week by looking

back at the supporters and detractors that have been a part of its

history since the Cold War.

Fernald, which is managed by Fluor Fernald, is currently known as the

Fernald Environmental Management Project.

The PR team produced a video called First Link: A Story of Fernald

1951-2001. With clips from close to 100 interviews, the video includes

footage of area residents, former workers, community leaders and

regulators talking about the site's history.

'One of the interviewees is Pete Kelly, one of the first PR guys hired

here in 1983,' explained Jeffrey Wagner, Fernald's director of public

affairs. Kelly was hired following a major PR crisis in 1984 when

uranium oxide was released into the atmosphere. 'When they told Kelly

all the things that were going on here, he just said it can't get any

worse,' Wagner said.

The incident led to the formulation of a local grassroots activist group

called the Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health (Fresh)

that same year, and to Kelly's appointment.

Fresh president Lisa Crawford is also interviewed on the video, as well

as Fresh member Edwa Yocum. Crawford told the story of how she had lived

next door to the site when her water was found to be contaminated with

uranium. The incident sparked the Fresh movement and a subsequent


The facility became ground zero for anti-nuclear protests. During the

crisis, Phil Donahue did a live broadcast from the site. The story was

featured nationally on all the news networks.

Through the establishment of a citizens advisory board and monthly

community updates on the clean-up, Fernald and the Department of Energy

have managed to win a degree of trust from the community.

The 50th anniversary celebration included tours of the site and speeches

by senior management and community leaders. Fernald's PR office also

created a pictorial time line, linking the site's history with world

events. The facility was built in 1951, in the height of Cold War

tensions resulting from the invasion of South Korea by North Korea and

the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The primary function of those working on the site now is to clean up the

area and tear it down, returning it to its original state. In 1991, the

facility stopped producing uranium, which is basically the first stage

of material used to produce nuclear weapons.

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