Hot mud (a 1950s perspective)

IMG_4361Earlier, I posted a column about White Oak Lake, the notorious icon of Oak Ridge pollution, and future cleanup plans there.

The lake was created as a catch basin for nuclear discharges at the lab during the Manhattan Project and afterwards, and the government has been monitoring rad levels there for a long time. I came across a 1953 report produced by Oak Ridge National Laboratory titled, “Radioactivity in the Mud of White Oak Lake.”

The report  provided sampling results for 1950, 1951 and 1952.

The report was initially classified as “Restricted Security Information,” but it appears that it was declassified less than a year later.

“White Oak Lake is the last step in the treatment and control of liquid radioactive waste from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory before discharge into the Clinch River and Watts Bar Reservoir,” the report stated. “The wastes from the Laboratory are diluted with the runoff from six square miles of drainage area and are impounded in the lake, which has a capacity of 15 million cubic feet.”

The author, H.H. Abee, notes: “Should the dam at White Oak Lake fail for any reason, it obviously would be desirable to have an approximate idea of the curie content of the mud in the lake in order to evaluate the possible hazard to the downstream users of water from the Clinch River and Watts Bar Reservoir.”

Abee said it was the practice to annually check the lake’s mud for “radioactive content.” The report described the manner in which mud samples were taken from the lake, requiring five 3-man crews in order to be able to sample the lake in a grid-like fashion in one day. It also described how the laboratory analysis of the mud samples was conducted.

The estimated total curies for the three years were: 1950 (392 curies); 1951 (359); 1952 (303). The report noted that these curie counts were significant higher than the results found in 1945 and 1946, although it referenced higher levels in the upstream mud of White Oak Creek and other areas.

The report concluded that if White Oak Dam were to fail and release the water and 75 percent of the lake’s mud, the maximum rad levels in the downstream Clinch River would probably be less than “the proposed AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) emergency levels for activity in drinking  water where the time of water consumption is taken to be as long as one month.”

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This entry was posted in History, nuclear, Oak Ridge things, ORNL on by .

About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.