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Talk to Terrie: Why is Fernald known as Feed Materials Production?

December 23, 2019

December 23, 2019

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by Terrie Barrie

Thorium flavored kielbasa?

Some nuclear weapons facilities had or have names which disguised the nature of the work performed at the sites.  That’s understandable since the work was highly classified.  Oak Ridge, for instance, had four sites which were only designated by a letter and number – K-25, S-50, Y-12 and X-10.  The Pantex facility was simply named after the location of the plant – the Panhandle of Texas.

But the site that was most confusing for me was the facility located near Hamilton, OH.  It is commonly known as Fernald but also as Feed Materials Production Center.  In fact, this site is known by 7 other names or acronyms,

  • Feed Materials Production Site
  • FEMP
  • Fernald Environmental Management Project
  • FMPC
  • National Lead of Ohio
  • NLO

I never understood why it was called Feed Materials Production Site. “Feed” to me implied something to do with horses.  In fact, a commenter to Cold War Patriots Facebook Page apparently had a similar thought and shared,

Passed that place every day to go to school… The sign they had out front was so misleading!!! Had black and white checks like Purina had and called itself a feed plant….

The idea that the production was related to livestock was even more reinforced when I read this in the Wall Street Journal’s investigative report, Waste Lands,

In a test for National Lead of Ohio (Fernald), Mitts and Merrel reduced a thorium metal chunk to small particle size pieces in its Hog Grinder

Really?  They threw a chunk of thorium metal into a machine that would grind pig carcasses in order to cut the metal into smaller pieces?  A friend and I had visions residual thorium dust ending up in sausages.

I did a little research and found out that the machine was indeed originally designed to grind up whole hogs. But people discovered how versatile this machine was and adapted it for other purposes.  Mitts and Merrel is one company which apparently used a hog grinder for metal machining processes which, fortunately, had nothing to do with preparing sausages or feed for livestock.  What a relief!

And now back to why Fernald is called Feed Materials Production Site.

The word “feed” was used because the product Fernald produced was used to “feed” nuclear reactors.

As for the sign reported to be outside the Fernald site resembling Purina’s logo, I think that was pretty ingenious. It was, after all, a top military facility and keeping its function and mission secret as much as possible was a realistic necessity.   Kristen Iverson, author of Full Body Burden, recounted a similar experience when she was growing up near Rocky Flats.  When Dow Chemical Company was the Department of Energy’s contractor for the site, many of Rocky Flats neighbors thought Scrubbing Bubbles was made there.

And with that I wish everyone the best of the holiday season.