Nuclear Fire

The Transit of Venus by Jerri Stroud

The Transit of Venus by Jerri Stroud

There was a total eclipse of the sun yesterday, but unless you were hundreds of miles off the US Atlantic coastline, there was no chance for North Americans to see this eclipse in its totality. If you were on the eastern seaboard, you could enjoy the partial eclipse version of this celestial event, but we here in the Midwest were too far inland to see anything. I have seen one total eclipse in my life, in 1979; I flew up to Manitoba in February to witness it, not exactly a peak tourist season there. Last year, there was a mini-eclipse of sorts, the transit of Venus. I was able to photograph it from the front yard. Last month, at the U-City Circle in a Square quilt show, Jerri Stroud displayed her The Transit of Venus quilt. All of these astronomically themed pictures are simply preamble to what I really want to talk about, something way more terrestrial.

This story starts some seventy years ago. It is the height of World War II and unknown to almost all Americans, the United States is involved in a super secret program to develop the first atomic bomb. This program was called the Manhattan Project. During that war and afterwards during the Cold War, Saint Louis based Mallinckrodt was a key contractor in the refining of fissionable materials for the bomb. Three former Mallinckrodt sites are on the list of Superfund sites in Missouri. One of them is way too close to me at work.

Wiki describes this Superfund site as soil contamination by uranium, thorium and radium and groundwater uranium contamination from uranium ore processing associated with the Manhattan Project and from transportation and dumping of process residues. Basically, back then dump trucks full of radioactive ore were dumping their loads willy-nilly across what was back then rural countryside. One of these contaminated fields was where I played softball, back in the day. I’m glad that I never slid. Some of my co-workers are much less sanguine though, because their then young children were playing it that dirt.

February 26, 1979 Solar Eclipse

February 26, 1979 Solar Eclipse

No one plays there anymore, because for years now, just across the street from this ball field, the Corps of Engineers has been running the cleanup effort of this Superfund site. Fast forward to the present day, a couple of weeks ago I received an email, telling me that in the near future Corps employees would be searching in and about my work location for additional contamination.

This morning, I had an early morning meeting in the land of broken toys. The meeting went well, but on the way out, my boss decided to grab another cup of coffee. It was then that we learned that the water supply to this building is no longer considered potable and its drinking fountains have been shut off. Water for the coffee pot is now delivered in five gallon plastic containers. I wasn’t paying the best attention to the conversation at this point, so I can’t say for sure that the potable water problem is related to the Superfund site or not. It could be totally unrelated, but this building is located only a stone’s throw from my former ball field.

PS – After writing the above, Anne cruised by and read it over my shoulder. Her comment was, “Thank God, you have already had your children, but then maybe that explains them.”

My Photo of the Transit of Venus, June 6 2012

My Photo of the Transit of Venus, June 6 2012

8 thoughts on “Nuclear Fire

  1. …and I have to wonder about the effects of having worked nearly 2 years at K-25 in Oak Ridge in one of the original “barracks-type” office buildings. We had to wear radiation badges, but never were privy to the read on them. (Supposedly “no news = good news”, but …)

  2. Spectacular quilt, awful story. At least the powers that be are acknowledging it. I’ve heard of cases where things are hushed up or described as “anomalous clusters” or “mass hysteria”. Be healthy.

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